Families around the country are affected by domestic violence. It is a growing problem that can be a tragedy for all involved. The term domestic violence often is used to describe violence between spouses, but the issue is much greater than that.

The term can encompass a variety of abuse, and even children can be victims. In Pennsylvania, the law reflects the complexity of the label, and there are several different charges that can be associated with the crime.

There is not a charge in the criminal code for “domestic violence” or “domestic abuse” in Pennsylvania. Instead, it is defined as one of the many crimes of violence or endangerment between two or more people who share a specific type of relationship.

According to Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6102, to constitute as domestic abuse, the accused could be the victim’s husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or life partner. If the two previously were involved as any of those, the term still could apply.

The abuse also could occur between the accused and someone he or she lived with, such as a mother, father, child, current sex partner or former sex partner. It can include other family members related by blood or marriage.

One of the most common charges associated with the abuse is domestic assault. Assault means intentionally causing harm or putting another person in fear of bodily harm. A simple assault charge in Pennsylvania could be a second-degree misdemeanor which carries up to two years in jail and a $2,000 fine.

However, if there was any serious bodily harm involved, the charges could escalate to a first-degree felony with aggravated assault, which carries up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. Abuse does not discriminate. It affects victims of any age, gender, or economic standing. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship are the first steps to ending it. If you recognize yourself or someone you know in the following descriptions of abuse, reach out now. There is help available. No one should live in fear of the person they love.

When parents are involved in domestic violence, whether or not the child was physically abused, he or she still could be a victim. Endangering the welfare of a child is a serious crime. Having a child involved in domestic abuse means the parent or guardian failed to protect him or her.

A single instance of endangering the welfare of a child is a first-degree misdemeanor, resulting in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. However, if there is a pattern of endangerment and it can be proven, the charges could be increased to a third-degree felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

When people think of domestic abuse, they often focus on domestic violence. But domestic abuse includes any attempt by one person in an intimate relationship or marriage to dominate and control the other. Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” An abuser uses fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under their thumb.

Domestic violence and abuse do not discriminate. Abuse happens within heterosexual relationships and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more often victimized, men also experience abuse—especially verbal and emotional. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether from a man, woman, teenager, or an older adult. You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.

Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal assault to violence. And while physical injury may pose the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain—and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your relationship is abusive.

Stalking charges also could fall under domestic violence if the accused repeatedly follows or communicates with the victim in a way that causes stress or fear of bodily harm. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor, resulting in up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Victims of domestic violence have options when it comes to defending themselves, including protective orders. Those accused of the crime also should contact a domestic violence attorney. The process can be heartbreaking for all involved, but a skilled attorney can help.

There are many signs of an abusive relationship, and a fear of your partner is the most telling. If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around them—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up—chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other signs include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

To determine whether your relationship is abusive, answer the questions below. The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

For violence to be ‘domestic’, it doesn’t have to occur within your home, only within a relationship (with family or an intimate partner). It occurs when someone close to you has power and control over you. This control or abuse can be expressed in different ways.

Physical abuse

If someone is hurting you physically, or is threatening to hurt you, a loved one or a pet, then you will need to take action. Read more about physical abuse and learn where to get support.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse often goes unrecognised and can be very hurtful. Someone who is emotionally abusive towards you wants to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. Read more about what constitutes emotional abuse.

Economic abuse

If someone close to you controls your finances, and keeps you financially dependent on them so that you always have to ask them for money, this is a form of domestic violence.

Social abuse

Social domestic violence occurs when someone insults or humiliates you in front of other people, keeps you isolated from family and friends, or controls what you do and where you go.

Spiritual abuse

Spiritual domestic violence involves preventing you from having your own opinions about religion, cultural beliefs and values. It may also involve manipulating your thoughts on spirituality in order to make you feel powerless.