Introduction to Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse, also called “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence”, can be defined as a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.


There are five main types of domestic abuse:

· Psychological: Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem, this may well impact their mind and mental health.

· Physical: Violent assault which may result in injury.

· Sexual: Any situation in which an individual is forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe or degrading sexual activity. Someone may not be capable of giving consent for instance because they are too young or drunk. Consent cannot be given by omission.

· Financial: Subtle or overt attempts to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to personal finances.

· Emotional: When someone constantly puts you down or criticises you or threatens you.


Examples of different types of domestic abuse:


· Psychological: Playing mind games to control you. For example, constantly puts you down or criticizes you to undermine your self-esteem, blackmailing you if you refuse to do something or is jealous and possessive. They might search your texts, emails and apps. When you assert your perspective, they call you crazy. Threats to commit suicide because of you.

· Physical: Hitting, pushing, throwing objects or driving dangerously. Also includes threats to harm you or other people or pets. Threatens you with a gun or another weapon.

· Sexual: Making someone do sexual acts they haven’t consented to. You might feel uncomfortable to say ’no’. Insists that you send intimate photos. Forces you to watch porn movies. Threatens to release intimate photos of you. Touches your body without your consent. Forces you to have sex.

· Financial: Refuses to let you have control over the bank account or other resources such as access to the home or food. Stopping someone from using their bank account or accessing joint funds. Putting a lease or deed into only one name.

· Emotional: Using emotions to manipulate. For example, threatening to stop you from seeing your children. Puts down your opinions and your plans. Makes fun of you in public. Controls where you go, who you can see and what you wear. Isolates you from your family and friends. Explodes and throws a tantrum when something displeases him.


Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. Domestic abuse can affect people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. It can occur between people who are married, dating, living together and non-romantic relationships for example between family members.


If you are experiencing domestic abuse, it is important to remember the abuse is not your fault, no one deserves to be abused and you are not alone. You can access a list of frontline support services addressing domestic abuse here.


Domestic abuse is far more widespread than people generally realise. Globally, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a significant rise in domestic abuse cases around the world. The UNFPA estimates that for every 12 weeks of lockdown there will be an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence. “Gender based violence” refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. It includes sexual, physical, mental and economic harm and can take many forms including intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called “honour crimes”.


There is a role for everyone to play in addressing domestic abuse. This is a guide to how you can support someone if they are experiencing domestic abuse:

1. Recognise the Problem: Look for sudden changes in behaviour. For example, a loss of confidence or changes in the way someone dresses.

2. Respond. Believe the disclosure and do not ask for proof. Use open and non-judgmental language such as “If there’s anything you would like to talk about, I am always here to support you”. Reassure the person that you understand how difficult this experience is and that there is support available. Stay calm and listen. Ensure you respect their confidentiality and do not gossip. Respect their choices and remember what can seem like small steps to you may feel huge for a person who has been living under someone else’s control.

3. When responding, make sure not to react with shock or anger, make unrealistic promises, insult the perpetrator, force the person to take action or say things like “Noone would choose to stay in an abusive relationship.”

4. Be mindful of additional barriers. It’s important to consider the whole person and how their experience of abuse may interlay with other aspects of their life and therefore their ability to disclose, report and access services, and what may be appropriate for them. For example, rules or behaviors within a cultural or social group can encourage abuse. It’s important to understand that cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behaviour, including abusive behaviours. Examples of other barriers: Gender, Mental health, Financial status, Children, Language, Race, Age, Disability, Immigration status, Substance use, Religion, Sexuality.

5. Refer to the appropriate frontline help. A list of specialist domestic abuse support services around the world is available here.