What is Domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse may be a one-off incident or may be repeated many times, but it is usually understood as one person exercising power and control over another. The Home Office describe domestic abuse as ‘any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between adults who are or have been in a relationship together, or between family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.’ Up until recently domestic abuse was associated more with female victims, however domestic abuse can occur in any relationship regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, economic or social status, or ability.

We use the term domestic abuse, because we recognise that there are lots of different ways to exert power and control over someone, (i.e. intimidation, verbal abuse, isolation, threats, sexual abuse, financial control etc) not just physical violence. Everyone’s experience is individual and particular to them, so although reading the descriptions may help you recognise whether your relationship is abusive, what you’re experiencing may still be abusive even if it is written out here.


This is any behaviour that is done to frighten or intimidate you, such as using looks or gestures, getting up in your face or space, displaying weapons (including brandishing knives or tools, making a fist) hitting walls or doors, destroying/damaging your belongings, driving dangerously and/or harming pets.

Physical abuse

This is any behaviour which harms you physically and includes throwing objects, pushing, biting, restraining, punching, slapping, burning, strangling, kicking or using a weapon. It can also include coercing/forcing drug or alcohol misuse, withholding medication or medical treatment or overmedicating.

Emotional or psychological abuse

This can any behaviour which makes you feel bad about yourself and harms your emotional wellbeing. For example calling you names, putting you down (your intelligence, sanity, abilities) belittling or humiliating you (in private or in public), making fun of you and your concerns, making you feel guilty, playing mind games, withholding affection, ignoring you, flirting or flaunting provocative behaviour with others etc.


Using Children

Bringing children into the abuse can include threatening to take the children away or to stop you seeing them altogether, or cancelling or making contact difficult, or only at times, location which s/he decides. It can also include deciding what you are allowed to do/controlling everything you do with your children, or preventing you from caring for your children or preventing you from building/maintaining a bond with them.


This is any behaviour which curtails your freedom and increases your isolation from friends and family. It can include questioning your whereabouts and controlling where go and what you do, checking up on you, checking and tracking you via your mobile phone, and/or following you. It can also include sulking, arguing and making you feel guilty before and after you go out.

Sexual abuse

This includes any sexual activity which has been coerced or unwanted. Co-operation does not mean an act is consensual. Likewise arousal or ejaculation do not mean sexual activity is wanted or consensual but it can increase feelings of confusion and misplaced guilt. Insults, sexual taunts, comparison to others, arousing and then humiliating or teasing.

Financial abuse

This can range from total control, for example having to either ask for money and account for everything you have spent, to being continually pressurised into giving money, or your money being taken (stolen), or you having little or no control on how or what money is being spent and when, including being pressurised to take out debts, or having debts taken out in your name without your permission.

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