How We Talk About Domestic and Sexual Violence

A blog post that describes forms of trauma, trauma-specific services, and trauma-informed approaches recognized utilized by S+SS



Whenever Safe+Sound Somerset’s SPEAK Outreach and Prevention team hosts workshops, they spend a significant amount of time defining terms and laying a foundation for the language upon which to build learning and understanding taking place. In this article, we begin to define the terms we often use in our work with survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We find that “Getting on the Same Page” with a common language can help navigate difficult topics as we grow our community’s capacity to recognize, respond to, and prevent domestic and sexual violence.

Domestic Violence and Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence and domestic abuse refer to the same issue, and we often use these terms interchangeably. Domestic violence/abuse is a pattern of behaviors that are used by one partner to gain power and control over another.

Domestic violence can include any combination of physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial abuse, or stalking. Many organizations use the term “domestic abuse” to show that domestic violence is more than just physical violence, emphasizing that physical violence is just one form of violence that an abusive partner uses to manipulate their partner and gain power and control over them. Emotional and verbal abuse, for example, are forms of violence and are just as harmful and unacceptable as physical violence.


The National Institute of Mental Health defines trauma as something that “occurs when a person is overwhelmed by events or circumstance…[and] the extreme stress overwhelms the person’s capacity to cope”.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) further defines trauma as resulting from an event of series of events or circumstances that “are experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening.”

Forms of trauma include:

  • Acute trauma stems from single incidents such as an accident, medical emergency, sexual assault, or natural disaster.
  • Chronic trauma results from repeated or prolonged exposure to stress such as domestic violence and prolonged sexual abuse.
  • Complex trauma occurs when someone experiences several different types of traumatic events that compound upon each other.

All forms of trauma can change how someone perceives and responds to danger and can impact many (if not all) aspects of their daily life.


Trauma-specific services are evidence-based treatments that directly address the impacts of trauma. Up to 84% of survivors who seek out domestic violence services exhibit symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our counselors are certified in several treatment modalities that treat PTSD in adults and children. The counseling therapies utilized at S+SS, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), are evidence-based treatments that have been proven by peer-reviewed research to target and reduce PTSD symptoms.

Many of our other programs also use evidence-based models: SPEAK uses evidence-based violence prevention curriculum, our Financial Empowerment Center uses an evidence-based program developed by the Allstate Foundation, and the Domestic Violence Housing First Initiative is founded on an evidence-based approach to homelessness.


We have adopted a trauma-informed approach throughout all programs and organization functions at Safe+Sound Somerset. We understand how the impacts of trauma effect all interactions with and between our clients and each other. We are forever seeking more ways to create a safe space that promotes healing. According to SAMHSA, an organization or program is trauma-informed if it has these 4 characteristics:

  • It REALIZES the widespread impact of trauma and understands possible paths for recovery
  • It RECOGNIZES signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, staff, and anyone else the organization interacts with
  • Actively RESPONDS by integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
  • Seeks to actively RESIST RE-TRAUMATIZATION

Taking this approach leads us away from asking, “What is wrong with you?” and instead focuses our efforts on asking survivors directly, “What have you experienced?” and “What do you need to feel safe, and what can I do to assure you feel safe in our spaces?” By integrating trauma-specific treatments into a trauma-informed organization, we have created an environment that is truly responsive to the challenges and needs of domestic and sexual violence. 

At Safe+Sound Somerset, we pride ourselves on providing wrap-around, evidence-based, and trauma-specific services to domestic and sexual violence survivors in a trauma-informed setting.

If you or someone you know needs our services or more information, reach out to our 24/7 call and text helpline at 866.685.1122. Additional information and resources can be found at