What is Domestic Abuse?

Advice Information Stories

Domestic abuse is often about power and control. It rarely happens as a one-off. There is usually a pattern, or cycle where the victim is mistreated, then made to feel loved until the abuse begins again.

There are lots of types of behaviours that can be abuse, one or several may be experienced.

Physical violence in domestic abuse is well understood – hitting, punching, harming in some physical way. This includes sexual violence or manipulation too.

Emotional or psychological abuse is far less well known as a form of domestic abuse. So is verbal abuse and threatening comments, playing mind games to manipulate and control, putting restrictions on someone – about when they can go out, who they can see, what they can wear. Financial control might mean taking control of bank accounts, keeping track of every penny the other person spends, or demanding money.

Forced marriage is also a form of domestic abuse.

Abusive situations at home are often complicated, traumatic and destructive. Sometimes domestic abuse is about one person inflicting the abuse on another but often the abuse can be mutual and due to both partners finding it difficult to manage stress and conflict. People who have had difficult upbringings are particularly at risk of being part of an abusive situation in the home, though domestic abuse affects any age, any race, any class and any gender. Its traumatising effects can last for years, on everyone involved, including children.

Domestic abuse can involve a partner or another family member. For people who are suffering domestic abuse, their mental health is likely to be affected, and their self-esteem, making it difficult to talk about. Making them feel trapped and alone, keeping them in the place where their abuser wants them to be.

However, people can and do escape domestic abuse and fully recover, going on to enjoy healthy relationships.

What are the signs of domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can often build up over time, so victims may not realise what’s happening to them straight away. They may not know that what they’re experiencing is domestic abuse. Friends and family might see the symptoms but they don’t always know how to ask about it. They may not want to interfere, for fear of making things worse. Or just because it’s not the done thing. Even if someone who is experiencing domestic abuse knows that’s what it is, asking for help is not easy. Fear of the abuser can stop any attempts to get help. Protecting children is often a reason not to make a change. Or perhaps it’s the feelings of shame and worthlessness which come with being abused that make it feel impossible to act. If you’re not sure whether what you’re experiencing is domestic abuse or not, ask if any of these are true for you: – I feel unsafe – I am frightened for myself or my children – My partner gets very angry and verbally abusive – The word ‘no’ is not respected – I feel like I’m walking on eggshells, waiting for the explosion – I know when I’m going to get shouted at – My partner doesn’t let me go out or puts conditions on me, like not being allowed to wear make-up – I have no control over my own money – I am made to feel like I’m a bad person and no-one wants me – I am hit, punched, slapped or hurt physically – My partner apologises afterwards If some of these are true for you, get help. Survivors who have finally decided to get help can and do turn their lives around and fully recover from the abusive relationship. Read the Survivor Stories to find out more.

Do you think someone you know is being abused?

Are they: – Reluctant to be out in public, or makes excuses to get home? – On edge or nervous, especially when the potential abuser is around? – Covering up or hiding behind clothing when it’s not needed? Do you: – Hear repeated shouting from the potential abuser? – Not hear from the person for longer than usual? – Have play dates for your children cancelled? Asking someone you think is suffering isn’t easy. It feels like intruding. ‘Are you OK?’ is a simple way to ask without being too direct, but it’s important you listen to their response – they may be trying to tell you something without using the words. People suffering domestic abuse can feel very scared and isolated. Reassurance that you care and that asking for help is OK can help them feel that they can do something about it. Domestic abuse is a hidden issue that no-one wants to talk about. But it could make all the difference. It could prevent a person being killed. On average victims suffer an abusive relationship for 5 years. The first call to Police is made only after the victim has been abused at least 30 times. For some victims, that is too late. If you see, hear or experience domestic abuse, do something about it. In an emergency always call the police but you don’t have to wait for an emergency to get help for someone who’s suffering. Go to Get help to find out more about confidential support lines for women and men and places that can help locally.