What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is abuse that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship. It can be carried out by a current or ex-partner, their family members, your own family members, or the parent of your child. An abuser might involve other family members, friends or members of the community in their abuse.

Abuse is abuse, whether it consists of a single incident or a long-term pattern of behaviour. The definitions below will help you to understand whether you, or someone you know, is experiencing domestic abuse.

Controlling or coercive behaviour

Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour used by abusers to instill fear and restrict freedom. It underpins all forms of domestic abuse.

Coercive control involves an abuser repeatedly behaving in a way which makes you feel controlled, dependent, isolated, or scared. The following types of behaviour are common examples of coercive control:

  • isolating you from your friends and family;
  • restricting or monitoring your activities and your movements including listening to your phone calls and reading your texts/emails;
  • controlling how much money you have and how you spend it;
  • threatening to report you to social services, the police or immigration services unless you comply with their demands;
  • threatening to take your children away;
  • threatening to share private information with your friends/family/community to shame or embarrass you;
  • preventing you from taking medication or accessing healthcare.

Psychological or emotional abuse

Psychological abuse can be difficult to recognise. It can include:

  • intimidation;
  • name-calling;
  • criticisms and insults made in private or in front of others about your appearance, parenting or cooking/housekeeping;
  • silent treatment;
  • manipulation;
  • blame;
  • gaslighting (creating a false narrative that makes you question your own judgements and reality);
  • making fun of/patronising you when you speak and dismissing you or your concerns as if you are unimportant.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is the most visible form of domestic abuse. It can lead to permanent injuries, health issues and, at times, death. It can include such behaviour as:

  • pinching, slapping, punching, shaking, burning, kicking, biting, stabbing;
  • pinning you down, holding you by the neck;
  • restraining you;
  • throwing things at you.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involves:

  • using force, threats, or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts;
  • having sex with you when you don’t want it;
  • forcing you to look at pornographic material;
  • constant pressure and harassment into having sex when you don’t want to;
  • forcing you to have sex with other people;
  • any degrading treatment related to your sexuality.

Economic or financial abuse

95% of cases of domestic abuse involve economic abuse. Economic abuse can take many forms, including:

  • sabotaging your income and access to money by preventing you from going to work or accessing education;
  • taking your wages and making you ask for money;
  • refusing to let you claim benefits;
  • taking children’s savings or birthday money;
  • withholding child maintenance payments;
  • dictating what you can buy;
  • checking your receipts;
  • making you keep a spending diary;
  • insisting all savings and assets (e.g. house, car) are in their name;
  • insisting all bills, credit cards and loans are in your name and making you pay the;
  • building up debt in your name with or without your knowledge.

Technological abuse

Abusers often use technology to carry out their abuse. They may use technology to monitor you in your home, track your location, harass you online, record you without your consent or upload sensitive or private information or images or videos of you online.

Harmful practices

Harmful practices are forms of violence which have been committed in certain communities and societies for so long that they are considered, or presented by abusers, to be acceptable cultural practices. Harmful practices include:

  • forced marriage;
  • ‘honour’ based abuse;
  • female genital mutilation (FGM);
  • gender selective abortion;
  • female infanticide (the deliberate killing of newborn female children);
  • dowry-related violence;
  • acid attacks.

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