What is domestic abuse?

If you are living with violence or any form of abuse, a threat of violence or sexual abuse against you or your children, you should seek support and protection as soon as you can.

But not all forms of domestic abuse are as obvious, or as easy to spot. The descriptions below may help you to decide if what you are experiencing is domestic abuse.

How does the law define domestic abuse?

The government defines domestic abuse as ‘any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality’. This definition includes issues such as honour-based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Are you experiencing one of these kinds of domestic abuse?

Abuse can be emotional as well as physical. Does your partner constantly belittle or humiliate you, or regularly criticise or insult you? Psychological abuse can make you question yourself. It can make you feel lonely, isolated or unconfident.

Psychological abuse can be things such as:

  • Name calling and yelling
  • Insulting the person in front of others
  • Threatening you or threatening to take away something that is important to you – such as stopping you getting a job or seeing your friends
  • Imitating or mocking you
  • Swearing at you
  • Ignoring what you have to say
  • Isolating you – such as not allowing you to see your friends
  • Excluding you from meaningful events or activities, such as weddings or going to school or college

Psychological abuse - Marianna's story

I eventually became too afraid to do anything or make any decisions because I knew they’d be wrong, and I would be threatened.
Read Marianna's story

Has your partner ever hurt or threatened you or your children? Abuse can often be physical and include actions such as:

  • Punching
  • Biting
  • Pushing
  • Kicking
  • Pinching
  • Shaking
  • Choking
  • Restraining

Physical abuse - Jenny's story

He held me down and shouted at me and when I struggled to get loose, he hit me.
Read Jenny's story

Has your partner ever forced or harassed you to have sex with him or with other people? Has he made you participate in sexual activities that you were uncomfortable with?

Examples of sexual abuse include:

  • Being forced to have sex (rape)
  • Being sent sexual messages/images against your will (sexting)
  • Being touched in a sexual way without your permission (sexual assault)
  • Being forced to have sex with someone in return for money (sexual exploitation)
  • Being bullied in a sexual way (sexual harassment)
  • Being forced into female genital mutilation

Sexual abuse - Husna's story

I was not aware that domestic abuse included sexual abuse.
Read Husna's story

One of the most common ways for a partner to have control over you, is to keep you short of money so you are unable to buy food and other necessary items for yourself and your children.

Examples of financial abuse include:

  • Withholding money so you cannot buy food or clothes
  • Not involving you in finances, so you don’t know what is owed
  • Preventing you from getting a job
  • Preventing you from accessing your bank account
  • Forcing you to sign loans, or making you take out loans
  • Stopping you from feeling independent or from making your own choices

Financial abuse - Halima's story

I felt worthless and so guilty for letting him into my life in the first place – like it was my fault!
Read Halima's story

Emotional abuse, like psychological abuse, and financial abuse can be hidden from others, but can deeply affect you.

Examples of emotional abuse include:

  • Undermining – dismissing your opinion, or making you doubt your own opinion by acting as if you're being oversensitive
  • Being made to feel guilty – including emotional blackmail, where they threaten to kill themselves or wrongfully blame you for their drug or alcohol dependency, or failings in their life
  • Gaslighting – where you are made to question your own reality – where furniture is moved, dates are changed and deliveries arrive, which you haven’t ordered
  • Controlling behaviour – such as your partner constantly checking up on you, following you, or unjustly accusing you of flirting or of having affairs with others

Emotional abuse - Jane's story

My partner was very insecure about my past relationships and became jealous of anyone he thought might be ‘a threat’.
Read Jane’s story

Honour-based abuse describes an incident or crime which has been committed to allegedly protect or defend the honour of the family, or the community. This happens when you are punished by your family or community for doing things that are not in keeping with the traditional beliefs of their culture.

For example:

  • Resisting an arranged marriage
  • Resisting a forced marriage
  • Choosing a partner from a different culture or religion
  • Living a westernised lifestyle
  • Being prevented from living your life by a partner who applies unwanted rules on you, under the guise of religious or cultural rules

Do you think you or someone you know might be in an abusive relationship?

Women’s Aid have a checklist that can help you identify abusive behaviour

View the checklist