What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is defined as; physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or financial abuse that usually takes place within the home, and is perpetrated by a partner, ex-partner, family member or carer.

It can include stalking and harassment, controlling and threatening behaviour, forced marriage, so-called 'honour-based' crimes and female genital mutilation (FGM).

In the vast majority of cases, it's experienced by women and is perpetrated by men. It's a myth that domestic abuse is constituted only by acts of violence. It also includes:

  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Online and/ or digital abuse

If you think you’re being abused, or are worried about a friend or family member, here are a set of questions to ask.

You can find more information about the different types of abuse below.

What is domestic abuse?

In 2015 coercive control became recognised as a criminal offence, punishable by law. Coercive control is defined as a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence.

What is domestic abuse?

Some of the different types of abuse are listed below. Click the headings to get a downloadable fact sheet for the different kinds of abuse:

Physical abuse

The reality is harsh. In the UK two women die each week at the hands of their partners or ex-partners. And a woman is at most risk of death or serious injury at the point of leaving or up to a year after.

Physical abuse is any kind of bodily contact with the intention of controlling or hurting you. It includes acts like pushing, slapping, hitting, hair-pulling, spitting, punching, kicking, and biting.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when someone is forced, pressurised or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity. Unwanted sexual behaviour can happen in intimate relationships. If consent isn’t given, it’s sexual abuse.

Psychological and emotional abuse

This ranges from verbal abuse and constant criticism, to more subtle tactics such as repeated disapproval, or even the refusal to ever be pleased.

Continual insults, accusations and insinuations erode a person until they lose all sense of self-esteem and confidence. It often has more long-lasting and profound effects than any physical harm.

Psychological and emotional abuse is sometimes called ‘intimate terrorism’.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse involves using money as a way to limit and control a partner’s current or future actions, and to take away independence and freedom of choice. It can include using credit cards without permission, putting contractual obligations in their partner’s name, gambling with family assets, or stopping their partner from getting or keeping a job.

Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is when someone uses religion or faith systems to abuse you and it often involves coercive and controlling behavior in a religious context.

Digital or Online Abuse

Digital or online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the internet. It can happen on any device connected to the web such as computers, tablets, mobile phones, or smartwatches, and it can happen anywhere online.


Stalking is a pattern of repeated and unwanted behaviour which causes you to feel distressed or scared. Stalking can be done by anyone regardless of gender expression, and it can happen with or without a fear of violence. This means that if you are receiving continual unwanted contact that is causing you distress but the person has never threatened you; this is still stalking and is not acceptable. You may have dated,
married, or been a friend with your stalker. Just because you know/knew the stalker does not mean that the situation is your fault - it is still stalking and it is wrong.

Reproductive Coercion

Reproductive abuse – also known as reproductive coercion – is a form of
abuse in which someone else controls your reproductive choices. Like all abuse, it’s used to gain power and control. As you can imagine, reproductive abuse can have serious and life-changing consequences for those against whom is it perpetrated.

What is domestic abuse?
I am still in the process of recovery but having the initial counselling really helped me to see for the first time that what I had experienced was domestic abuse. It was the beginning to my recovery process. I believe that RISE have helped me have the courage to face the worse and begin the process of recovery of both of my children. If I hadn’t had the support I do have, I would feel extremely isolated and desperate, as not many people understand the complex dynamics of an abusive relationship so it is an extremely isolating experience for the victim.
A former RISE service user