Types of abuse, exploitation and neglect

Domestic abuse


Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality or background.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics data, over 20% of adults have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16 years, that’s over 2.3 million adults in the last year alone. Domestic abuse is typically a gendered issue - one woman in three and one man in five in the UK will be a victim of domestic abuse during their lifetime. Two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.

The Domestic Abuse Bill has a proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse as:

Domestic Abuse is defined as “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”.

Abuse can be perpetrated by partners, ex-partners and family members, including children under the age of 18, adult children or siblings. It may include one or more of physical or sexual abuse; violent or threatening behaviour; controlling or coercive behaviour; economic abuse; psychological, emotional and other forms of abuse.

This definition includes honour-based abuse and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group

Through consultation, professionals voiced that abuse is not just characterised by physical violence and that victims of domestic abuse are often subjected to wider abuse through control and coercion permeating all aspects of their life. A new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate partner or family relationship was introduced through the Serious Crime Act 2015. The new statutory definition clarifies such behaviours as:

“Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/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”.

“Coercive behaviour is 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”.

Examples of domestic abuse

Controlling or coercive behaviour

Emotional or psychological abuse

Domestic abuse often involves emotional or psychological abuse. This can include:

Economic abuse

Economic abuse includes any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on an individual’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or to obtain goods or services. This can include an individual’s ability to acquire food, clothes, transportation and utilities. Economic abuse can also constitute controlling or coercive behaviour. It can make the individual economically dependent on the abuser, and/or create economic instability, thereby limiting their ability to escape and access safety. This can result in an individual staying with an abuser and experiencing more abuse and harm as a result.

Examples of economic abuse might include the following examples where they have a substantial adverse effect on the victim:

Verbal abuse

Examples of verbal abuse include:

Online and digital abuse

Perpetrators can use technology and social media as a means of controlling or coercing victims. This happens frequently both during and after relationships with abusers.

Examples of online abuse include:

Intersectionality and other considerations

Individuals can be the victims of multiple and different abusive behaviours because of the way different characteristics, such as immigration status, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic position and sexuality intersect and overlap, particularly in relation to accessing services and support if they are not adequately designed to meet their needs.

Types of domestic abuse

Intimate partner violence

Domestic abuse most commonly takes place in intimate partner relationships. The vast majority is perpetrated by men against women, but men are also subject to abuse by female partners, and both men and women experience abuse from same sex partners. Such abuse in intimate relationships can vary in severity and frequency, ranging from a one-off occurrence to a continued pattern of behaviour.

It can involve or be perpetrated alongside abuse by other family members and in extended family households or settings, particularly where the victim is living with the perpetrator’s family. Abuse often continues even when a relationship has ended, which can be a significantly dangerous time for a victim. Post-separation abuse, including stalking, harassment and forms of physical, emotional, sexual and economic abuse often continues and causes ongoing harm.

Abuse by family members

Abuse within a family set up can encompass a number of different behaviours. A wide range of family members will be considered to be “relatives” that can perpetrate and be victims of abuse.

Teenage relationship abuse

Relationship abuse happens at all ages, not just in adult relationships: latest figures show that men aged between 16-19 were most likely to experience domestic abuse than any other age group; women aged between 16-19 were more likely to experience domestic abuse than those aged over 25.

Domestic abuse in teenage relationships is just as severe and has the potential to be as life threatening as abuse in adult relationships. Young people may experience a complex transition from childhood to adulthood, which impacts on behaviour and decision making. It may impact on the way that they respond to abuse as well as the way that they engage with services. Additionally, they may be unequipped to deal with the practical problems such as moving home to escape the abuse or managing their own finances. As a result, young people who experience domestic abuse do so at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives.

Adolescent to parent violence and abuse

Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (APVA) is increasingly recognised as a form of domestic abuse.

Responding to domestic abuse

Supporting a friend if they’re being abused

Let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong.

If someone confides in you, there is more information on how to support a friend if they’re being abused.

If you are worried that someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247. Visit the helpline website to access information on how to support a friend.

If you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to someone, or it is an emergency, always call 999.

Asking about domestic abuse in a virtual health setting

This guidance created by SafeLives is to support health professionals to safely ask patients about domestic abuse in virtual settings, for example on the telephone or online.

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A guide to "asking the question"

Think – is it safe to ask?

Consider the environment:

Create the opportunity to ask the question, use an appropriate professional interpreter (never a family member).

1. Ask

Frame the topic first then ask a direct question.


Direct Question:

2. Validate

Validate what’s happening to the individual

3. Assess

Assess safety:

4. Action

Be aware of your local domestic abuse agency, how to contact local independent domestic violence advisor (IDVA), offer helpline details and suggest signposting to IDVA, you can find local domestic abuse services by accessing Bright Sky.

Action any local safeguarding procedures.

5. Document

Consider safety and confidentiality when recording information in patient notes. (not in service user held record).

Medical records can be used by survivors in future criminal justice proceedings.

Additional resources

Call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247. Visit the helpline website to access further information, a contact form and the live chat service.

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Call 999 from a mobile

If prompted, press 55 to Make Yourself Heard and this will transfer your call to the police.

Pressing 55 only works on mobiles and does not allow police to track your location.

Call 999 from a landline

If the operator can only hear background noise and cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed, you will be connected to a police call handler.

If you replace the handset, the landline may remain connected for 45 seconds in case you pick up again.

When 999 calls are made from landlines, information about your location should be automatically available to the call handlers to help provide a response.

If you are deaf or can’t verbally communicate

You can register with the emergencySMS service. Text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text which tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger.

If you need further help and support

Organisations supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse can be found here.

If you think you may be a perpetrator of domestic abuse

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be a perpetrator of domestic abuse, there is support available.

The Respect Phoneline is an anonymous and confidential helpline for men and women who are harming their partners and families. The helpline also takes calls from partners or ex-partners, friends and relatives who are concerned about perpetrators.

A webchat service is available Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10am to 11am and from 3pm to 4pm.

Telephone: 0808 802 4040

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