What is Domestic Abuse?

Client comments

The Home Office definition of domestic violence and abuse is: "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.  This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional”.


Domestic violence and abuse happens to women and men, in same sex relationships as well as heterosexual ones. The majority of domestic abuse is against women but there is also a rising issue with violence towards men. Male victims of domestic abuse are increasingly speaking out and looking for support. Behind Closed Doors provides support for all members of society regardless of their gender, age, race or sexual orientation.


It is not always easy to identify but simply put …. If you feel scared of your partner/family member, it is likely you are experiencing domestic abuse.


More details about different types of abuse are detailed below, together with Signs of Abuse and also information about how to help someone you may be worried about.

Coming soon


Client stories


    Many abusers behave in ways that use multiple forms of abuse and the boundaries between some of these behaviours are often blurred. Physical abuse doesn't always leave marks or scars.  Having hair pulled or objects thrown at you is domestic abuse too. Over time, the evidence shows that this physical form of abuse (violence) gets worse, and often more frequent. There are numerous types of physical abuse - and these are some of the most commonly reported.


    Common types of Physical Abuse:


    • Biting, slapping, kicking, punching, cutting, stabbing, pinching, grabbing
    • Having objects thrown at you or personal belongings damaged
    • Being slammed against walls/doors/furniture, being restrained/tied up, gagged
    • Being pushed downstairs
    • Burnt with iron, cigarettes, acid, hot food or fluid, on a cooker
    • Spat and/or shouted at
    • Locked in or out of the house, a room/wardrobe/cupboard/garage/shed etc
    • Being suffocated, choked or strangled
    • Hair cut off, pulled or dragged by hair


    In addition to potential injuries, pain and scarring, the experience of physical abuse can lead to:


    • anxiety
    • depression
    • feelings of isolation
    • nightmares/sleep disorders
    • difficulty in keeping a job or parenting children
    • eating disorders


    ...and many other destructive effects.



    Psychological/emotional abuse can be as devastating as physical abuse.  Many people say that the healing from this form of abuse is much harder and it takes much longer.  It leaves deep psychological scars, often seriously damaging the self-confidence, self-esteem and self-identity of the person experiencing the abuse.   The perpetrator of psychological/emotional abuse will often try to isolate and control the person affected as well as using words to undermine them.


    Psychological/emotionally abusive behaviours may include:


    • Degradation - constant criticism, verbal name calling and put-downs, humiliating you in public; making you feel worthless; has affairs
    • Isolation - controlling communication or contact with other people by phone, face-to-face; moving home regularly; preventing contact with family or friends; preventing you from using the car, going to work/college
    • Exhaustion - keeping you tired all the time with meeting their ever-changing demands; waking you all night when you aren't able to sleep in the day
    • Threats - physical or verbal threats to hurt/kill you, your children, family, the pets or to damage your home; threatening with knives, guns or objects
    • Distorting everything - saying it didn't happen, you caused it; begging for forgiveness then denying everything; lying to you/friends/family
    • Pressure tactics - saying they will kill themselves unless you do what they want; argumentative/being difficult/sulking to prevent you doing something without them; threaten to share personal information (or photographs) about you unless you comply; making you dress or behave in a certain way


    Effects of psychological/emotional abuse include:


    • Confusion
    • Self-doubt and self-blame
    • Low self-esteem and loss of self-confidence
    • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness


    These often leave the person feeling more dependant on the abuser, keeping them from realising their own self-worth and making it increasingly difficult to leave.


    Sexual abuse is any sexual act where a person is forced to do something they don't want to.   It is still sexual abuse when the person does not say 'No' because they are frightened of the consequences of refusing to engage in these sexual acts.


    The person may be forced with actual threats of physical violence (to themselves or others) or as stated above, the fear of what may happen could be sufficient to make them comply.


    Sexual abuse can include:


    • rape or any forced sexual act
    • forcing you to view pornography
    • calling you sexually derogatory names
    • with-holding sex or affection
    • sharing intimate information or images about you without your consent


    Sexual abuse can happen within marriage - it often goes unrecognised, as well as unreported, as many people still assume it is a 'duty' within marriage to satisfy sexual demands with no regard for the other person's wishes or feelings.  Rape is rape, within or outside marriage, and it is a crime.


    Sexual abuse may be used as a way of the abuser showing that 'they are forgiven' for an earlier abusive incident because the partner has been intimate with them.


    Many people experiencing sexual abuse feel degraded, confused, guilty or dirty and this adds to feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth and can impact on future relationships.


    Verbal abuse can take many forms and although there are obvious ones like shouting and calling insulting names, it can also take more subtle forms e.g.:


    • refusing to discuss issues you think are important
    • discounting your opinion
    • ignoring you and refusing to speak with you at all
    • laughing at you inappropriately and mocking you
    • humiliating you in public
    • always blaming you for everything
    • criticising your friends, family and you
    • certain tones of voice or phrases may be warning signs of further abuse


    An abuser who uses verbal abuse to intimidate and undermine relies on the person experiencing the abuse and the society that witnesses it, accepting their abusive behaviour and not recognising its serious destructive nature.  Many people start to fear to speak or contradict and lose self-belief in their right to have a 'voice'.


    In some ways, financial abuse is even easier for abusers to hide; there are no tell-tale bruises provoking awkward questions.   People are often reluctant to discuss their finances, even with friends and family.  This makes it even harder for people to reach out for support or question whether a situation is normal. If a partner is preventing someone from having financial independence then they could be considered financially abusive. It may include:


    • controlling all bank accounts or benefits
    • demanding that all money spent is accounted for
    • stealing or demanding the other partner's money
    • making someone steal, beg or borrow for them
    • preventing someone from spending money on themselves or their children
    • making the other person be responsible for all financial matters (including bills and debts) and working but not contributing themselves


    Victims can become trapped in a cycle of poverty, causing physical and mental ill-health, a lack of confidence and feelings of isolation.   Debt and limited funds only increase the sense of isolation, of being trapped and unable to escape an unhappy, abusive relationship, particularly when there are children to think about.


    Some research indicates that younger people in relationships are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse as they have not yet had chance to develop sound financial judgement and may not recognise it, particularly where there is no other 'obvious' abuse to encourage them to consider it.


    It is hard to give exact definitions of Cyber Abuse or Stalking as many different behaviours and actions are used to harass the victim.


    Cyber abuse particularly refers to the use of modern technology i.e. mobile phones, instant messaging, e-mail, chat rooms or social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to harass, threaten or intimidate someone. It can also occur when a person is harassing others connected with the individual, knowing that this behaviour will affect their victim, as well as the other people that the abuser appears to be targeting their actions towards. This is known as 'stalking by proxy'. Family members, friends and employees of the victim may be subjected to this.


    Stalking again has no strict legal definition but stalking behaviours may include:


    • Following, surveillance, spying
    • Standing, loitering: at your home, school, place of work etc.
    • Unsolicited: mail, postcards, photographs, gifts
    • Repeatedly texting, emailing, leaving voicemails
    • Planting spyware, viruses into your computer
    • Hacking into your computer, email, social media accounts
    • Spreading rumours, discrediting you
    • Damage to property, stealing your belongings
    • "Befriending" your friends and family to get closer to you
    • Stealing, interfering with your post, mail
    • Going through rubbish bins. Leaving offensive material in the garden
    • Breaking into your car, home or office
    • Invading your personal space by standing too close or brushing against you
    • Ordering unwanted goods to be delivered to your house
    • Seeking to get close physically by applying for jobs where you work; joining your gym; social groups or clubs; moving to live near you
    • Leaving or sending threatening objects
    • Ordering goods in your name and your address.
    • Putting tracking devices on your car
    • Creating fake online profiles


    The effect of such behaviour is to reduce the victim's freedom, leaving them feeling that they constantly have to be careful; like they are constantly being watched. In many cases, the actions might appear innocent (if it were to be taken in isolation), but when carried out repeatedly so as to amount to a 'course of conduct', it may then cause significant alarm, fear, anxiety and distress to the victim. It may result in the victim cutting themselves off from others, for their own safety and that of others; it may impact on employment and social life as well as mental health.


    It often takes a while to realise that someone is being stalked; at first it seems like someone is just being annoying, then they become creepy and insistent and finally it can become very frightening. Stalking can escalate very quickly - don't hesitate to report your fears if this is happening to you.


    The short answer to the above is that men experience, and are affected by, abuse in much the same way that women are.  It is widely accepted that the majority of dv&a victims are women but abuse towards men happens much more than is often expected.  Evidence suggests that about 40% of dv&a victims are men, in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.


    Whilst in many cases men are physically stronger than women, this doesn't necessarily mean it is easier to escape the abuse or the relationship.  Abused men have fewer resources available to them e.g. very few refuge options, less face-to-face support in many areas, more disbelief about them being victims and major legal obstacles, especially when it comes to gaining custody of children from an abusive mother.   However, men and women have the same rights to protection from dv&a.


    Men are often more reluctant to report abuse by a woman as they feel embarrassed, they are worried they won't be believed, or sometimes they fear that the police will assume that since they are the male they are the perpetrator of the abuse and not the victim.  An abusive woman may do a variety of things to make up for any difference in physical strength e.g. she may destroy the man's possessions, attack them in their sleep, catch them by surprise or use a weapon/object.


    Behind Closed Doors works with men who are victims of domestic violence and abuse offering support from our male (or female if prefered) Community DV Practitioner (for high risk and practical needs) and from the Prevention and Recovery Service (lower risk, emotional and information needs).


    Additional Useful Links include:-


    ManKind Initiative, tel 01823 334244, www.mankind.org.uk

    Men's Advice Line, tel 0808 801 0327, www.mensadviceline.org.uk

    DVMen, www.dvmen.co.uk


    Domestic abuse in the LGBTQ community is as much a problem as it is in heterosexual relationships with surveys showing that about 1 in 4 LGBTQ people experience dv&a.


    Whilst dv&a is very similar across all relationships, in some ways there are very important differences for LGBTQ people. One main point is the lack of specialist dv&a support services available to LGBTQ victims of dv&a.   Add to that, the services needed to support LGBTQ people often create problems by classing physical domestic abuse as common assault, or mistaking/not being able to identify the primary perpetrator.


    This means LGBTQ people have added problems when trying to get help e.g.


    • 'Outing' as a method of control - The abuser may threaten to 'out' the victim to friends, family, community, co-workers, and others as a method of control.
    • Confidentiality and isolation within the LGBTQ communities - LGBTQ communities are often hidden and can rely on friends and relationships within it so fear losing this if they disclose the abuse.
    • Homophobia and transphobia in modern society - this still exists and discourages disclosure.  LGBTQ victims of partner violence may be concerned about giving LGBTQ relationships a 'bad name' and may refuse to speak up about the abuse they're suffering.


    Behind Closed Doors is here to support anyone in Leeds experiencing dv&a, irrespective of age, gender, sexuality, religion.


    Additional links:


    Stonewall:-  www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/criminal-law/domestic-violence

    Galop:-  www.galop.org.uk


    Honour Based Violence (HBV) is an incident or crime which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and/or community.  HBV is usually carried out by immediate family members with the complicit help of relatives and the wider community.  Victims can be male or female, although the patriarchal (male dominated) structure of honour-based communities tends to result in more severe abuse towards women.


    Punishments in the form of physical abuse (for damaging, or potentially damaging, the honour of the family) are usually carried out by the fathers, brothers, husbands and community members, while a 'wider community' made up of extended family (male and female), neighbours and friends monitor the movements and activities of victims and report her/his 'transgressions' back to the family.  Many victims can feel that they are on trial even though they have not committed any actual crime.  This false feeling of 'criminality' is often accepted by the victim at a deep psychological level and can last a lifetime even when they come to 'intellectually' understand that they were victims of abuse.




    If a victim is deemed to be too ‘Westernised’ they may be subjected to a campaign of terror which can include verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual or physical abuse.


    This goes on until the victim gives up Western behaviours and submits to the expectations of family and community. In extreme cases families will carry out an ‘honour killing’ to restore their family honour or ‘izzat’. A victim may be deemed to be ‘too Westernised’ by engaging in the following behaviours:


    • Resisting a marriage arranged by parents or other family members
    • Dating or speaking to members of the opposite sex
    • Having white, westernised friends
    • Wearing make-up
    • Going out
    • Dressing in western-style clothes e.g. jeans, short skirts, bikinis
    • Expressing their sexuality, including homosexual or bisexual behaviour
    • Seeking divorce


    Useful Links


    Karma Nirvana - tel: 0800 5999247, www.karmanirvana.org.uk


    A forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both spouses do not (or in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.


    A forced marriage is when the bride, groom or both are forced into marrying against their will, usually by their families.


    Men or women may be tricked into going abroad on a ‘family holiday’ and may be subjected to physical, psychological, emotional, financial or sexual pressure until they ‘agree’ to the marriage.  Victims may be imprisoned and threatened with abandonment by their families if they resist the marriage.


    Forced marriage is always an abuse of human rights and cannot be justified on any religious or cultural basis. A new Law criminalising forced marriage came into force in June 2014.  Under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, forcing someone into marriage in England and Wales can carry a 7-year imprisonment.  The change also criminalises forcing a British national into marriage outside the UK.


    Motives for a forced marriage:


    • Cultural traditions
    • Pressure from extended family or peer group
    • An informal agreement made at child’s birth
    • Controlling, unsuitable, unwanted behaviour
    • Protecting family ‘honour’
    • Strengthening the family
    • Land, property and wealth
    • Assisting claims for residence and citizenship
    • Fulfilling long standing family commitments
    • Protecting perceived religious idea


    Useful Links:


    Karma Nirvana - tel: 0800 5999247, www.karmanirvana.org.uk


    Signs of domestic violence and abuse can often go unnoticed. Listed below are 16 signs that may indicate that someone is affected by abuse:


    These often leave the person feeling more dependant on the abuser, keeping them from realising their own self-worth and making it increasingly difficult to leave.


    • Injuries – bruising, cuts or injuries occurring frequently, or in areas that can be hidden by clothing, or perhaps is walking stiffly or appears sore. Sometimes gives explanations for injuries that don’t fit with the description.
    • Excuses – minimises or excuses injuries, perhaps saying they are clumsy or gives the same explanation each time.
    • Stress – displays physical symptoms related to stress, other anxiety disorders or depression, such as panic attacks, feelings of isolation and an inability to cope. May even talk about suicide attempts or self-harming.
    • Absent from work – often off work, takes time off without notice or is frequently late.
    • Personality changes – you may notice personality changes when around their partner or they appear to ‘walk on eggshells’ when in their company. They may be jumpy or show nervous mannerisms.
    • Low self-esteem – has low self-esteem when talking about relationships or their life in general and may seem sad, cry or be depressed.
    • Lack of opportunity to communicate independently – perhaps their partner talks over them, or for them, and they may be reluctant to speak. Their partner can appear controlling or make disparaging remarks to them.
    • Self blame – may take the blame for anything that happens, whether it’s at work, with the kids or with friends. May blame themselves for the abuse.
    • Lack of money – perhaps they never seem to have any money on them or forgets their purse/wallet because their partner is withholding money to control them.
    • Stops socialising – may make excuses for not going out with friends, or suddenly pulls out of social meets at the last minute.
    • Their partner displays irrational behaviour – may say that their partner is jealous, irrational/possessive, or you can pick up that they behave this way. Their partner may accuse them of having affairs, check phone or constantly phone to check up on them.
    • Unwanted pregnancy/termination – pregnancy often triggers the start of domestic abuse. She may be unhappy at being pregnant, not wish to continue with the pregnancy, or be forced into having a termination.
    • Substance abuse – may use alcohol or drugs to cope or even prescribed drugs such as tranquillisers or anti-depressants.
    • Lack of assertiveness – perhaps they can’t make decisions, stick up for themselves, give their own opinion or displays a lack of interest.
    • Damage to property – damage may be observed in the home or even harm to pets.
    • Unwilling to give out personal details – may not give friends and colleagues their address or telephone number. May insist that they contact you, so that you don’t turn up on their doorstep.

     If you are looking at this website out of concern for a family member or friend, you may want to look at Signs of Abuse also as this may help you to be clearer in your own mind why you are worried for them.  Remember,


    • If your friend has disclosed they are being mis-treated or abused, this is a positive sign that              they may want help.
    • They may feel embarrassed, ashamed or worried about who you might tell.
    • They may not tell you everything as they may have been told they are imagining it, no-one                will believe them, they are mentally ill etc.
    • They may not recognise it as abuse, particularly if they have experienced it before or grown              up in an abusive home.
    • Keep in touch with them wherever possible to prevent them from becoming more isolated.              Don’t give up on them.
    • Don’t tell them that they have to end the relationship – they may not be ready for this yet.
    • Tell them you are concerned for them but you will support their choices.
    • Reassure them it is not their fault and they are not to blame.
    • Reassure them they are not alone, it happens to many people.
    • Be clear that there is nothing your friend can do to stop the other person being abusive; the            abuser must take responsibility for their behaviour and want to stop.  This usually requires                professional help over a significant period of time.
    • Remind your friend of their good qualities and that it takes great strength and courage to                  survive domestic abuse, to help maintain their self-esteem.
    • Acknowledge how difficult and confusing it must be if they still love the abuser.
    • Try not to judge your friend – they really need you.  Try not to be frustrated when they don’t            take action or leave and then return – this is very common.  Many people leave abusive                    relationships several times before it finally ends.
    • Help them to identify the support they can have from others (from friends, family and                      support agencies) when they are ready to do something about it.
    • Find out information for them – let them know you have the information when they are                    ready to look at it.  You could find out about local specialist domestic abuse agencies,                        information to help them recognise they are being abused, find out if there are local                          Solicitors who could give free initial advice or research websites for information.
    • If there are children in the home, they will probably be witnessing much of the abuse. You                may want to make a referral to Social Services for help – you can call them anonymously if                you just want to talk it through and get advice.
    • Don’t tackle the abuser yourself, it could put you at risk and increase the risk to your friend.
    • Keep yourself safe.

Coming soon


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