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What is domestic violence / domestic abuse?

The terms domestic violence and domestic abuse are often used interchangeably however domestic abuse more accurately represents the fact that in a domestic situation, abuse is not always just about physical violence.

The words ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘domestic violence’ are used to describe a pattern of characterised by the misuse of power and control by one person over another who are or have been in an intimate relationship. The relationships where domestic abuse can happen include marriage, families, couples who are dating or living together. Women are most often the victims of domestic abuse but men can also be victims. Domestic abuse happens in straight, gay and transgender relationships and in relationships between people of all cultures, religions, nationalities and financial backgrounds. Some people are especially vulnerable due to an existing disability or illness whilst others become more vulnerable as their health deteriorates as a result of the abuse. Domestic abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional or psychological and financial or a mixture. It includes threats, intimidation, harassment, damage to property etc.

Although every situation is unique, there are common factors that link the experience of an abusive relationship. Acknowledging these factors is an important step in preventing and stopping the abuse. This list can help you to recognise if you, or someone you know, are in an abusive relationship.

In March 2013 the government launched a new definition for domestic violence and abuse which states:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or 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.

This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

 Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

What the abuser does Examples
Destructive criticism and verbal abuse Shouting, mocking, name calling, accusing, making threats.
Pressure tactics Sulking, saying they will take the car, disconnect the phone, withhold money, kill them self, take the children away, make a report to social services criticising the way the children are being brought up, telling lies about you to friends and family, saying you have no choice in decisions.
Disrespect Persistently putting you down in front of other people, not responding to you when you talk, interrupting you when you are on the phone, taking your things including money from your purse/wallet, refusing to help with childcare or housework and expecting you to do all of it.
Breaking trust Lying to you or keeping information from you, breaking promises, being jealous and thinking you are having other relationships.
Isolation Blocking your phone calls, keeping you away from your friends and family, telling you where you can and can’t go.
Harassment Following you, checking up to see who you have been on the phone to, embarrassing you in public, opening your mail.
Threats Making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
Sexual violence Using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex, any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
Physical violence Punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, shoving, burning, strangling.
Denial Saying the abuse doesn’t happen, saying you caused the abusive behaviour, being publicly gentle and patient, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again.