What is domestic abuse? 

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The UK Government definition

‘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

Domestic abuse can be a one-off incident or a pattern of behaviour. 

Domestic abuse is not just physical violence – it can be emotional, psychological, financial or sexual 

Abuse can include, but is not limited to: 

  • Psychological: intimidation - insults - criticising - shaming - or threatening your children or pets.
  • Financial: controlling access to money - building up debts in your name
  • Sexual: rape - sexual insults - refusal to practice safe sex
  • Physical: not limited to hitting, but using objects - restraining - suffocation - starving - bruising - biting
  • Emotional: calling you stupid or useless, eroding your independence, stopping you from seeing family or friends.
  • Coercive Control: using a pattern of behaviour to exert power and control - a separate criminal offence. 

The Government definition includes so-called 'honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage. Victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

Domestic violence is any type of abuse from someone you have (or have had) a relationship with, or from a family member, regardless of gender or sexuality 

Domestic abuse also includes abuse between family members, such as from adolescent or adult children to parents, or from carers. 

Domestic abuse can affect anyone

Although most domestic abuse is carried out by men against women, men can also suffer abuse by women, and domestic violence is equally common in same-sex relationships. 


Domestic abuse is defined as taking place between adults, but this abuse also harms children and can have a long-term impact on their emotional and mental wellbeing, as well as their own behaviour in some cases.

If you are worried about abuse against children or young people, contact children's safeguarding (opens in new window) immediately.

Are you experiencing domestic abuse?

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, it is important to remember that it is not your fault, and that you do not have to live through it in silence and on your own. You are entitled to live your life free from fear. Go to our page on where to get help for people experiencing domestic abuse for details on the many people and organisations whom you can turn to for help and advice.

More information