Domestic abuse is any type of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between people who are, or who have been in a relationship, regardless of gender or sexuality. It can also happen between adults who are related to one another.
Domestic abuse can include:
- coercive control such as being told where to go and what to wear or being isolated from friends and family
- physical abuse such as being punched, kicked, cut, or being hit with an object
- emotional abuse such as being constantly undermined, sworn at, intimidated, ridiculed, harassed, or threatened with harm or death
- sexual abuse and rape including within a relationship or being made to have sex with other people
- stalking and harassment such as being repeatedly followed or spied on, being regularly given unwanted gifts or receiving unwanted communication
- economic and financial abuse such as having access to money controlled or withheld or being prevented from earning money
- technology-facilitated abuse such as having messages and emails monitored or deleted, constantly being sent messages or calls, or being tracked via device location
(Women’s Aid, n.d.; Surviving Economic Abuse, n.d.; Refuge, n.d.).
Each UK nation has its own definition of domestic abuse for professionals who are working to prevent domestic abuse and protect those who have experienced it (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2016; Home Office, 2013; Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, 2019; Welsh Government, 2019).
Witnessing and experiencing domestic abuse
Domestic abuse always has an impact on children. Being exposed to domestic abuse in childhood is child abuse. Children and young people may experience domestic abuse both directly and indirectly.
Children and young people may experience:
- not getting the care and support they need from their parents or carers as a result of the abuse
- hearing the abuse from another room
- seeing someone they care about being injured and/or distressed
- finding damage to their home environment like broken furniture
- being hurt from being caught up in or trying to stop the abuse
- being denied access to parts of their home, such as rooms being locked
- being forced out of or losing their home
(Holt, Buckley and Whelan, 2008; NSPCC 2023).
Young people aged 16 or over can also experience domestic abuse in their own relationships.
Why domestic abuse is a safeguarding issue
The videos on this page feature Paddi Vint, an NSPCC Development and Quality Manager who is overseeing a three-year domestic abuse project at the NSPCC which is supported by the Covid-19 Support Fund.