What is Domestic abuse?


Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or 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.



Behaviour of a person (“A”) towards another person (“B”) is “domestic abuse” if —

(a) A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and

(b) The behaviour is abusive.

Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following—

(a)physical or sexual abuse;

(b)violent or threatening behaviour;

(c)controlling or coercive behaviour;

(d)economic abuse

(e)psychological, emotional or other abuse;


and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct


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.

  • This definition includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.                                                

UK Govt 2013

  • An adult is defined as any person aged 18 years or over.
  • Family members are defined as mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, and grandparents, whether directly related, in laws or stepfamily.
  • Domestic abuse occurs across society, regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth, and geography.
  • Domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, statistics inform us that people regularly have often suffered as many as 30 incidents before they make a disclosure.
  • Not all domestic abuse happens in the family home, some victims have never lived with the perpetrator, domestic violence sometimes continues once a relationship has ended.
  • People who are transient, have low socio-economic status or have mental health issues are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence.
  • Responsibility for domestic abuse always lies with the perpetrator – never with the person who has been abused.



There are different types of abuse which can include:


  • Psychological abuse - intimidation, insulting, isolation from  friends/family, criticising, forced marriage, threatening to harm children/take away
  • Physical abuse – such as hitting, shaking, punching and kicking, starving, burning, tying up, presence of finger or bite marks, suffocation, throwing objects, FGM, strangulation. It should be noted that strangulation is the most common method of intimate partner homicide.
  • Sexual abuse – forced sex, prostitution, ignoring religious prohibitions  re: sex, sexual insults, STDs, preventing breastfeeding
  • Economic abuse - not letting victim work or forcing them to work against their will,  controlling the finances, withholding money or credit cards, making someone unreasonably account for money spent/petrol used, exploiting assets, withholding basic necessities, deliberately running up debts, gambling​​​​​​​
  • Emotional abuse – swearing, undermining confidence, racist remarks, eroding independence, calling victim stupid/useless



The Cycle of Abuse





  • Abuse –The abuse occurs​​​​​​​
  • Guilt –The abuser will express guilt​​​​​​​
  • Excuses –The abuser will make excuses for their behaviour​​​​​​​
  • "Normal" behaviour — The abuser does everything they can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. They may act as if nothing has happened, or they may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.​​​​​​​
  • Fantasy and planning – The abuser begins to fantasize about abusing again. They spend a lot of time thinking about what the victim has done wrong and how they will make them pay. Then they make a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.​​​​​​​
  • Set-up – The abuser sets the victim up and puts their plan in motion, creating a situation where they can justify the abuse.




Power and Coercive Control

The types of behaviour associated with coercion or control may or may not constitute a criminal offence in their own right. It is important to remember that the presence of controlling or coercive behaviour does not mean that no other offence has been committed or cannot be charged. However, the perpetrator may limit space for action and exhibit a story of ownership and entitlement over the victim.

Such behaviours might include:

 · isolating a person from their friends and family;

 · depriving them of their basic needs;

· monitoring their time;

· monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware;

· taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep;

· depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;

· repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;

· enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;

· forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;

· economic abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;

· threats to hurt or kill;

· threats to a child;

· threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone).

· assault;

 · criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);

· rape;

· preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.

This is not an exhaustive list

Home office guidance on controlling and coercive behaviour can be found here.



The profile of a perpetrator

  • Demonstrates possessiveness
  • Enjoys control and power
  • Tendency to justify, deny and minimize their behaviour
  • Unrealistic expectations of partners to fulfil their needs
  • Express most feelings as anger
  • Isolate their partner from friends, family and society
  • Need to maintain an over adequate façade that all is well
  • Tends to particularly believe in traditional male/female roles
  • Alcohol Abuse Varies - 25% abuse only when drunk; 25% when drunk or sober; 25% never drink; 25% are social drinkers & not drunk when abusing
  • Socialized into Aggression
  • Lacking Self Esteem
  • Not Mentally Ill - the proportion of mentally ill battering men is no greater than the proportion of mentally ill people in the population at large


An abuser may be impulsive & quick tempered but is able to demonstrate extra ordinary control when to do so is in his best interest i.e. around people he is trying to impress, the police, co-workers, the court, etc.




The impact of domestic abuse on victims.


For a victim the physical costs of domestic abuse can be high with 2 women being killed each week, and 30 men being killed each year as a direct result of domestic abuse. Many victims are left with permanent scarring.

Strangulation has only recently been identified as one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence but a north west study found that 56 % of people interviewed had suffered injuries related to strangulation. Serious damage from strangulation can occur after only ten seconds.

Economicly the victim may be left with debts that they have been coerced into taking out in their name as well as the costs incurred through moving and re-establishing themselves. Victims often lose their jobs because of absenteeism due to both the effects of injuries, the undermining of employment by the perpetrator and during the process of leaving the relationship, this compounds the economic burden.

£1.2bn is cost to NHS in dealing with physical injuries caused by domestic abuse and the health related costs involved in treating a victim of rape is estimated to be £73,487 per case. .

The impact of violence and abuse has been found to have psychological parallels with the impact of torture and imprisonment on hostages.  Victims are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 9 times more likely to abuse illicit drugs, 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with mental health concerns and 5 times more likely to commit suicide.


The impact of domestic abuse on mothers and their ability to parent.

Domestic violence is a complex behaviour; the aim is to control and subdue the partner. Victims are placed in a position over time where they feel isolated and fearful; there are real worries about whether the violence will increase, whether the children will be next, can I leave, where do I go, how do I get money and how will I cope. Ending any relationship is a stressful event, but where there is domestic violence, the decision to do so is extremely difficult.

This is complicated by the fact that victims describe that their self-confidence has been totally eroded both as an individual and a parent, they don’t know what to do or say to the children, the emotional effort of day to day parenting can become too exhausting to achieve and your emotional energy and focus is on the perpetrator.

Some victims are so concerned about not being able to manage a separation that they remain in the relationship, or are not able to maintain a separation as violence may continue (or they are manipulated into believing that things will be different) and so make a survival decision to remain.

It is therefore essential that no victim is made to separate from their partner without very careful assessment, planning and support leading up to and after separation. It is not the role of the health professional to provide this very specific and targeted support, the role of the health professional is to support and encourage the practitioner in accessing the most appropriate services.



The impact of domestic abuse on children

The harm that can be caused to children living with domestic violence can be:

Physical: Direct physical or sexual abuse; being caught in the abuse of the mother; being forced to participate in the abuse and emotional control of the mother; trying to intervene to stop the mother being hurt

Emotional: Hearing abusive and threatening language directed at the mother, observing the mother being humiliated and degraded; observing the violence directly or seeing injuries to the mother after the incident and feeling powerless to do anything; hearing their mother shout, scream and plea for help; seeing the police attend; seeing their mother being taken to hospital; being used by the abusive partner to spy on the mother, or being used as pawns to control the mother – particularly when separated and there are contact concerns


Psychological and Social: Affecting their ability to form friendships and relationships as they may be withdrawn at school; frequent disruptions to life through moving home and school, sometimes at short notice; disrupting their education and their ability to gain from school; adversely affecting their attachment and relationship with either one or both parents; low self-esteem, increased levels of anxiety, anger and aggression, poor conflict resolution skills, nightmares, hyper-vigilance (e.g. not going to school so they can protect their mother), over-protectiveness and intrusive thoughts; difficulties with alcohol and substance misuse as a coping mechanism.

The impact will vary from child to child however, and will depend on a number of factors:


  • severity and nature of the violence
  • length of time he/she has been exposed to violence
  • child’s age, own strengths, resilience and capacity to self-protect
  • emotional warmth and support from the mother, siblings and other family members
  • Whether the child has regular access to and support from wider extended family, school, support services.

Unborn Children – pregnancy is a factor which is well associated with domestic violence developing or escalating. Where this is a factor, rates of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death increase. The mother may be prevented from accessing ante-natal and post-natal care. There is also the danger that the mother’s attachment to the unborn child can be affected, particularly if the pregnancy is as a result of rape






Civil Orders


There are several civil orders are able to support the victims of domestic abuse as part of their safety plan.



Non Molestation Order


An order issued to prevent offender being physically violent or threatening and intimating

Occupation Order



An order issued by the court which sets out who has the right to stay, return or be excluded from a family home

Prohibited steps order (PSO)

Granted by the court in family cases which prevents either parent from carrying out certain events or making specific trips with their children without the express permission of the other parent. This is more common is cases where there is suspicion that one parent may leave the area with their child.

Restraining Order


Can be applied for on conviction or acquittal of any criminal offence, used primarily in cases of harassment





Useful websites.

Domestic abuse: how to get help - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Advice about domestic abuse | Merseyside Police

RASA Merseyside - Here for anyone who has been sexually abused or raped

Home - Merseyside Domestic Violence Service [MDVS] 0151 709 8770

Home - Paul Lavelle Foundation

Hourglass (wearehourglass.org)

Home - Women's Aid (womensaid.org.uk)

Respect | Home

Home - Savera (saverauk.co.uk)

Home (mensaid.co.uk)

Safe2Speak Domestic Abuse Services - St Helens Gateway

Worst Kept Secret Helpline (localsolutions.org.uk)