What is Domestic Abuse: The Complete Guide

The past few years have seen an increased awareness of domestic violence or abuse in society as a whole. For many people, it has been surprising how much it goes on, but for victims of domestic abuse, this is far from surprising.

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic violence is also known as domestic abuse or intimate partner abuse. It relates to any behaviour within a relationship where power or control is gained or maintained over the intimate partner. This can apply to everyone in a relationship, not only women, and people of all ages, races, faiths, classes, or sexual orientations.

Intimate partner abuse can manifest in several different forms and a single case will often (but not always) involve a number of different forms of abuse. Many people first think of domestic abuse as being purely about physical violence, but, in fact, the other forms of abuse can also be extremely damaging to victims – and often much more difficult to prove. Other forms of intimate partner abuse include emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, psychological abuse, coercive control, and digital abuse.

Emotional Abuse

The 2015 Serious Crime Act made controlling or coercive behaviour illegal in the UK, and this is what can constitute emotional abuse. There can be several aspects to emotional abuse, including:

  • Threats and Intimidation – This normally involves trying to make the other person feel scared through threats and intimidation. The abuser will often shout, be aggressive, or make threats to make the other person feel small or vulnerable and unable to stand up for themselves.
  • Undermining – This occurs when the abuser undermines the other person by ignoring their opinion or making them doubt their own feelings. This will often be done by accusing the person of being oversensitive or disputing their version of events, as well as suddenly being nice to them after being horrible.
  • Criticising – Criticism of a person and their actions can destroy their self-confidence and self-esteem. It can include name-calling, unpleasant, or sarcastic comments.
  • Guilt – Making someone feel guilty is a form of abuse that involves emotional blackmail on a number of levels. It can take the form of the abuser threatening to kill themselves or regular emotional outbursts, giving the person the silent treatment or sulking.
  • Control – Telling the person what they can and cannot do, where they can and cannot go, with whom, or what they can wear, for example.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes forced sexual acts, rape, and sexual degradation. It can also include prostitution, forcing partners to have sex with friends, making them watch pornography, name-calling, or threatening to get sex ‘elsewhere’. The fact that a couple is together or married does not mean that rape is not rape. There is never an obligation on the part of one of the couple to engage in any sexual activity that they do not want to.

Financial Abuse

Financial or economic abuse is a type of coercive control. It can be used for the abuser to control the victim, reducing their freedom. It will normally occur in a relationship alongside other forms of abuse and financial abuse can help to enable the other forms.

Financial abuse does not manifest only in the form of restricting money that the person has access to. It can also include the perpetrator using or misusing money that can affect a person’s actions now and in the future. It can include using credit cards or accessing bank accounts without the partner’s permission, gambling with jointly owned assets, and putting contracts in the other person’s name.

Financial abuse can make it difficult for the person to leave a relationship, putting them at higher risk, and meaning that many people who are being abused stay in that abusive relationship for longer.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse refers to any abuse that involves the perpetrator using non-physical actions and violence to manipulate, belittle, weaken, frighten, or hurt the person mentally or emotionally, or confuse or influence the person.

Psychological abuse can often include some of the other forms of intimate partner abuse, such as emotional abuse and coercive control.

Coercive control

Coercive control refers to a set of actions or pattern of behaviour that enables the abuser to exert control over the other person, and ultimately makes them feel isolated from any support, controlling their daily behaviour, exploiting them, and taking away their independence. Coercive control binds the perpetrator together and their victim and creates a sense of fear that affects every aspect of their life.

Coercive control can include:

  • Controlling finances
  • Telling the other person what they can do, where, and with whom
  • Monitoring time and where the person is
  • Monitoring online activity
  • Constant criticism
  • Isolating the person from friends and family
  • Intimidation and threats

Digital Abuse

Online and digital abuse refers to the actions of the abuser when they use technology to exert control over the other person. This could include checking online activity, revenge pornography, reading text messages and emails, or using spyware or GPS tracking to monitor them.

Getting Help for Domestic Abuse

The important thing to remember when it comes to domestic abuse is that if you feel that you are being abused, you are. It can often be difficult to understand that you are being abused and will take a specific incident for you to realise.

If you feel that you are in imminent danger, you should call 999. If you do not feel that you are in danger right now, there are plenty of places that you can go to, to get help. Remember, you are not alone and by reaching out, you have taken the first, very big step.

Domestic Violence Protection Orders

Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPO) are designed to offer short-term protection to people who have suffered from domestic violence. They are granted when a domestic violence incident has occurred but the case is still under investigation or has not been resolved. The order mandates the suspected perpetrator of domestic violence to return to their home and have any contact with their partner after an incident.

A DVPO normally lasts for up to 28 days and is usually granted when there is not enough evidence to charge the perpetrator with domestic abuse.

Non-Molestation Orders

The purpose of a Non-Molestation Order is to prohibit an individual from using or threatening physical violence, intimidating, harassing, or communicating with you. It can also prevent the abuser coming within a certain distance of you, your home address or a particular location, such as your place of work. The order can state that the abuser should not instruct or encourage others to do any of the above. To make an application for a Non-Molestation Order, you and your abuser must have “association” under the Family Law Act 1996. This includes those who are or were: married, civil partners, living together or partners. It also includes relatives and in-laws as well as the other parent of your child/children.

Once the Court have received the application for a Non-Molestation Order, they will consider the safety and well-being of you and any children. If granted, the Non-Molestation Order will last for six to 12 months. However, if necessary, can be granted for longer or extended.

Domestic Violence Protection Notice

A Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN) is the initial, temporary version of a DVPO. This will normally be granted straight away whilst the DVPO application is processed and is granted by a senior police officer, as opposed to a DVPO which is imposed by the court.


back to all insights

Contact us

Dudley, Kingswinford & Merry Hill: 01384 811 811 | Worcester: 01905 900 900 | Walsall: 01922 311 100 | Cheltenham: 01242 375 100

Contact Us

What Our Clients Say About Us...

Thank you so much for your tenacity and pragmatic approach. This has been the most efficient and straightforward transaction.

Nick Horton, Chairman, Select Lifestyles Limited