What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can mean any kind of physical or emotional abuse between those in a current or past intimate or family relationship.  No specific offence of domestic violence or domestic abuse currently exists in English or Scottish law.  However, many behaviours which are manifested as part of an abusive relationship may in themselves be criminal law offences including sexual offences. 

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse 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
Controlling behaviour
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
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.

Examples of domestic abuse

 Emotional and Psychological
  • Someone shouting at you or making threats, humiliating or intimidating you.
  • Someone controlling you by restricting where you can go, who you can see or who you can phone.
  • Emotional abuse can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as repeated disapproval or even the refusal to ever be pleased.  Continual insults, accusations and insinuations erode away at a person until they lose all sense of self-esteem and confidence.
  • Domestic abuse is the most prevalent cause of depression and other mental health difficulties in women. 
  • Someone injuring you physically in any way e.g. punching, kicking, slapping, pushing.
  • In the UK, two women every week are killed by a partner or former partner, and a women is at most risk of death or serious injury at the point of leaving or up to a year afterwards.
  • Domestic abuse accounts for between 16% and a quarter of all violent crime (Rise 2016). 
  • Someone intimidating or coercing you into performing sexual acts or forcing you to have sex with them.
  • Someone using the power of their position to persuade you into a sexual relationship.
  • 54% of rapes are committed by a woman’s partner or former partner and a third of teenage girls suffer unwanted sexual acts in a relationship (Rise 2016). 
  • Someone denying you access to money, taking your money or preventing you from getting a job.
  • This can make you become dependent and powerless.
  • You may be asked to account for every penny spent or every phone call made on an itemised bill. 
Honour Based Violence
Female Genital Mutilation
  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is sometimes referred to as Female Circumcision or Female Genital Cutting.
  • It is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the range of procedures that involve 'The partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reason’. 



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