What is domestic abuse?

April 8, 2015 8:20 pm

Domestic abuse has long been a taboo subject. In my grandparents (and even my parents) younger days it was something which happened indoors and few, if any, from outside intervened in any domestic disputes when they occurred outside of the home.

Thankfully, that attitude is changing.

Over the last 20 years there has been a huge shift in attitude toward victims and perpatrators of domestic abuse. Agencies such as Women’s Aid & Refuge and the thousands of smaller charities across the country are moving mountains to help victims and their children stay safe and free from violence. There are also a number of programmes run through the Probation service for perpetrators of domestic abuse to assist them in their understanding of why they behave and how to manage their anger/emotions to reduce re-offending.

But, there is still a long way to go.

Research has shown that 1 in 3 women will be victim to domestic abuse in their lifetime. 1 in 6 men will also become victims. 2 women each week are killed by their partner or former partner through an act of domestic abuse.

These statistics are too high.

Over the next few weeks I want to take you through:

  • What domestic abuse is
    What it looks like
    The impact it has on victims
    Services & Agencies available to help
    The legal framework to protect victims
    What happens after separation in relation to children

I want you to have a better understanding of what domestic abuse is and what help is available so when one of your friends asks for help, you know where to go.

Before we get started I’d like to make it clear that the services, agencies and legal framework all relate to England and Wales. Scotland has it’s own legal system. That said, the signs and symptoms are international and with a little bit of research you can find support in almost any country for victims.

So, what is domestic abuse?

Refuge define domestic abuse as:

“… the abuse of one partner within an intimate or family relationship. It is the repeated, random and habitual use of intimidation to control a partner. The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual.”

The UK Government define it as:

“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:

I prefer the Refuge definition, it is clearer and easier to understand. Domestic abuse is a repeated behaviour which is designed to control and intimidate a partner or family member.

The 5 types of abuse are in a different order in each definition. I do appreciate there are occasions where the abuse starts as physical, however, in my experience it often starts at a much lower level. In my opinion the categories should run as follows:


The latter 3 categories are interchangeable for reasons I’ll explain below.

Now we have a definition of domestic abuse, I want to go through each category in turn before we move on.


Emotional abuse is often the start of an abusive relationship and can be the most damaging.

This type of abuse is often unseen by family and friends. It involves name calling, making unkind comments about appearance, putting the other person down, sulking when the perpetrator doesn’t get their own way, not listening or responding to questions or getting involved with conversations. Phones may be checked and victims feel they are walking on eggshells around their partners or family member. Text messages and time out with family is monitored and questioned. The perpetrator may not let the victim leave the home alone or use technology to track their every movement.

Emotional abuse gets at the heart of a relationship. It causes a person to feel insecure and vulnerable. This abuse is constant. Perpetrators of emotional abuse begin to isolate their victims through control of their emotions.


Once a perpetrator has begun to sufficiently reduce the victims’ confidence the abuse moves from emotional to psychological.

Psychological abuse is extremely damaging. In my experience, it is at this point a perpetrator will start to become physically violent, more financially controlling and be sexually aggressive toward the victim. This is because, at this point, a perpetrator has complete control of the victim. They are intimidated, vulnerable and isolated by the perpetrator and everything they have been told has become a reality.


Physical abuse is the type of abuse most associated with abuse in a relationship. It is the use of physical violence (in any form) to control, intimated, suppress an individual. It may involve not just punching and kicking but being pushed, thrown, being forced to do something against the victims will (such as face forced into food – a la Eastenders storyline a few years ago). The victim may be cut or scratched. They may be threatened with the use of/be subject to force from another person or have an animal (such as a dog) set upon them.


This type of abuse is the most recently recognised form. It involves a victims finances being controlled by a third party without their consent or through the use of force or coercion. It can include a victim not having any money for basics such as food or transport whilst their partner may be seemingly flowing with cash.


This form of domestic abuse involves a victim being raped or forced to engage in act of a sexual nature against their will.

So how does domestic abuse manifest itself?

How a victim reacts to an abusive relationship can, and often will, vary from person to person. As I said above, the emotional abuse is often the hardest to spot and, along with the psychological abuse, can frequently be the most damaging form of abuse.

Those suffering domestic abuse do not wear labels or react in a specific kind of way. They do however, often takes steps to hide the abuse and subtle changes to their personality take place over time.

A victim of emotional and psychological abuse will often start to be less outgoing, make excuses or explain their partners behaviour away as nothing to worry about. They may start to check their phones more often or lose their phone. They may begin to jump everytime the phone rings or be anxious after work or if they are meeting their partner.

Those suffering physical or sexual violence may not show any emotional signs as such. They may appear to be more clumsy as bruises are explained away. They may start to wear make-up when they didn’t previously. Their tops may go from being short sleeved to long sleeved & the sleeves are never rolled up, even on a very hot day. Female victims may not wear skirts anymore but wear trousers.

If a person is being financially abused you may begin to notice they are going out less frequently, may have little or no money for lunch or new clothes. This type of abuse may be noticeable more quickly if a person, who was frequently going out and buying new clothes, rapidly becomes more reclusive and there isn’t a reason for this. Financial abuse can start right at the beginning of a relationship. A new partner may give a very plausible reason for them controlling their partners finances. Depending upon the victim the explanations can seem very sensible.

Be aware that financial abuse can take place whereby the perpetrator uses credit cards or other funds belonging to the victim, with their consent, to purchase expensive goods.

Each area of domestic abuse has a huge impact on a victim. It is important to remember that every victim of domestic abuse is a victim. They will bear the psychological scars if not the physical ones. They are not weak. They are in need of help, support and guidance.

Next week I will look at the impact on victims and the services which are available to victims and perpetrators.

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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this blog are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this blog. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this blog. Katherine T Young Ltd & Kate Young disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this blog.