According to UK government guidance the definition of domestic violence and abuse is:

‘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. Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Psychological / Emotional
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Financial or Economic
  • Harassment and Stalking

Domestic abuse can occur in any family situation regardless of wealth, status, ethnicity or religious or cultural background. Each situation is unique, however there are certain signs or behaviours which are commonly experienced in various types of abusive relationships. The behaviours described below, can help you to recognise if you or someone you know are in an abusive relationship.

Psychological / Emotional abuse

  • Verbal abuse and threats directed at you: shouting, mocking, accusing, name calling, threatening.
  • Demeaning you in front of friends, family, or strangers
  • Constant criticism and blame
  • Withholding affection, approval, or appreciation as a punishment
  • Unreasonable jealousy and accusations of infidelity
  • Threatening to reveal intimate or confidential information about you.
  • Threatening to abuse your children or your pets or take them away, with the intention of controlling or hurting you.
  • The abuser threatening to self-harm or suicide, with the intention of controlling or hurting you.
  • Threatening to report you to the police or social services.
  • Disconnecting your phone and internet or taking your communication tablet / device away
  • Isolating you from family and friends: blaming your family or friends for your relationship problems, insulting, or threatening your family or friends, prevent you from visiting family or friends.
  • Denial from the abusive partner: saying the abuse does not happen; saying you caused the abuse; saying he can’t control his anger; being publicly gentle but hostile in private; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.

Physical abuse

  • Beating; punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling, arm twisting, restraining you
  • Holding you down or blocking you from leaving
  • Throwing objects at you and/or threatening to harm you with objects.
  • Punching walls or doors
  • Locking you in or out of the home
  • Driving recklessly to cause fear or intimidation.
  • Breaking, stealing, or removing your possessions
  • Refusal to give you access to medical attention or medication.
  • Interfering with your basic physical needs (e.g., eating, sleeping, washing)

Sexual abuse

  • Unwanted touching
  • Having sex with you when you do not want it.
  • Using force or roughness that is not consensual (rape)
  • Using force, threats, or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, watch pornography, or have sex with others.
  • Demeaning remarks about your physical appearance, sexual performance, or sexual history
  • Exposing you to sexually transmitted diseases
  • Breaking an agreement for a monogamous relationship by having sex with others

Financial or Economic

  • Stopping you from working
  • Interfering with your employment by using tactics such as excessive calls to work, creating conflict with colleagues and causing you to miss work through threats or physical abuse.
  • Refusing to work yet adding to your expenses.
  • Controlling shared finances, including bank accounts, household expenses and other assets.
  • Demanding that you sign over your finances.
  • Stealing your property, money, credit cards, assets
  • Threatening to destroy your property to affect your financial situation.
  • Forging your signature on legal or financial documents

Harassment and Stalking

  • Following you or checking up on you
  • Demanding an account of your daily activities and stalking
  • Monitoring your phone calls, opening your mail, going through your laptop, tablet or mobile (i.e., not allowing you any privacy)
  • Repeatedly checking to see who has phoned you.
  • Accompanying you everywhere you go

A woman may decide to stay with her partner for different reasons including emotional attachment (i.e., out of love or fear of the abuser), to raise children or for financial support. It is important not to judge a woman if she decides to stay with her partner or leave. A woman who finds herself in an abusive situation will need understanding and encouragement.

Women from black or minority ethnic communities are more likely to experience challenges accessing the support that they need to overcome abuse. If you are a black or minority ethnic woman you may find it difficult to leave an abusive partner or family home, for several reasons:

  • Due to the fear of rejection from other family members or the community.
  • You may be reluctant to report abuse to statutory bodies such as the police or social services because you are concerned about how this information may be handled or perhaps an unsatisfactory response. You may have encountered racism from previous police intervention, and therefore want to protect your partner and abuser, if they are black or from another ethnic minority.
  • If you have recently relocated to the UK, or if English is not your first language, it may be harder for you to understand the sources of help and legal information available to you. If you decide to contact a support service, a trusted and independent interpreter should be provided to you. You are entitled to request this or change the current interpreter if you are unhappy with their service.
  • You have a right to healthcare and protection from domestic abuse, no matter what your immigration or settled status is.

For more information on where to seek help and access legal advice please visit our Useful Links page.

How common is domestic abuse?


In the UK, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse and 1 in 5 sexual assault during her lifetime. Globally this rises to 1 in 3. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales year ending March 2020: an estimated 7.5% of women (1.6 million) and 3.8% of men (757,000) experienced domestic abuse in the last year. This translates to approximately 8 in 100 women and 4 in 100 men. In 75% of the domestic abuse-related crimes recorded by the police in the year ending March 2020, the victim was female. Women are more likely than men to be the victims of domestic abuse. According to on average a woman is killed by her male partner or former partner every 4 days in the UK England and Wales. Domestic abuse is crime, which is often repeated, and in comparison, to other crimes there is a higher incidence of repeat offences. Over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse are made to the emergency services, every hour.

Where can I find support?

If you would like help to overcome domestic abuse:

  1. If you are in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police.
  2. Call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247
  3. If it may be difficult to pick up the phone visit Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse website to chat live, Monday to Friday, 3pm to 10pm
  4. Web address:
  5. You may be entitled to receive support from the Government Department for Work and Pensions in relation to a number of areas including:
  • child maintenance application fee
  • work-related requirements
  • jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and employment support allowance (ESA)
  • housing benefit
  • universal credit payment arrangements

More information is available online. Visit the Department for Work and Pensions online.

Useful links for legal advice services:

Rights of Women: A charity providing free legal advice to help women understand the law and their rights. Their information lines cover several areas including family law, criminal law, immigration law and sexual harassment at work.

Southall Black Sisters: A charity that raises awareness on domestic violence affecting primarily women of Asian, African and African-Caribbean descent. They provide information on racial harassment, welfare and immigration also. Main area of work undertaken within the borough of Ealing, in west London, but will take enquiries from around the UK.

Domestic Violence Assist : The UK’s only registered charity arranging Non-Molestation Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders & Occupation Orders. Call their freephone number on 0800 195 8699.

Child law advice provided by the Coram Children’s Legal Centre. The charity provides legal advice on family, child and education law and issues which may arise following relationship breakdown, local authority intervention and child protection issues.

To check if you are entitled to free and confidential advice from Civil Legal Advice (CLA).

Useful links for general support and advice

National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 (run by Refuge)

The Mix – Free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994


Home Office in the media – Violence against Women and Girls and Male Position Factsheets: ending year March 2019 Published online

Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2020) Domestic abuse victim characteristics, England and Wales: year ending March 2020 Published online