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What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is a pattern of controlling, threatening and/or violent behaviour by an intimate partner, family member or ex-partner. This can include physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. Incidents often become more regular and severe over time.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, religion, ethnicity, social background or sexuality. Although it occurs in all types of relationship, it’s usually carried out by men towards women. There are many different forms of abuse – and it’s important to remember that you can be a victim of domestic abuse without experiencing any physical violence.

Read the official definition from the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

Woman with medium length hair and white top. She is holding her hands together close to her chest and looking into the distance.

Types of domestic abuse

Click on the headings below to learn more.

Physical Abuse

This is any physical act that causes harm, including punching and slapping, pushing, strangling, biting, scratching and kicking. Perpetrators may also use objects and weapons to hurt and threaten you.

Coercive control

Many perpetrators of abuse will try to control and isolate their victim using a variety of techniques. These include stopping you from seeing or contacting your friends, family and other sources of support, controlling what you wear and where you go, punishing you, restricting access to things such as your phone, money and social media, being possessive and accusing you of cheating.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse involves non-physical behaviours which intend to frighten, belittle or intimidate. This can include criticising and putting you down, giving you the silent treatment, humiliating you, trying to make you jealous and insecure, frequently starting arguments, and gaslighting you by lying, disregarding your feelings and always putting blame on you. This can also include threats of self-harm and suicide in order to manipulate and control.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves receiving or performing sexual acts against your will. Rape is when someone penetrates your vagina, mouth or anus, using a penis, other body part or physical object, without your consent. Sexual assault is any form of unwanted physical contact, including kissing, grabbing your bum or breasts and putting a hand under your clothing. Any sexual act or interaction you haven’t actively agreed to, such as having sex without protection, is abuse.

Financial abuse

One of the most powerful ways a perpetrator can control a victim is through financial abuse. This includes stealing your money, such as earnings, benefits and savings, preventing you from working, putting bills, debt and credit cards in your name, controlling what you can spend and not allowing you to have a bank account.

Stalking and harassment

This type of abuse can happen in person or online. Examples of stalking and harassment include following and spying on you, verbal abuse and threats, unwanted phone calls and messages, damaging your personal property and lingering outside your home or workplace.

Tech abuse

Perpetrators will often use technology to commit abuse. Examples include hacking your phone, computer and online accounts, taking and sharing intimate photos or videos of you, creating fake profiles, using tracking devices or cameras to monitor you (known as cyberstalking) and harassing you on social media.

Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation is when women and girls are forced, tricked and pressured into sex work.

Sexual exploitation
Honour based Violence

This is usually carried out against women by family members or partners to protect the ‘honour’ of a family and/or community. Honour-based violence can involve physical, emotional and sexual abuse, threats and intimidation, forced labour, coercive control including putting you under house arrest, kidnapping and forced marriage. In the UK, it is illegal to force or pressure someone into marrying against their will.

Forced Marriage

It is the individuals right to chose who they marry and any attempt to physically, emotionally or psychologically force or coerce some one into marriage with out valid consent from both parties is illegal.

Female Genital Mutilation/cutting

FGM involves removing or altering external genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is commonly inflicted on young girls before they go through puberty, at some time between birth and the age of 15. FGM is illegal in the UK and can cause long-term physical and psychological harm, including issues with sex, childbirth and mental health.

Domestic abuse is never the victim’s fault. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, we’re here to listen and offer support. Click the button below to get in touch with us.

If you feel you’re in immediate danger, call 999 straight away.

How to help someone experiencing domestic abuse

If someone you know discloses abuse to you, the first thing you should do is listen without judgement. Tell them they’re not alone and reassure them that help is available. Don’t do anything that might put either of you at risk and don’t blame them or tell them to leave.

Practical things you can do:

  • Accompany them to see their GP, the police, a solicitor or other professional/support service
  • Give them your phone number and/or address so they can send you information and messages
    Create a plan with them for what to do in an emergency, for example where to go, who to contact and what to take
  • Gather information about support for people experiencing domestic abuse, including organisations like Advance and helplines
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