Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, by a partner or ex-partner. It is very common. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men. Domestic abuse can also happen in same-sex relationships.

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

  • Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence)
  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Online or digital abuse

Domestic abuse can happen to people of any age, background or status. Although every situation is unique, there are common factors that link the experience of an abusive relationship. Acknowledging these factors is an important step in preventing and stopping the abuse. This list can help you to recognise if you, or someone you know, are in an abusive relationship.

They include:

Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting; mocking; accusing; name calling; verbally threatening.

Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold money; disconnecting the phone and internet; taking away or destroying your mobile, tablet or laptop; taking the car away; taking the children away; threatening to report you to the police, social services or the mental health team unless you comply with his demands; threatening or attempting self-harm and suicide; withholding or pressuring you to use drugs or other substances; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.

Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; taking money from your purse without asking; refusing to help with childcare or housework.

Breaking trust: lying to you; withholding information from you; being jealous; having other relationships; breaking promises and shared agreements.

Isolation: monitoring or blocking your phone calls, e-mails and social media accounts; telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives; shutting you in the house.

Harassment: following you; checking up on you; not allowing you any privacy (for example, opening your mail going through your laptop, tablet or mobile), repeatedly checking to see who has phoned you; embarrassing you in public; accompanying you everywhere you go.

Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; destroying your possessions; breaking things; punching walls; wielding a knife or a gun; threatening to kill or harm you and the children; threatening to kill or harm family pets; threats of suicide.

Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don’t want it; forcing you to look at pornographic material; constant pressure and harassment into having sex when you don’t want to; forcing you to have sex with other people; any degrading treatment related to your sexuality or to whether you are lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual.

Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling, pinning you down; holding you by the neck; restraining you.

Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen; saying you caused the abuse; saying you wind him up; saying he can’t control his anger; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.

Women’s Aid has an online questionnaire that may help you to recognise if you are in an abusive relationship.

Most forms of domestic abuse are criminal offences and you (or someone else on your behalf) may decide to contact the police for help. Being assaulted, sexually abused, threatened or harassed by someone you know or live with is just as much a crime as violence from a stranger, and is often more dangerous. If you feel you are in immediate danger, you should dial 999.

You can’t stop your partner’s violence and abuse – only he can do that. But there are things you can do to increase your own and your children’s safety.

Women’s Aid has a detailed guide to making a personal safety plan, which is a way of helping you protect yourself and your children.

If you are thinking about leaving an abusive partner, you may be worried about how you can support yourself, and any children you have with you, financially. Women’s Aid offers information and support about money issues.

Most police stations have Domestic Violence Units or Community Safety Units with specially trained officers to deal with domestic violence and abuse.

If you call the police because you are experiencing domestic abuse, they should always give you the opportunity of being listened to and spoken to separately, away from your abuser. You can also ask to be seen by a woman police officer (WPC).

The police should provide you with an interpreter if you need one, and should never ask your children or other family members to interpret in cases of domestic abuse

The police should help and support you by:

  • Protecting you and your children.
  • Removing the risk of further violence – ideally by arresting and removing the perpetrator.
  • Arranging first aid or other medical assistance (such as an ambulance).
  • Finding out what has happened, taking into account the known risk factors associated with domestic violence.
  • Offering you support and reassurance.
  • Helping you to access other agencies (for example, Women’s Aid).
  • Arranging transport to a safe place, if you want this.

Domestic abuse should be treated as seriously as an assault or threat from a stranger. Each police officer can use their powers to intervene, arrest, caution or charge an abuser.

If there are reasonable grounds to justify an arrest, the police should do this without asking your “permission” or insisting on a statement from you first – though they will need to take one later.

They do not need a warrant to arrest someone who they suspect is about to commit an arrestable offence, nor do they need to witness an assault. The abuser can then be held for up to 24 hours (or 36 hours at weekends) before they need to charge him.

If the perpetrator has left before the police arrive, the police should circulate a description and make every effort to find him. Officers should also gather alternative evidence (for example, photos of damage or injury) in order to charge and build a prosecution case that does not rely entirely on your statement. They should ensure that you and your children are safe while they do this.

If you do call out the police, and they take action against your abuser, do ask them for and make a note of the crime reference number as this may be helpful when you contact other agencies.

If your immigration status is insecure, a record of police attendance to an incident of domestic violence might form part of your case to apply for leave to remain in the UK.

You can find more information on police services and what happens next here.

You could try to gain some protection from your abuser by applying for a civil injunction or protection order.

An injunction is a court order that requires someone to do or not to do something.

There are two main types of injunctions available under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996:

  • A non-molestation order
  • An occupation order

A non-molestation order is aimed at preventing your partner or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against you or your child, or intimidating, harassing or pestering you, in order to ensure the health, safety and well-being of yourself and your children.

An occupation order regulates who can live in the family home, and can also restrict your abuser from entering the surrounding area. If you do not feel safe continuing to live with your partner, or if you have left home because of violence, but want to return and exclude your abuser, you may want to apply for an occupation order.

You can find more information about getting an injunction here

The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) is a charity that provides a free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic violence. You can call them free on 0800 970 20 70 for advice or assistance on getting an injunction in place.

Additionally, the Law Society  or the local Citizens Advice Bureau  will also be able to give you a list of family solicitors in your area.

The funding for an application for an injunction is free. If you need a barrister or solicitor to represent you that may cost money.

You may be eligible for Legal Aid to cover the cost of your lawyer. See Rights of Women Guide to Family Law Legal Aid for more information

A refuge is a safe house where women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse can stay free from fear.

There are over 500 refuge and support services in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Any woman who needs to escape from domestic abuse can go into a refuge at any time. It does not matter whether or not you are married to or living with your abuser, or whether or not you have children.

Some refuges are specifically for women from particular ethnic or cultural backgrounds (for example, Black, Asian or South American women).

Many refuges have disabled access and staff and volunteers who can assist women and children who have special needs.

If you have children, you can take them with you. There are some refuges that have self-contained family units but most refuges will usually give you your own room for yourself to share with your children.

You can call the Freephone National 24-hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) which will find a refuge space for you if you want this.

Many refuge organisations have public contact numbers, and if you want you can contact these yourself (see the Women’s Aid domestic abuse service directory, or look in the telephone book for your local Women’s Aid organisation or other domestic violence service).

You can also contact refuge organisations through the Police, the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or 1850 60 90 90 (ROI), social services or the Citizens Advice Bureau.

More information about refuges can be found at the Refuge website and Women’s Aid has an information page about living in a refuge.

You may want to call the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) to discuss your situation in confidence, or chat about it anonymously on the Survivors’ forum.

The Women’s Aid Survivor’s Handbook provides practical support and information for women experiencing domestic abuse, with simple guidance on every aspect of seeking support.

For help and support with going through the prosecution process, you could contact a specialist domestic violence advocacy service, which may be part of your local domestic abuse service.

You could also contact Victim Support on 0845 30 30 900. The police might already have put you in touch with them. Their website gives useful information, including their leaflet on “Going to court”.

Volunteers from Victim Support can provide emotional support and help you in confidence to explore the different options open to you.

The Victim Support Witness Service will support you if you go to court, including giving you information about the court and prosecution process. If you want, they will sit with you in the waiting room and when you are called to give evidence.

National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) 0800 970 20 70

Rights of Women (020 7251 6577) can give you more information about the law and your rights

The Home Office  produces a leaflet, “Witness in court”, which you should be sent if you are asked to appear as a witness.

Crown Prosecution Service  website – For information and in particular how decisions on prosecution are reached.

For more help and information on housing options, contact Shelter

This information was compiled in collaboration with
Women’s Aid