The government defines domestic violence as any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.

Domestic violence (or abuse) can happen to anyone. It is never ok and you don’t have to put up with it. If you are being abused, it is not your fault and you are not alone.

There are different kinds of abuse, but it's always about having power and control over the other person. It is useful to recognise the signs of domestic violence/abuse and below questions should help you with this.

Emotional abuse

Does the person ever

  • belittle you, or put you down?
  • blame you for the abuse or arguments?
  • deny that abuse is happening, or play it down?
  • isolate you from family and friends?
  • stop you going to university or work?
  • make unreasonable demands for your attention?
  • accuse you of flirting or having affairs?
  • tell you what to wear, who to see, where to go, and what to think?
  • control your money, or not give you enough to buy food or other essential things?

Psychological abuse

Does the person ever

  • call you names?
  • yell or swear at you?
  • ignore or isolate you?
  • exclude you from meaningful events or activities?
  • threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • destroy things that belong to you?
  • threaten to kill themselves if you don't do what they want?
  • read your emails, texts or letters?

Physical abuse

The person abusing you may hurt you in a number of ways.

Does the person ever

  • slap, hit or punch you?
  • push or shove you?
  • bite or kick you?
  • burn you?
  • choke you or hold you down?
  • throw things?

Financial abuse

Does the person ever

  • control how money is spent?
  • give you an “allowance”?
  • deny you direct access to bank accounts, loans or grants?
  • forbids you from working?
  • run up large debts on joint accounts without your permission or take actions that lead to you having bad credit?
  • force you to be involved in fraudulent activity?
  • spend money on themselves but not allow you to do the same?
  • give you presents or pay for things and expect something in return?

Sexual abuse

There are links and overlap between domestic violence and the continuum of sexual violence.

Does the person ever

  • touch you in a way you don't want to be touched?
  • make unwanted sexual demands?
  • hurt you during sex?
  • pressure you to have unsafe sex – for example, not using a condom?
  • pressure you to have sex (including with other people)?

If someone has sex with you when you don't want to, this is rape, even if you are in a relationship.

Controlling and coercive 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 is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, frighten, isolate or create dependence.

Who experiences domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse happens in all cultures and social groups. It is mostly women who are abused by male partners or ex-partners, but men can experience domestic abuse and women can be abusers. Both women and men can suffer domestic abuse in same-sex relationships. Children are badly affected by living with and witnessing domestic abuse and teens and young people can be vulnerable to abuse in their own relationships. Young people can be abusive to their parents and carers can be abusive to the people in their care.

When does domestic abuse happen?

Domestic abuse is rarely a one-off event and it tends to get worse over time. Abuse often increases at times when an abuser feels they are losing control: during pregnancy, after the birth of a child, and especially at the point of separation or divorce.

Where does domestic abuse happen?

Domestic abuse is usually hidden. It takes place behind closed doors and without witnesses. It is different from having a bad temper, if your partner can control their behaviour outside the home, but is cruel and dominant with you. They may appear loving and sociable in front of others, so you feel that no-one would believe you.

Why do people abuse?

Domestic abuse is mainly about power and control. Your partner (or other family member) belittles you and hurts you to show you who is the boss and to frighten you into behaving how they want.

Your partner might blame outside circumstances (such as stress, a bad day, alcohol or your ‘provoking’ behaviour). But outside circumstances don’t cause domestic abuse. If your partner bullies or hurts you to make you do what they want, it is because they choose to behave in this way.

People can behave badly in all relationships (especially if the relationship is breaking down) but domestic abuse is different. It is a pattern of bullying and threats, designed to take control of your life away from you.

You may love your partner, or feel sorry for them if they are under pressure in other areas of their life, but domestic abuse is never acceptable. It rarely gets better by itself and only your partner can choose to stop.

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