What is domestic abuse?

The UK government’s definition of domestic violence is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional.’

Domestic abuse can take different forms, including:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • financial abuse
  • coercive control and gaslighting / emotional abuse
  • digital / online abuse
  • ‘honour-based’ violence
  • forced marriage
  • female genital mutilation (FGM).

Get help now

If you need to speak to someone, we’re available every day, night and day. Call our free and 24 hour Supportline now on 08 08 16 89 111 or start a live chat any time.

Find out the different ways you can get confidential and free support now.

Read our leaflet Surviving Domestic Abuse (pdf).

We believe that all survivors of domestic abuse should be able to get the support they need to feel safe and move on from the impact of abuse. We don’t just help people who’ve recently experienced domestic abuse — we’re here to support both men and women, weeks, months and years afterwards.

We have different services in different parts of the country. All of our services are confidential, free and available to anyone who’s experienced domestic violence. We can help, regardless of whether you’ve told the police or anyone else about the abuse.

  • Our IDVA (Independent Domestic Violence Advocates) services are staffed by experienced and specialist caseworkers. Your IDVA will speak with you about your relationship, listen to you and talk you through options available to you. IDVAs often support victims who are at risk of serious harm, and act as a primary contact for all services, creating a plan with you to address your immediate safety needs. This can include things like planning for a safe exit, planning for emergencies if you choose to stay, support to access health services, safe housing, legal protections, or support through the criminal justice system.
  • We have domestic abuse outreach services, which are provided by specialist caseworkers and volunteers who will work with you in the community, co-ordinating support and providing direct practical and emotional support. We work from health services, police stations, hospitals and community centres to provide information and support to people impacted by domestic abuse.
  • Our victims’ service supports anyone affected by any crime. We’ll help you decide on the range of support and help that might benefit you.

Get help – find out how to get in touch with us.

Find out about our confidentiality policy.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse (violence) can include pushing, hitting, punching, kicking, choking and using weapons.

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse is the use of harsh or insulting language directed at a person. You might be called names or constantly put down by your partner.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse or coercive control is the act of repeatedly making someone feel bad, intimidated or scared. This can include threatening or controlling behaviour (such as controlling or withholding finances), blackmailing, constantly criticising or checking up on someone, or playing mind games.

Coercive control is now a criminal offence under the Serious Crime Act 2015.

Mental abuse

Psychological or mental abuse is when someone is subjected or exposed to a situation that can result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when you’re forced or pressured to have sex without your consent (rape), unwanted sexual activity, touching, groping or being made to watch pornography.

Most people will experience some difficulties in their relationships, but to know whether a relationship is abusive you should look at how the behaviour of your partner or family member makes you feel. If you feel intimidated, controlled or unable to speak out, that’s abuse.

Here are some signs you might be in an abusive relationship — you can read more in our guide to recognising the signs of domestic abuse.

  • Your partner criticises you and makes you doubt yourself, or doubt things happening around you. You might start believing that you’re unattractive, or lucky to have a partner at all.
  • You feel anxious and stressed in your partner’s presence. You worry about how your partner might react and this makes you change your behaviour (like staying in more) to avoid arguments with them.
  • You feel intimidated and scared of your partner when they get angry — their behaviour might be unpredictable or aggressive.
    • You’re made to feel guilty and not given the freedom to do things you want to do. Your partner might control you by telling you who you can and can’t see, or emotionally blackmail you. Your partner might make you feel like you can’t do these things even without explicitly saying so, or might make it logistically difficult.

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales year ending March 2020, an estimated 5.5% of adults aged 16 to 74 years (2.3 million) experienced domestic abuse in the last year. This equates to a prevalence rate of approximately 5 in 100 adults.

Living in an abusive home or with parents who are in an abusive relationship can have a serious impact on a child’s wellbeing.

Some of the indicators of children witnessing or experiencing domestic violence can include:

  • aggressive or angry behaviour
  • becoming withdrawn
  • getting into trouble or difficulty settling at school
  • anxiety, depression or eating disorders
  • taking drugs or excessively drinking alcohol
  • problems sleeping, including nightmares or wetting the bed.

If you’re worried a child is being abused, you can contact Victim Support for help. We can provide confidential support and information to parents, carers and teachers, as well as supporting children through our service for young people, You & Co.

Domestic abuse can have a significant impact on your emotional wellbeing, as well as sometimes affecting other relationships and your ability to live your life as you’d want to.

Everyone reacts differently but some of the effects of domestic abuse include:

  • depression
  • fear, anxiety and panic attacks
  • loneliness or isolation
  • a lack of confidence or self-esteem
  • feelings of guilt or self-blame
  • experiencing difficulties at work or in your other relationships
  • trouble sleeping.

It’s important to remember that all of these reactions are normal and this is not your fault — only your abuser is to blame for their behaviour.

Whether you decide to report domestic abuse to the police is completely up to you.

The police are trained to respond effectively to survivors of domestic abuse. If you’re not sure that you want to report the crime, you can talk to a victims’ organisation like Victim Support, and we can explain the options available to you and help you come up with a safety plan.

If you decide not to report the abuse, you can still get confidential support.

Find out more about the legal orders that protect survivors of domestic abuse.

If you’re in an abusive relationship or have experienced domestic abuse in the past, we can help you move forward with free and confidential support. You can contact us at any time, no matter how long ago the abuse took place, and we’ll support you for as long as you need.

We’ll help you think through your options and come up with a plan to put safeguards and support in place for you and your family.

Whatever you decide, we’ll be here to support you throughout your journey.

Contact us for help.

Learn more about some of the warning signs of domestic abuse.

Legal help available for people experiencing domestic abuse.

Some common concerns for survivors of domestic abuse.

Find out more about rape and sexual assault and how you can get help.