In my understanding, there are 4 forms of psychological abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, economical abuse. However, only physical abuse is illegal, and thus can be intervened. But, psychologically speaking, other forms of abuse are also impactful as well. Especially the case of manipulation. And there are also signs and symptoms to conclude whether such abuses happen or not. So why they aren't illegal?

Or perhaps it's more about evidence rather than law? To quote one person:

There is no finite definition of mental/emotional abuse. No protocols or reference to state what's harsh, excessive, just bad parenting... and there are no legal definitions. Its not like physical abuse where you have concrete signatures. It's a very destructive abstract so prevalent... hell, we know the damage it causes long term, have long known it, but as hurtful as it is, its technically not illegal. Unless it causes a physical manifestation like suicide... the occurrences are typically denied and its shrugged off.

I'm asking about adults as well, not just children. I just can't find a suitable tag.

  • Sexual abuse is definitely illegal in many juristictions. Emotional abuse too in some cases if you count harrassment laws. Nov 4, 2020 at 11:37
  • First, questions about why the law says what it does don't belong here; you should take it to SE.Politics. We only consider what the law says, not why. Second, you need to say where you are talking about. Laws and political views vary around the world. Nov 4, 2020 at 16:48
  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because "why" the law is the way it is, is political and this belongs on politics.stackexchange.com Nov 4, 2020 at 22:50
  • Alternately, if the question is what part of the law makes such things not illegal in a particular jurisdiction, we would need to know what jurisdiction that is.
    – Ryan M
    Nov 5, 2020 at 2:26

3 Answers 3


All abuse has been illegal for a long time. Some kinds are so egregious that they are the subject of criminal statutes (assault, physical abuse). Intentional infliction of emotional distress is a common law tort, which covers emotional abuse. The difference in punishment derives how the legal system view the contrast between civil dispute versus criminal prosecutions, the key being that punishment is not meted out when you have harmed a person, it is meted out when the government deems that you have harmed society (perhaps by harming a person). Litigation of a civil wrong is therefore aimed at making the aggrieved party whole, compensating them for the damage that was done to them. Punishment, such as imprisonment, has an entirely different rationale.

Liability for "causing harm" does not require a specific statute enumerating what kinds of acts constitute "causing harm", that conclusion may flow from prior case law as long as certain elements are true (the act was intentional or reckless, extreme and outrageous, and it caused distress). Criminal statutes (at least traditionally) need to be more specific, because people need to be clearly put on notice what actions will receive the most extreme consequences (punishment). The question of why a certain jurisdiction has not criminally outlawed a given action (e.g. "giving a snarky response") is in part political (legislators do not generally agree that such an action should be elevated to the status of a crime) and partly constitutional in some jurisdictions (a law criminalizing hurtful speech in the US would be struck down under as contradicting the First Amendment).


Subsection (3) of The Domestic Abuse Act (Scotland) 2018 defines abusive behaviour as:

(a) making B dependent on, or subordinate to, A,

(b) isolating B from friends, relatives or other sources of support,

(c) controlling, regulating or monitoring B’s day-to-day activities,

(d) depriving B of, or restricting B’s, freedom of action,

(e) frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing B.

and also

In subsection in paragraph (a), the reference to violent behaviour includes sexual violence as well as physical violence,

So there are some jurisdictions where the examples you list are illegal.

EDIT: I'm not a lawyer, so can't provide much more insight into the evidentiary requirements of this Act. The Assistant Chief Constable of Scotland was quoted as saying that law officers and staff have "received further training on the dynamics of power and control in abusive relationships to help recognise the signs, identify investigative opportunities and to tackle the myths and misconceptions of abuse that still exist.", but no indication of what that amounts to in practice regarding evidence thresholds.

  • I've updated the question. Can you check it?
    – Ooker
    Nov 4, 2020 at 13:19
  • What is your source for your quote?
    – user35069
    Nov 4, 2020 at 13:45
  • @Ooker That quote adds nothing that this answer doesn't cover. Are you instead trying to ask "why is non-physical abuse rarely punished?" Nov 4, 2020 at 14:14
  • @Studoku yes. It seems that this kind of question is off-topic in Law SE? If so, where can I ask it instead? Politics SE?
    – Ooker
    Nov 5, 2020 at 6:08
  • @RickApe Reddit. But I'm not sure if the person wants to be cited
    – Ooker
    Nov 5, 2020 at 6:19

The premise of your question is simply wrong

In most jurisdictions, domestic violence includes all those categories and more. For example, :

  • verbal abuse
  • psychological abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • financial abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • harassment and stalking
  • spiritual or religious abuse
  • reproductive abuse
  • image-based abuse
  • So non-physical abuses are illegal, but are they well-defined? That is, would that come down mostly to "he said she said" scenario?
    – Ooker
    Nov 6, 2020 at 2:31
  • @Ooker I don’t understand your point. All criminal cases come down to the strength of the evidence and if it proves the crime beyond reasonable doubt. That evidence may include victim and alleged perpetrator testimony among other things.
    – Dale M
    Nov 6, 2020 at 6:50
  • ah I see. What I meant was "why does it seems that most non-physical abuse cases don't have enough evidence that's beyond reasonable doubt?". Do you think that would be a good question for Law SE?
    – Ooker
    Nov 6, 2020 at 8:50
  • @Ooker I think that you should find out if the premise of your question is actually correct. Before asking “why”, start with “is”.
    – Dale M
    Nov 6, 2020 at 10:31
  • I agree. Is the kind of question "Is it correct that most case of X don't have enough evidence?" on-topic?
    – Ooker
    Nov 6, 2020 at 11:50

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