Domestic violence and abuse

Anybody can experience domestic abuse, and anyone can be an abuser. Find out how to recognise the signs.

Domestic violence or abuse can happen to anyone. Find out how to recognise the signs and where to get help.

If you're worried someone might see you have been on this page, find out how to cover your tracks online.

Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse, includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse in couple relationships or between family members.

Domestic violence can happen against women and against men, and anybody can be an abuser.

This page covers: 

Getting help for domestic abuse

Signs of domestic abuse

If you decide to leave your partner

How to help a friend if they're being abused

Whatever your situation, whoever you are, you can get help.

Getting help and support for domestic violence

You don't have to wait for an emergency situation to seek help. If domestic abuse is happening to you, it's important to tell someone and remember you're not alone.

You can:

  • talk to your doctor, health visitor or midwife
  • women can call 0808 2000 247, the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge
  • men can call the Men's Advice Line free on 0808 801 0327 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm) or ManKind on 01823 334 244
  • in an emergency, call 999

The Survivor's Handbook from the charity Women's Aid is free, and provides information for women on a wide range of issues, such as housing, money, helping your children, and your legal rights.

Men can also email info@mensadviceline.org.uk, which can refer men to local places that can help, such as health services and voluntary organisations.

For forced marriage and "honour" crimes, contact Karma Nirvana (0800 5999 247) or The Forced Marriage Unit (020 7008 0151).

Galop provides support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence.

Anyone who needs confidential help with their own abusive behaviour can contact Respect on their free helpline on 0808 802 4040.

Signs of domestic violence and abuse

There are different kinds of abuse, but it's always about having power and control over you. 

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you might be in an abusive relationship.

Emotional abuse

Does your partner 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 your family and friends?
  • stop you going to college 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? 

Threats and intimidation

Does your partner ever:

  • threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • destroy things that belong to you?
  • stand over you, invade your personal space?
  • threaten to kill themselves or the children?
  • read your emails, texts or letters?
  • harass or follow you?

Physical abuse

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

Does your partner ever:

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

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, whether they're male or female.

Does your partner 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?

If your partner has sex with you when you don't want to, this is rape. 

Have you ever felt afraid of your partner?

Have you ever changed your behaviour because you're afraid of what your partner might do?

If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, there are lots of people who can help you.

A third of domestic violence and abuse against women starts during pregnancy. If the relationship is already abusive, it can get worse.

Find out more about domestic violence in pregnancy.

If you decide to leave

The first step in escaping an abusive situation is realising that you're not alone and it's not your fault.

Before you go, try to get advice from an organisation such as:

If you're considering leaving, be careful who you tell. It's important your partner doesn't know where you're going.

Women's Aid has useful information about making a safety plan that applies to both women and men, including advice if you decide to leave.

Helping a friend if they're being abused

If you're worried a friend is being abused, let them know you've noticed something is wrong.

They might not be ready to talk, but try to find quiet times when they can talk if they choose to.

If someone confides in you that they're suffering domestic abuse:

  • listen, and take care not to blame them
  • acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
  • give them time to talk, but don't push them to talk if they don't want to
  • acknowledge they're in a frightening and difficult situation
  • tell them nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has said
  • support them as a friend – encourage them to express their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions
  • don't tell them to leave the relationship if they're not ready – that's their decision
  • ask if they have suffered physical harm – if so, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP
  • help them report the assault to the police if they choose to
  • be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help for people experiencing domestic abuse

Sexual assault

Women and men who have been sexually assaulted can get confidential help, treatment and support at a sexual assault referral centre.

Read more about getting help after a sexual assault.

Find your nearest sexual assault referral centre

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