Domestic abuse can include a wide range of behaviours. It can be a mixture of physical acts of violence, threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, emotional, psychological, sexual and/or economic abuse. It can occur online or offline and can happen to or be caused by anyone.

Experiencing any of the following is not okay and is never your fault.


Physical abuse is any violence or intentional and unwanted contact with your body.

Examples of physical abuse

  • Being, or threatened to be, kicked, punched, pinched, pushed, dragged, shoved, slapped, scratched, strangled, spat on or bitten
  • Throwing objects at the person or in their direction
  • Forcing you to take drugs or preventing you from taking essential medication
  • Use, or threats of use, of weapons including knives and irons
  • Threat to hurt a person or animal
  • Torture
  • Damage to property

How you will know – Physical

  • You may notice someone has injuries that are either unexplained or the reason for them does not match the extent.
  • They may appear unwell, or in pain.
  • They may be intoxicated or clearly under the influence of drugs.
  • They may be scared due to the threats of physical harm.
  • Their property may be damaged.
  • They may seem to be self-harming.

Emotional or psychological

Emotional or psychological abuse is a common form of abuse and is often overlooked or misinterpreted.

It is when a perpetrator deliberately uses words or acts in a way to hurt, scare, belittle, or undermine a person. They may also try to “gaslight” and confuse the person and make them feel as though they are losing their mind.

Examples of psychological or emotional abuse

  • Hostile behaviour, calling you names or belittling you
  • Threatening to take your children away or report you to social care services
  • Accusing you of flirting or being unfaithful
  • Blaming you for the abuse or calling you abusive
  • Controlling what you eat or when you sleep
  • Threatening violence to you or those you care about
  • Discriminating against someone or mocking them about their disability, sex or gender identity, gender reassignment, religion or faith belief, sexual orientation, age, physical appearance

Controlling behaviour

This is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate 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.

How you will know – Controlling

  • Unable to make decisions, no matter how large or small without first checking with the person causing them harm.
  • Criticised publicly or talk of being criticised and ‘can do nothing right’.
  • Not allowed to speak for very long on the phone or meet with people.
  • Being cared for or loved is “conditional”. You are not good enough right now, but if you do something then you will (or might) be.
  • Having lots of gifts, holidays, a new car or another treat. Creating a ‘guilt’ that because the person causing harm has provided this, then the survivor is beholden to them.
  • Jealousy, snooping, spying or wanting constant disclosure of where someone is, what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Coercive behaviour

“An act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”

How you will know – Coercive

  • Controlling who you can speak to, monitoring you online and offline, creating drama when you want to go out preventing you from making your own choices about when you go out, preventing access to transport and limiting your time with others.
  • Making you feel bad for wanting to make your own decisions, so making you feel guilty about wanting to wear something or go somewhere.
  • Taking over your relationships, or telling people not to speak with you.
  • Undermining you, putting you down, criticising you or your friends and family.
  • Gaslighting you – distorting the reality to manipulate you.
  • Threatening you or your friends, family or pets.
  • Attempting suicide or threatening self-harm if you try to leave or do not do a certain thing.
  • Creating the rules to live by (just applies to you and not them), micromanagement of your life.

How coercive behaviour affects certain groups

Neurodiverse people

Neurodiverse people can struggle to form boundaries with people and recognise a need to safeguard themselves. You can have very intense friendships and relationships as a result. The intensity of the connection, lack of boundaries, pleasure and reward-seeking means it can be very difficult to walk away or to know when abuse is occurring.

Neurodivergent people can be overly trusting and struggle to read a situation or social cues. This can place you in difficult situations or around dangerous people with no idea how to get out. To be accepted, you may find yourself saying yes to things you don’t understand or want to take part in.

Older people

As people grow older their personal circumstances often mean that they become more dependent on a single person or their immediate family to meet changing care and support needs. This can result in a situation in which an abuser becomes the main influence in their life. An abuser may be in a stronger position to restrict relationships that would give a survivor valuable interaction (supportive family members, friends, and the wider community).

Digital and technology

It is quite easy now for perpetrators to use online or digital tools to check up on someone. As well as monitoring or controlling a person’s online activities, technical abuse also includes using social media to cause harm. It can happen during and after the relationship.

Examples of digital or online abuse

  • use of spyware or GPS locators on items such as phones, computers, wearable technology, vehicles, and pets.
  • placing false or malicious information about a person on their or others’ social media.
  • watching social media accounts to see who the person is in touch with.
  • hacking into, monitoring or controlling email accounts, social media profiles and phone calls.
  • sharing intimate images without consent.
  • use of hidden cameras.

If you are concerned about digital abuse, change your passwords, turn off locator services and contact us about developing a safety plan. We have also created further advice on staying safe online.

Financial or economic abuse

Economic abuse take many forms. It is a type of abuse that can start subtle and is often hard to detect.

When defining economic abuse, we know there are many elements at play. It is true that financial abuse often involves or is associated with:

  • Someone taking or misusing someone else’s money or belongings for their own gain
  • Harming, depriving or disadvantaging the victim
  • Controlling someone’s purchases or access to money
  • Often associated with other forms of abuse
  • Does not always involve a crime like theft or fraud

Types of economic abuse

Economic abuse can vary, which can make it difficult to detect and identify because it can concern money, property or belongings.

It could be:

  • Borrowing money and not giving it back
  • Stealing money or belongings
  • Taking pension payments or other benefit away from someone
  • Taking money as payment for coming to visit or spending time together
  • Forcing someone to sell their home or assets without consent
  • Tricking someone into bad investments
  • Forcing someone to make changes in wills, property or inheritance

Signs of economic abuse

There are a number of behaviours and signs that might suggest economic abuse could be happening:

  • Unexplained money loss
  • Lack of money to pay for essentials such as rent, bills and food
  • Inability to access or check bank accounts and bank balance
  • Changes or deterioration in standards of living. For example, not have items or things they would usually have.
  • Unusual or inappropriate purchases in bank statements
  • Isolation and withdrawal from friends and family
  • Lack of things you would expect someone to be able to afford, for example, TV, grooming items, clothing


Sexual abuse includes making someone participate in sexual activity when they do not want to. This includes coercing someone to have sex or making them witness it.

Examples of sexual abuse

  • Unwanted sexual contact or demands
  • Being pressured into sex, or sexual acts, including with other people
  • Guilt-tripping you into sex
  • Withholding or controlling your access to contraception
  • Sharing intimate images of you without consent
  • Forced involvement in making or watching pornography

How you will know – Sexual

  • Someone may tell you.
  • They may be dressing inappropriately for the weather or location.
  • Their language may be sexualised or opposing, they may find it difficult to talk about anything that is remotely sexual (even regarding film, TV or music).

Stalking and harassment

Stalking and harassment is when someone is causing you alarm and distress by following you, monitoring you online and offline, appearing in places you go, watching or spying on you, using others to watch you, contacting or attempting to contact you when you have said you do not want to hear from them, interfering with your property and possessions, stealing your identity online – such as subscribing you to services or purchasing goods in your name, damaging your reputation.

Stalking is a pattern of incidents and unwanted attention that makes you feel scared. It may be from a current or ex-partner, someone who wants to be romantically involved with you, or someone you know as a neighbour, work colleague or friend.

To some it may appear to be innocent and even romantic; for example, someone gifts or messages, but if this is unwanted and is part of a persistent pattern of behaviour that you find upsetting, then it is defined as stalking. It is important to trust your instincts if this is happening to you; if it does not feel right or makes you feel upset or scared, then you should report it to the Police. Stalking is a criminal offence.

Examples of stalking

  • regularly receiving unwanted. communication such as texts, messages, letters, calls and emails.
  • regularly receiving unwanted gifts.
  • being followed by the person.
  • regularly turning up uninvited or loitering around someone (whether public or private).
  • monitoring your use of the internet and other electronic communication.
  • checking your phone and monitoring your texts and calls.
  • interfering with any property in the possession of a person
  • watching or spying on a person

If you are worried or concerned that you are being stalked, you can phone the National Stalking Helpline | Suzy Lamplugh Trust on 0808 802 0300 or National Stalking Advisory Service on 0203 866 4107.

Forced marriage

This is when you face physical, emotional or psychological pressure to marry someone you do not want to. The pressure to marry usually comes from family members and sometimes both people are pressured or forced to marry. Forced marriage is illegal. Forced marriage is different from an arranged marriage when both people have a choice of whether they marry or not.

Forced marriage is a form of domestic abuse and abusers, usually family members, may use the following tactics:

  • Threats to kill you if you do not marry a certain person.
  • Tell you that your family will be poor if you do not marry the person they want you to.
  • Tell you that you will bring shame upon your family if you do not marry a specified person.
  • Tell you that this marriage is approved of by your religious leaders.
  • If you are gay, your family may tell you that this is a sin and that you need to marry a person of the opposite sex.

Forced marriages are often organised by parents, family members or religious leaders. Those who do not comply with the forced marriage can face so-called ‘honour’ abuse.

So-called "honour" based abuse

‘Honour’-based abuse is a crime or incident which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the perceived honour of the family and/or community. Or it could be in response to individuals trying to break away from constraining ‘norms’ of behaviour that their family or community is trying to impose.

Honour-based abuse can include physical, emotional or psychological abuse and occur in specific contexts. Not all of these represent domestic abuse under the 2021 Act. This could be in cases where the victim and perpetrator are not “personally connected” for example.

However, ‘honour’-based abuse is typically carried out by a member or members of the family or extended family. It is likely to involve behaviours specified in the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the 2021 Act

Examples of “honour” abuse

  • restrictions to a person’s freedom, isolation, physical abuse, and threats to kill.
  • Being forced to marry a member of the opposite sex because you are gay.
  • Being isolated from your friends and family because they are a ‘bad influence’ on you.
  • Being denied access to your passport or other documentation.

This type of abuse can happen to anyone. It has been identified with close-knit or closed communities with a strong culture of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’, such as some minority groups, or closed ethnic/religious groups and other particularly isolated social groups. Those affected may be female or male and those at risk can include individuals who are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender).

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

FGM means cutting, piercing, removing or sewing closed any part of a girl’s or woman’s genitals with no medical reason. As FGM is generally inflicted upon children, the government considers it to be a type of child abuse. However, it is also carried out on women for a variety of reasons such as giving a woman social acceptance before marriage or ensuring her chastity.

FGM is illegal, has no health benefits and can often result in long-term health problems.

More information can be found in the statutory guidance on FGM .

Child-to-parent abuse

Abuse in the family includes child-to-parent abuse, also commonly referred to as Adolescent to Parent Violence/Abuse (APV/A) and Child and Adolescent to Parental Violence and Abuse (CAPVA).

Child-to-parent abuse can involve children of all ages, including adult children and abuse toward siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles as well as other family members such as those acting as kinship carers.

There is no specific legal definition of child-to-parent abuse, but it is generally accepted to involve some of the patterns of behaviour that can be found in other relationship contexts. Behaviours can encompass but are not limited to, humiliating and belittling language, violence and threats, jealous and controlling behaviours, damage to property, stealing and heightened sexualised behaviours.

Child-to-parent abuse appears gendered, with most cases being perpetrated by sons against their mothers, although men and boys are victims too.

Getting in touch

If you are concerned your relationship is showing unhealthy signs, and you may be experiencing domestic abuse, or you’re worried about someone you know, or are concerned about the impact of your behaviour towards others, then help is available by contacting us or by telephoning 0800 69 49 999.


In an emergency, you should always dial 999. If you are worried that an abuser may overhear your call you can remain silent, tap the phone and dial 55 when prompted by the operator who will send help.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired you can register with emergencySMS.net. You will then be able to send a text to 999 if you require help in an emergency.

Last reviewed: December 13, 2023 by Sophie

Next review due: June 13, 2024

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