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What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse occurs when someone close to you (usually a spouse, a partner or an ex-spouse or ex-partner) behaves towards you in a way that inflicts physical, mental or emotional damage. There is more to domestic abuse than physical violence.

About domestic abuse

Domestic abuse accounts for almost a quarter of all violent crime, and around one in four women has experienced domestic abuse at some time in their life.

The abuse does not have to be physical. Any behaviour that allows a person to exercise control and power over another person can become abusive. If you find you are changing the way you act or the way you look because you are frightened of your partner's behaviour and reaction, this is abuse - whether it's making sure that tea is on the table at six to avoid a violent row or losing weight to avoid being insulted.

Domestic abuse usually affects women, but some men are abused by their partners as well.

Physical abuse

Physical attacks are the most obvious signs of domestic abuse, and they don't need to leave a visible scar to be damaging. Physically abusive acts include:

  • slapping
  • punching
  • pulling your hair
  • scalding or burning
  • strangling
  • throwing and breaking things
  • the use of weapons such as knives or other implements.

Mental abuse

Mental abuse is not as externally obvious as physical abuse but can be just as, if not more, harmful. Mentally abusive acts attack your personality and emotional well-being, and include:

  • humiliation
  • constant criticism
  • verbal abuse and name calling
  • imposition of rules and ultimatums
  • enforced isolation from friends and family
  • threats against you, your children or your pets
  • destruction of your belongings
  • jealousy and possessiveness
  • control over your income
  • control over what you wear and how you look.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can include:

  • rape
  • forcing you to take part in sexual acts you're uncomfortable with.

What can I do if I'm being abused?

If your partner or anyone close to you is behaving abusively towards you, there are people who can help you. The page on getting help lists organisations for women and men facing domestic abuse. This section also contains information on what you can do if you need to leave your home, how you can avoid homelessness, and how you can keep the abusive partner from the home.

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The important points

  • Domestic abuse occurs when someone close to you behaves towards you in a way that inflicts physical, mental or emotional damage.
  • Physical attacks are the most obvious signs of domestic abuse, and they don't need to leave a visible scar to be damaging.
  • Mental abuse is not as externally obvious as physical abuse but can be just as harmful

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