What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse affects everyone.

From time to time, people have disagreements with their partners, family members and others they are close to. However, if a person is harmful, hurtful and/or frightening towards you, and they have started to form a pattern of abusive or controlling behaviour, this is domestic violence and abuse.  

I don’t know if I’m a victim of domestic abuse

Violence can begin at any stage of a relationship and may continue after the relationship has ended. It is a pattern of controlling and aggressive behaviour that is intentional and calculated to exercise power and control within a relationship.

Still not sure if you are a victim? The following questions may help you:

  • has your partner tried to keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • has your partner prevented you or made it hard for you to continue or start studying, or from going to work?
  • does your partner constantly check up on you or follow you?
  • does your partner unjustly accuse you of flirting or of having affairs with others?
  • does your partner constantly belittle or humiliate you, or regularly criticise or insult you?
  • are you ever afraid of your partner?
  • have you ever changed your behaviour because you are afraid of what your partner might do or say to you?
  • has your partner ever destroyed any of your possessions deliberately?
  • has your partner ever hurt or threatened you or your children?
  • has your partner ever kept you short of money so you are unable to buy food and other necessary items for yourself and your children or made you take out loans?
  • has your partner ever forced you to do something that you really did not want to do?
  • has your partner ever tried to prevent you from taking necessary medication, or seeking medical help when you felt you needed it?
  • has your partner ever tried to control you by telling you that you could be deported because of your immigration status?
  • has your partner ever threatened to take your children away, or said they would refuse to let you take them with you, or even to see them, if you left them?
  • has your partner ever forced or harassed you to have sex with them or with other people? Have they made you participate in sexual activities that you were uncomfortable with?
  • has your partner ever tried to prevent your leaving the house?
  • does your partner blame their use of alcohol or drugs, mental health condition or family history for their behaviour?
  • does your partner control your use of alcohol or drugs (for example, by forcing your intake or by withholding substances)?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, this indicates that you may be experiencing domestic abuse.

Get help now - find the right organisation for you and their contact details

Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) is often referred to as Clare’s Law. The Scheme was introduced in 2014 and incorporated into the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

The purpose of the scheme is to provide a framework for police to disclose information about previous violent or abusive offending, including emotional abuse, controlling or coercive behaviour, or economic abuse by an individual, where this may help protect their partner or ex-partner, and any relevant children from risk of harm from domestic abuse.

Types of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse doesn’t just mean physical violence.

It can be an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse by a partner, ex-partner or family member. It is based on one person having power or control over another, and it often gets worse over time. You can select the headings below to learn more about the different types of abuse.

Coercive control is a pattern of intimidation, humiliation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence.

This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, manipulating them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.

How do you know if this is happening to you?

Some common examples of coercive behaviour are:

  • isolating you from friends and family
  • depriving you of basic needs, such as food
  • monitoring your time
  • monitoring you via online communication tools or spyware
  • taking control over aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear and when you can sleep
  • depriving you access to support services, such as medical services
  • repeatedly putting you down, such as saying you’re worthless
  • humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you
  • controlling your finances
  • making threats or intimidating you

Love should not hurt

Love should not hurt - The interview

Some examples of emotional and psychological abuse are listed here - this is not an exhaustive list and there are many more forms of this type of abuse:

  • manipulating you to do what they want 
  • constantly checking where you are 
  • preventing you from seeing your friends or family or suggesting that you are better off without your friends or family 'interfering' 
  • constantly putting you down
  • persistently calling you names, mocking behaviour or saying things that make you feel bad
  • using the children to bully you or blackmail you to stay in the relationship 
  • shouting and intimidating behaviour 
  • stalking 
  • harassment

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is illegal. This includes all procedures involving total or partial removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It's also known as female circumcision or cutting, and by other terms such as:

  • sunna
  • gudniin
  • halalays
  • tahur
  • megrez
  • khitan

FGM has no health benefits, and no religious texts require girls to be ‘cut’, however FGM is carried out under the banners of culture and religion within families and communities in the mistaken belief that it benefits the girl in some way, eg. preserve/prove her virginity as a preparation for marriage.

Practices vary across communities with girls/women being ‘cut’ at any time from two days after birth, before puberty, during pregnancy, or following delivery of their first child. The most prevalent age group is 0-15 years, and some recent reports suggest that the age range is getting younger.

The NSPCC provide advice on how you can help keep children and young people safe.

Needlework (2015) FGM animation

Hear from survivors of FGM

Financial or economic abuse is an aspect of ‘coercive control’ a pattern of controlling, threatening and degrading behaviour that restricts a victims’ freedom.

Financial abuse involves a perpetrator using or misusing money which limits and controls their partner’s current and future actions and their freedom of choice. It can include using credit cards without permission, putting contractual obligations in their partner’s name, and gambling with family assets.

Financial abuse can leave victims with no money for basic essentials such as food and clothing. It can leave them without access to their own bank accounts, with no access to any independent income and with debts that have been built up by abusive partners set against their names. Even when a survivor has left the home, financial control can still be exerted by the abuser regarding child maintenance.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse is ‘financial abuse’, plus the perpetrator controlling other resources such as clothing or transport and denying the means for their victim to improve their economic status (for example, getting a job, receiving an education, or training).

Stalking is a pattern of persistent and unwanted attention that makes someone feel pestered, scared, anxious or harassed. It usually involves a person becoming fixated or obsessed with another person. Some examples of stalking are:

  • regularly giving unwanted gifts
  • making unwanted communication
  • damaging property
  • repeatedly following you or spying on you
  • threats

Taken in isolation, some of the behaviours may seem like small acts, but together they make up a consistent pattern of behaviour that is frightening and upsetting. It’s important to know that stalking is a criminal offence and because of this, if a person goes to the police, they will take it seriously.

Useful help and advice

Paladin, the National Stalking Advisory Service has the following advice for people who feel they are being harassed or stalked:

  • trust yourself and your instincts
  • report any concerns as early as possible to the police and tell others what is happening
  • get advice from Paladin or the Suzy Lamplugh Trust
  • keep evidence of what’s happening, try writing a diary

A series of three programmes, produced by ITV for Channel 5 highlight how three young women were stalked and murdered by ex-boyfriends. The full episodes are online here.

Many relationships that begin romantically can quickly become controlling, with one partner reading the other partner’s emails, checking their texts and monitoring a partner’s social media profiles.

Online domestic abuse can also include abuse over social media such as Facebook or Twitter, sharing intimate photos or videos without a partner’s consent, using GPS locators or spyware to track a partner’s whereabouts.

And unfortunately, online domestic abuse is increasing.

Staying safe online

There are simple steps to take to keep safe online, for example reading the safety policies and processes on the main social media platforms you use, such as the following:

Some examples of physical abuse are listed here:

  • punching
  • kicking
  • slapping
  • pushing 
  • strangling or smothering
  • threatening to hurt you or someone you care about 
  • not allowing you to take medication or giving you too much 
  • using weapons against you

Sexual abuse is when someone makes a person do or watch anything of a sexual nature that they don't want to. It can include:

  • rape 
  • making a person watch pornography if they don't want to 
  • making sexual comments to a person which makes them feel uncomfortable 
  • sexual assault
  • sharing or threatening to share explicit images of another person

New laws surrounding ‘revenge porn’ make it against the law for someone to share intimate photographs of a person with anyone, whether that is on or offline. If this is happening to you or you are being threatened with this please report it to the police.

Domestic abuse easy read guides

If you need help in an easy read format, download our: