What Is Abuse? Abuse Definition

What is Abuse? Abuse Definition

“Abuse” is a word that is thrown around a lot in casual conversion; but what defines abuse? How does one know if they are committing abuse or if they are being abused? The abuse definition is actually quite simple. According to the Gale Encyclopaedia of Medicine, the definition of abuse is the following1:

Abuse is defined as any action that intentionally harms or injures another person.

In short, someone who purposefully harms another in any way is committing abuse. There are many kinds of abuse encountered by adults, including:

All forms of abuse are illegal in the United States and can be met with criminal penalties. (Information on child abuse and types of child abuse, can be found here.)

Abuse is most commonly committed by a person the victim knows and, often, lives with. When one partner abuses another, it’s known as intimate partner abuse. Abuse within families is often known as domestic abuse or domestic violence

Defining the Scope of Abuse in the United States

Abuse is a huge problem in the United States with almost one-in-three adult women and more than one-in-five adult men reporting having experienced physical, sexual or psychological intimate partner abuse in their lifetime.2 This equates to approximately 8.5 million incidents of domestic violence occurring each year. Young people are not immune from abuse either with one-in-three teenagers having experienced violence within a dating relationship. And perhaps even more alarming, over three million reports of child abuse were filed with Child Protective Services in the United States in the fiscal year 2010.3

Meaning of Abuse

While the definition of abuse is simple, the meaning of abuse isn’t so clear. Yes, abuse is when one person purposefully hurts another, but that is a common occurrence in life and most of us are guilty of engaging in that from time to time. But what abuse really means is control. When a truly abusive situation exists, it’s because one party is seeking to control the other through abuse. And while this might be an explanation of abuse, it’s certainly no excuse. One person has no right to exercise control over another through abuse. Victims of abuse must know that the abuse is wrong and that the abuse is never their fault. Every person has the right to live an abuse-free life.

To learn more about escaping an abusive situation, read this article on domestic abuse help.

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 17). What Is Abuse? Abuse Definition, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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