What is domestic abuse?

The UK government’s definition of domestic violence 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.’

Domestic abuse can take different forms, including:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • financial abuse
  • coercive and controlling behaviour, and gaslighting/emotional abuse
  • digital/online abuse
  • ‘honour’-based abuse
  • forced marriage
  • female genital mutilation (FGM).

Get help now

If you need to speak to someone, we’re available every day, night and day. Call our free and 24 hour Supportline now on 08 08 16 89 111 or start a live chat any time.

Find out the different ways you can get confidential and free support now.

Read our leaflet Surviving Domestic Abuse (PDF).

Physical abuse

Physical abuse (violence) can include pushing, hitting, punching, kicking, choking and using weapons.

Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse is the use of harsh or insulting language directed at a person. You might be called names or constantly put down by your partner.

Coercive and controlling behaviour

Controlling and coercive behaviour are forms of emotional abuse. They often go together, but are slightly different.

  • Coercion is a pattern of behaviour designed to make someone feel intimidated, scared, humiliated or threatened.
  • Controlling behaviour happens when someone sets out to make the victim subordinate or dependent on them by cutting them off from their support networks, regulating their behaviour and reducing their independence.

Examples of these behaviours include: withholding money, blackmailing, constantly criticising someone, checking up on or monitoring someone, isolating someone from friends and family, and playing mind games such as gas lighting. These behaviours make it very difficult for the person to leave the relationship.

Controlling or coercive behaviour is now a criminal offence under the Serious Crime Act 2015.

Psychological abuse

Psychological or mental abuse is when someone is subjected or exposed to a situation that can result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when you’re forced or pressured to have sex without your consent (rape), unwanted sexual activity, touching, groping or being made to watch pornography.

Most people will experience some difficulties in their relationships. But to know whether you’re being abused in a relationship, you should look at how the behaviour of your partner or family member makes you feel. If you feel intimidated, controlled or unable to speak out, that’s abuse.

Here are some signs you might be in a relationship and being abused — you can read more in our guide to recognising the signs of domestic abuse.

  • Your partner criticises you and makes you doubt yourself, or doubt things happening around you. You might start believing you’re unattractive, or lucky to have a partner at all.
  • You feel anxious and stressed in your partner’s presence. You worry about how your partner might react and this makes you change your behaviour (like staying in more) to avoid arguments with them.
  • You feel intimidated and scared of your partner when they get angry — their behaviour might be unpredictable or aggressive.
  • You’re made to feel guilty and not given the freedom to do things you want to do.
  • Your partner might control you by telling you who you can and can’t see, or emotionally blackmail you. (Your partner might make you feel like you can’t do these things even without explicitly saying so, or might make it logistically difficult.)

Living in a home where abuse is happening can have a serious impact on a child’s wellbeing.

Some of the indicators of children witnessing or experiencing domestic violence can include:

  • aggressive or angry behaviour
  • becoming withdrawn
  • getting into trouble or difficulty settling at school
  • anxiety, depression or eating disorders
  • taking drugs or excessively drinking alcohol
  • problems sleeping, including nightmares or wetting the bed.

If you’re worried a child is being abused, you can contact Victim Support for help. We can provide confidential support and information to parents, carers and teachers, as well as supporting children through our service for young people.

Domestic abuse can have a significant impact on your emotional wellbeing, as well as sometimes affecting other relationships and your ability to live your life as you’d want to.

Everyone reacts differently but some of the effects of domestic abuse include:

  • depression
  • fear, anxiety and panic attacks
  • loneliness or isolation
  • a lack of confidence or self-esteem
  • feelings of guilt or self-blame
  • experiencing difficulties at work or in your other relationships
  • trouble sleeping.

It’s important to remember all of these reactions are normal and this is not your fault. Only your abuser is to blame for their behaviour.

Whether you decide to report domestic abuse to the police is completely up to you.

The police are trained to respond effectively to survivors of domestic abuse. If you’re not sure you want to report the crime, you can talk to a victims’ organisation like Victim Support. We can explain the options available to you and help you come up with a safety plan.

If you decide not to report the abuse, you can still get confidential support.

Find out more about the legal orders that protect survivors of domestic abuse.

The rising cost of living is affecting millions across the UK. It’s a worrying time for many people. And if you’re living with abuse or violence, it can feel like a challenging situation.

You may be in the position where you can’t afford to leave the abuser. You may worry about financial hardship or homelessness if you were to leave.

If you’re in this situation and feel stuck, please know you’re not alone.

We have further information that explains what financial support may be available to you and how we – and other services – can support you.

If you’re in a relationship and being abused, or have experienced domestic abuse in the past, we can help you move forward with free and confidential support. We’ll help you think through your options and come up with a plan to put safeguards and support in place for you and your family.

You can contact us at any time, no matter how long ago the abuse took place. We don’t just help people who’ve recently experienced domestic abuse — we’re here to support you, weeks, months or years afterwards.

We believe all survivors of domestic abuse should be able to get the support they need to feel safe and move on from the impact of abuse.

We have different services in different parts of the country. All of our services are confidential, free and available to anyone who’s experienced domestic violence. We can help, regardless of whether you’ve told the police or anyone else about the abuse.

  • Our IDVA (Independent Domestic Violence Advocates) services are staffed by experienced and specialist caseworkers. Your IDVA will speak with you about your relationship, listen to you and talk you through options available to you. IDVAs often support victims who are at risk of serious harm, and act as a primary contact for all services, creating a plan with you to address your immediate safety needs. This can include things like planning for a safe exit, planning for emergencies if you choose to stay, support to access health services, safe housing, legal protections, or support through the criminal justice system.
  • We have domestic abuse outreach services, which are provided by specialist caseworkers and volunteers who will work with you in the community, coordinating support and providing direct support. We work from health services, police stations, hospitals and community centres to provide information and support to people impacted by domestic abuse.
  • We run a 10 week online programme for women who have experienced domestic abuse. Find out more about iMatter and eligibility.
  • Our victims’ service supports anyone affected by any crime. We’ll help you decide on the range of support and help that might benefit you.

Whatever you decide, we’ll be here to support you throughout your journey. Find out how to contact us for help.

Find out about our confidentiality policy.

When you report a crime to the police, they should automatically ask if you’d like help from an organisation like Victim Support. But anyone affected by crime can contact us directly – you don’t need to talk to the police to get our help.

You can get in touch by:

You can also create a free account on My Support Space – an online resource with interactive guides (including a number on domestic abuse) to help you manage the impact crime has had on you.

If English is not your first language and you’d like support, call our Supportline and let us know which language you speak. We’ll call you back with an interpreter as soon as possible. We also welcome calls via Relay UK and SignLive (BSL).

Families and friends affected by crime can also contact us for support and information. If you’re a child or young person under 18 and are looking for support, visit our children and young people website for information and tips.

My Support Space is a secure, confidential and free online resource from Victim Support. It contains interactive self-support guides you can work through in your own time, and when it’s safe and convenient for you to do so.

There are interactive guides for both victims of domestic abuse and people who may be supporting someone experiencing domestic abuse. You can download a leaflet to tell you more or sign up for your free account.

Further support and information:


Learn more about some of the warning signs of domestic abuse.

Legal help available for people experiencing domestic abuse.

Some common concerns for survivors of domestic abuse.

If you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, it was not your fault - no matter the circumstances. Find out how you can get help.