What is domestic violence and abuse?
We define domestic abuse as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. It is very common.
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, background, gender, religion, sexuality or ethnicity. Domestic abuse is never the fault of the person who is experiencing it. Domestic abuse is a crime.
National Domestic Violence Helpline: Freephone, 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247
Samaritans: 24/7 service) – 116 123
Victim Support: A free and confidential support service to victims of crime regardless of whether the crime has been reported or how long ago it happened. Call for free support line on 0808 168 9111 or contact them online
National Centre for Domestic Violence: A free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic abuse and violence. Call their support line 0800 970 2070
Respect Helpline: A confidential helpline, email and webchat service for domestic abuse perpetrators and those supporting them. Call their support line 0808 8024040
Safe Lives: UK-wide charity supporting friends, family members, neighbours and colleagues experiencing domestic abuse.
London Black Women's Project: Specialist and dedicated organisation for BME women and girls who experience violence and abuse and/or who are at risk. Telephone: 0808 2000 247
Asian Women Resource Centre: Support to women and children who have been affected by domestic abuse, forced marriages, honour based and faith-based abuse. Telephone: 020 8961 5701
Chinese Information and Advice Centre: Free information, advice and support to.women and families in distress, advice and support to victims of domestic violence.
The Mix: Free information and support for under 25s in the UK: 0808 808 4994
Although every situation is unique, there are common factors that link the experience of an abusive relationship. Acknowledging these factors is an important step in preventing and stopping the abuse. This list can help you to recognise if you, or someone you know, are in an abusive relationship.
Look through some of the examples below by Women's Aid that signal something is “off” in a relationship, in some cases, it could signal abuse. The descriptions might feel a bit overwhelming at first glance and may be painful to acknowledge, but try to read as many as you can because it’s important you know the unhealthy behaviours before they escalate further. If something doesn’t feel right in your relationship, it probably isn’t.
Physical abuse is one of the first forms of domestic abuse that people recognise because it’s the most visible. It is often a way for a perpetrator to gain control. It is illegal. Some examples of physical abuse are:
- Punching, slapping, hitting, pinching, kicking, scratching or biting
- Applying pressure to your neck or holding you down, strangling or choking you
- Pulling your hair out
- Spitting at or near you
- Using objects as weapons to attack and hurt you
- Punching walls or breaking things
Psychological and emotional abuse can be difficult to describe or identify. It’s when a perpetrator uses words and non-physical actions to manipulate, hurt, scare or upset you. Some examples of emotional and verbal abuse are:
- Screaming and shouting at you
- Mocking you, calling you hurtful names or using derogatory words about you
- Sulking or refusing to talk or be kind until you do something they want
- Making you doubt your own sanity. This is known as gaslighting. A perpetrator may gaslight you into thinking that you are remembering things wrong or that you are misinterpreting things, later making you believe their version of events is true. This behaviour is often used to manipulate.
- Threatening that they will destroy something, hurt you or commit suicide
- Threatening to report you to the police, social services or a mental health team if you don’t do what they say
- Telling you that they’re sorry, that it isn’t abuse
- Telling you that you deserve or cause the abuse
- Threatening to kill or harm you and/or your children
Coercive control is an act or pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation, which is used to harm, punish or frighten. Some examples of coercive control are:
- Isolating you from your friends and family
- Depriving you of basic needs, such as food or care
- Monitoring how you spend your time
- Tracking what you do online or on your phone
- Controlling aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear and when you can sleep
- Stopping you from accessing support services, such as medical services or support groups
- Repeatedly putting you down, saying you are worthless
- Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you
Financial abuse is part of coercive control, it involves a pattern of controlling, threatening and degrading behaviours relating to money and finances. The perpetrator uses money to control their partner’s freedom. This can include using credit or debit cards without permission or building up debts in their partner’s name. Economic abuse is a broader term, as it also includes restricting access to essential resources and services, such as food, clothing or transport, and refusing to allow someone to improve their economic status through employment, education or training. Some examples of economic abuse are:
- Controlling all of the household income and keeping financial information a secret
- Taking out debts in your name, sometimes without you knowing
- Stopping you from being in work, education or training
- Making you do a certain amount of hours at work, not contributing to any bills
- Having control over spending, checking receipts, having everything in their name
If you are experiencing financial abuse, Surviving Economic Abuse can support you.
There are various types of gender based violence. Gender based violence is considered to be any harmful act directed against individuals of groups of individuals on the basis of their gender. Gender based violence and violence against women are often two terms that are exchanged due to the disproportionate levels of violence inflicted against women (by men).
Definitions such as these specifically refer to instances in which gender is the basis of violence against a person. However, there is more to gender than being male or female. For example, an individual may be born with female sexual characteristics but choose to identify as male, or as male and female at the same time, or sometimes as neither male nor female. LGBT+ people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other people who do not fit the heterosexual norm or traditional gender binary categories) also suffer from violence which is based on perceived sexual orientation and or gender identity.
There are many forms of gender based violence; psychological, physical, sexual and verbal. Any individual can be the perpetrator. Gender based violence can take place in all workplaces, across all sectors impacting individuals in both the public and private sphere. It is important to continue to expand our understanding of gender based violence, through open-minded discussion and advocacy.
For further support:
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse: Galop’s helpline is run by LGBT+, for LGBT+ people who have or are experiencing domestic abuse. It’s also for people supporting a survivor of domestic abuse; friends, families and those working with a survivor. Telephone: 0800 999 5428.
Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline: Provides a safe space for anyone to discuss anything, including sexuality, gender identity, sexual health and emotional well-being. They support people to explore the right options for themselves and aspire to a society where all LGBT+ people are informed and empowered.
Rights of Women: A women’s charity aim to provide women with the legal advice and information.
Women's Aid: Survivor-centred website offers a live chat, directly supporting survivors through national support services.
Men’s Advice Line: For male domestic abuse survivors. Call their support line 0808 801 0327
ManKind: Support for men witnessing, experiencing or supporting others who are experiencing domestic violence. Call their support line 01823 334244
Sexual abuse and violence can take place within relationships or between family members and can often be a part of domestic abuse. If you consent to something because you are afraid or you have been pressured into it, it is not consent. Some examples of sexual abuse are:
- Rape or sexual assault. This can be any sexual act you did not consent to. It can include forced kissing, touching or penetration. If you have experienced this recently, find advice on getting treatment and support here.
- Having sex with you when you are unable to consent, for example if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol which may affect your ability to consent.
- Using force, threats, guilt, manipulation or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts.
- Forcing you to have sex with other people or to become a sex worker.
- Forcing you to have sex or watch pornography in front of children.
- Degrading you during sex, such as calling you names, spitting, biting, punching or hurting you.
For further support:
Rape Crisis UK: Provide specialist support and services to women and girls who have experienced sexual violence.
Tech abuse is when someone uses technology as a tool to abuse. As our homes become smarter, this type of abuse is becoming more common. Abusers may use smart home devices to monitor and control. This could include connecting to thermostats to change the temperature, turning lights or speakers on and off from an app or watching you on security cameras. It can also include cyberstalking;, when someone repeatedly sends harassing messages.
Some examples of tech abuse are:
- Monitoring your social media
- Having access to your phone, email account and/or social media accounts. You have a right to privacy.
- Having access to your online banking
- Not allowing you to have access to technology, such as a phone, or internet access
- Sharing intimate photos of you online. If you have experienced this type of abuse, the Revenge Porn Helpline can support you.
- Using cameras or spyware to watch you or listen to your conversations
- Using GPS locators or tracking apps on your phone to locate you
- Constantly contacting you through text, calls, email and/or social media
- Using smart home devices to harass you
For some communities, ‘honour’ is important and central to social standing and the position of families within the community. There can be severe consequences if perceived dishonour or shame is bought upon a family or community. Some actions that may be considered ‘dishonourable’ or ‘shameful’ are:
- Having a relationship with someone outside your community or that your family doesn’t approve of
- Separating or getting a divorce
- Having sex or getting pregnant before marriage
- Doing things that may be considered inappropriate by family or the community, such as dressing in a different way, talking to certain people, and challenging what is expected of you
- Using drugs or alcohol
- Disagreeing with the religion of your family or community
Honour-based abuse is a when a crime is committed to protect or defend the ‘honour’ of a family or community. Some examples of honour-based abuse are:
- Any form of domestic abuse or sexual violence
- Forced marriage or forced abortion
- Pressure to move abroad or to visit friends and family abroad
- Not being allowed any freedom, including using the phone, internet or having access to your passport
- Isolating you from your friends and members of your family
Although, the concept of ‘honour’ can often be viewed as part of ‘traditional’ or cultural practices, this does not mean that any forms of honour-based abuse or harmful practices are acceptable. Any forms of honour-based abuse or harmful practices are illegal, including forced marriage and female genital mutilation. ‘Crimes of honour’ should be treated as a violation of human rights and not as a religious or cultural practice. There are specialist organisations led by women in the community who have a cultural understanding of the complexities of honour and shame.
Forced marriage abuse
A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with reduced capacity, cannot) consent to the marriage as they are pressurised, or abuse is used to force the marriage to take place. It can happen either in the UK or abroad. The pressure used to marry against their will may be physical – for example, threats, physical violence, or sexual violence – or emotional and psychological – for example, making someone feel like they are bringing ‘shame’ on their family. You might not feel ‘forced’ or ‘pressured,’ but you may have a feeling that you could not say no, and that there may have been consequences if you resisted getting married. The threats and pressure may be coming from relatives, friends, or members of a community.
Forced marriage can take place within lots of different communities across the world and in the UK, and is a criminal offence in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This includes:
- Taking someone overseas to force them to marry, whether the marriage takes place or not
- Marrying someone who cannot consent
For further support:
- Karma Nirvana is a national organisation which provides support for women who are at risk of or who are experiencing honour-based abuse or forced marriage. You can call the Honour-Based Abuse Helpline if you need help or advice for free on 0800 5999 247.
- IKWRO provide advice, support, advocacy in Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, Dari, Pashto, Farsi, and English to women and girls facing forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and ‘honour’-based violence. If you need help or advice, please call: 0207 920 6460.
Forced Marriage Unit: Government office providing information and advice for British nationals forced into marriage. Telephone: 020 7008 0151 or Out of hours telephone: 020 7008 1500
If you have a disability or chronic health condition, an abuser may use this as part of the abuse. However, abuse is never your fault. Only the abuser is responsible for their actions. Domestic abuse can happen in any relationship, including those in which someone is a caregiver or assists you with something personal or intimate. If someone takes advantage of the power they have as a caregiver, this could be abuse. Some of the ways disabled women experience abuse can include:
- Withholding, hiding, destroying or manipulating medical equipment and/or tools, such as a walking stick, cane, hearing aid or wheelchair
- Refusing to help with attending important meetings, such as hospital appointments or benefit assessments
- Refusing to interpret what people are saying around you, for example if you are Deaf and use sign language
- Theft of state benefits or any other financial income
- Sexual touching while assisting you with personal care, such as dressing or bathing
- Demanding sex in exchange for caregiving
- Forced marriage or repeated sexual violence against women who cannot consent due to disability
- Prevention of access to medication or pain relief
- Overmedicating or under medicating, or changing a medication without telling you
- Doing things to exacerbate or take advantage of a disability or health condition, such as smoking indoors, leaving unreachable windows open in winter, or refusing to allow you to go to the toilet
- Refusing to assist you with caregiving responsibilities, including providing adequate meals and nutrition, dressing, bathing, access to transport and cleaning duties
- Isolating you from friends, family, support workers and support groups
- Saying that you are ugly or useless because of your disability, or calling you stupid because you don’t understand
For further support:
Learning Disability Helpline, run by Mencap, provides free help and advice for people with a learning disability, their family and carers. They are not a domestic abuse service but they can help give advice about lots of topics, including social care, benefits, housing and bullying. Their phone number is 0808 808 1111, or you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Respond: Support for people with learning disabilities who have experienced trauma/abuse: 0808 808 0700
Deafhope: Domestic and sexual abuse support for the deaf community. Telephone: 020 3947 2600 Text: 079 7035 0366
SignHealth provides domestic abuse support and advocacy to Deaf people across the UK. You can find videos in BSL relating to domestic abuse on their website. You can contact SignHealth by texting 07800 003421, or by emailing email@example.com.
The emergency SMS service lets deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired people in the UK send an SMS text message to the UK 999 service where it will be passed to the police, ambulance, fire rescue, or coastguard.
999 BSL allows deaf people to make emergency calls using an app or website, connecting callers with a BSL interpreter. It is free to use and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The new sign language-based service does not require registration, meaning callers can use it as long as the app or webpage is open. To make a call with 999 BSL, users need to open the app or webpage, then press a red button that will connect them to an interpreter.
The Keeping Well service is here to help you support you, start a confidential chat with us by emailing us or giving a call 0300 123 1705. If you feel like you are in immediate danger, please call 999 as soon as possible.
If you’re worried about someone you care about (a friend, family member, loved one or colleague) learn more about how you can support them.
How to create a supportive conversation
- Listen and offer sensitive, non-judgemental support
- Acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiences of abuse
- Tell them that nobody deserves to be treated that way
- Avoid asking why they haven't left the relationship (statistics show that there is a rise in the likelihood of violence after leaving an abusive relationship, click here for more information on this)
- Treat disclosures of domestic violence as confidential
- If there are any immediate safety concerns call 999 or security
- Help arrange further support (e.g. Independent Domestic Violence Advisor, Staff Counselling, Employee Assistance Programme)
- Consider additional care when both victim and perpetrator work at the same organisation
The workplace can often be a lifeline for survivors of domestic violence as it offers an opportunity to seek help, and colleagues are well placed to spot the following signs:
Changes in work productivity
- Missing deadlines
- Reduced quality and quantity of work
- Frequent absences or lateness
- Becoming quiet, anxious, frightful, tearful, aggressive, distracted
- Withdrawing from support
- Visible bruising or single or repeated injury
- Wearing unsuitable clothing e.g. big jumpers on a hot day
- Substance use/misuse
- Partner or ex-partner showing up around the workplace
- Isolation from family and friends
- Unexpected gifts arriving at the workplace
The Department of Health have created a useful guide on how to respond to colleagues experiencing domestic abuse.
Support guide for staff experiencing Domestic Abuse:CNWL Domestic Abuse Ambassador Network produced this useful document for staff to help colleagues support other staff who are suffering abuse at home. They also produced guidelines for staff affected by domestic abuse.
Bright Sky app: A free mobile app and website for anyone experiencing domestic abuse, or who is worried about someone else.
Women's Aid local support services directory: Women's Aid directory contains up to date information about domestic abuse support services across the UK. It is regularly updated by the services listed so you’ll be able to find the right local support, when you need it most.
Clare's Law - Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme application: This scheme gives any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them. It also allows a member of the public to make an enquiry into the partner of a close friend or family member.
The Survivor's Handbook by Women's Aid: Provides practical support and information for women experiencing domestic abuse, with simple guidance on every aspect of seeking support