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This page deals with topics of physical, emotional and psychological abuse.
If your partner (or ex-partner), family member or carer is being violent, manipulative or threatening towards you, this is domestic abuse (also known as domestic violence).
Abusers usually act in this way because they want to gain control or power over the person they’re abusing. Sometimes they may not even be aware of the impact their behaviour is having.
It can happen to anyone, regardless of things like age, gender or ethnicity, and it is never acceptable.
Domestic abuse is often very frightening and can greatly impact the way that you think about yourself and go about your life.
If you’re being abused, you may feel isolated or trapped in your situation. You might even believe that you deserve the abuse. Sometimes it can also be difficult to recognise abusive behaviour, or you may find yourself explaining it away or justifying it.
Recognising that you are being mis-treated is a significant step in itself.
The way you are being treated can never be justified and you are not alone in your experiences – there is lots of support out there to help you understand your options and keep you safe.
Remember, if you think that you’re in danger or need emergency help, don’t hesitate to call 999.
What can it look and feel like?
Domestic abuse doesn’t just mean physical violence – it can take on many forms. Sometimes, it can be difficult to recognise that a series of behaviours is actually domestic abuse. Below are some examples of what it can look like, but this isn’t an exhaustive list. You might also find our page on healthy relationships useful for determining whether you are experiencing domestic abuse.
- Physical violence and aggression, e.g. kicking, hitting, punching, shoving, throwing things
- Sexual violence, e.g. your abuser might force you to have sex with them
- Financial control, e.g. your abuser might prevent you from accessing your own money, or only give you a limited amount for necessities
- Tech abuse, e.g. demanding access to your phone, sending abusive messages online
- Control over other aspects of life, e.g. telling you what you can and can’t wear, not letting you go out, invading your privacy to know your every movement
- Threatening behaviour, e.g. threats of violence against you or one of your family members, threats to abandon you
- Cultural violence, e.g. being punished for doing something that’s not deemed acceptable by your family or community, being forced to marry someone against your will
- Coercive control,g. manipulating, bullying, pestering or otherwise coercing you into doing things you don’t want to
If you’re being domestically abused, you may experience a range of thoughts and emotions. You might:
- Feel helpless
- Feel depressed or anxious
- Feel on-edge or tense a lot of the time
- Feel like you provoke or are responsible for the abuse
- Feel completely dependent on the abuser
- Have very low self-esteem
- Love your abuser
- Be hopeful that the abuse will stop
- Find excuses for the abuser
- Fear that you’ll be judged if people find out
- Fear that people won’t believe you
- Become withdrawn or distant
- Stop attending activities or events
- Stop connecting with family and friends
- Become secretive about your home life or partner
- Turn to coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol or self-harm
- Have suicidal thoughts
What might help?
If you’re experiencing domestic abuse of any kind, finding support can feel like a huge (and scary) step. There could be many things making it difficult for you to leave your abuser or seek help, such as feeling like you don’t deserve any better, feeling dependent on the abuser, believing that the abuser can change, or physically not being able to leave.
With that said, there are several organisations out there that understand how hard it might be for you and have taken measures to make accessing support as safe as possible. If you can, try to remind yourself that domestic abuse is always the fault of the abuser – never your own – and that you deserve to live a life that is free of any kind of abuse.
- Call 999 if you are in danger or at risk of being hurt.
- Access a Safe Space. Pharmacies across the UK have set up Safe Spaces within their consultation rooms. These are private spaces which have a phone and details of domestic abuse support services. Just go up to the counter in a participating pharmacy and ask to use their Safe Space. You can read more on the UK SAYS NO MORE website and use their search tool to find a Safe Space near you.
- Ask for ANI. If you need immediate help, ask for ANI (pronounced “Annie”) at a participating pharmacy, bar, restaurant of club (one with an ANI logo). This stands for ‘Action Needed Immediately’. You will be offered a private space and a phone, and be asked if you need the police or support from other domestic abuse services. You can read more on the UK website.
- Tell someone you trust. Understandably, this might seem like a very scary step to take and you might not feel ready to do it just yet. However, letting someone know that you’re being abused can allow them to support you in a way that feels comfortable to you. This doesn’t have to be a family member or friend – you could also tell a GP, counsellor, helpline worker (see our Support section below) or anyone else you feel safe talking to.
- Find help from a domestic abuse service. There are a number of organisations that specifically offer support and advice to those who are experiencing domestic violence. They provide a lot more information, legal advice and suggestions than we can here, as well as helplines and messaging services so that you can speak to a trained counsellor or worker. We’ve included several organisations and helplines below.
- Try to keep safe in dangerous situations. Your abuser might be particularly violent or threatening at certain times, such as after a stressful day at work or when they’ve been drinking alcohol. Try to keep safe during these times (although we know it won’t always be possible). It might help to stay out of their way as much as you can – you could stay in a separate room or come up with a reason to leave the house if possible, like going to the shop. If you’re living with other people, it might help to stick with them to make sure that you’re not alone with the abuser.
- Keep safe online. Some abusers will look through your browser history to find out what sites you’ve been visiting and what searches you’ve been making. There are steps you can take to maximise your safety – Women’s Aid has a useful page of tips for covering your tracks online.
- If you need to escape domestic abuse during a pandemic or lockdown, self-isolation rules and other restrictions do not apply. COVID-19 might have made things even more difficult for you if you’re living with your abuser and you might feel extremely isolated, trapped and afraid. If you need to leave immediately, know that the usual rules and restrictions should not stop you.
Where to go for more support
Help is available for anyone who is experiencing domestic violence. We’ve listed some resources and helplines below:
- Childline has lots of information about domestic violence, including tips on keeping safe and finding support. If you’re under 19, are feeling overwhelmed or just want to talk to someone, they have a 1-2-1 chat service where you can talk to a counsellor online via messaging. You can also phone their helpline on 0800 1111.
- The Hideout helps young people learn more about domestic abuse and what you can do if it’s happening to you.
- Respect not Fear has lots of information about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships and domestic abuse for young people.
- Refuge provides information and support to women and children who are affected by domestic abuse. You can also call the free 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247, or chat to someone online.
- Women’s Aid supports women and children who are affected by domestic abuse. They have an online chat service (weekdays from 10am-4pm, weekends from 10am-12pm) or you can send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They also have a forum for women aged 18+ who have been (or are being) affected by domestic abuse.
- The Mankind Initiative offers support to men who are affected by domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 01823 334244 (weekdays from 10am-4pm).
- Respect’s Men’s Advice Line provides support and advice to men experiencing domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 0808 8010327 (weekdays from 9am-8pm) or email email@example.com.
- Galop supports LGBTQ+ people who have been affected by domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 0800 999 5428 (Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 10am-5pm, Wednesday and Thursday 10am-8pm) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ashiana offers support and advice to Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee women who have experienced domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 0114 255 5740 (weekdays 9am-5pm).
- Karma Nirvana provides support to those affected by cultural and honour-based abuse, such as forced marriage. You can call their helpline on 0800 5999 247 (weekdays 9am-5pm) or send them a message via their website.
- If domestic abuse has affected you in any way, you may want to talk to someone about the impact of this. We provide a number of face-to-face services, all of which offer something slightly different depending on what you want to get out of the support. Overall, though, every service provides you with someone who will listen, acknowledge your feelings, and provide emotional support. You can read about our services here. You can also chat with one of our workers online through our text-based platform - just register for ongoing online support via our online support portal.
Worried about someone you know?
If someone you know is being abused, or you’re worried they may be, it can be difficult to know what the best action is. You might also experience difficult emotions yourself, like guilt, anger or helplessness.
Try to remember that domestic abuse is never anyone’s fault but the abuser’s. You are in no way responsible for the situation, nor should you feel like it’s your duty to ‘save’ someone from an abusive relationship.
Showing support for the person being abused is the most helpful way forward. You can do this in many ways:
- Talk to them in a safe space. Find a private place where your friend or family member feels comfortable talking. Ask them if everything’s ok or tell them that you’re concerned about them. They might not open up straight away, but don’t push them to talk or they might shut down completely.
- Believe them. Listen to what they’re saying and what they’re going through. Many people who experience domestic abuse are scared that they won’t be believed if they do tell someone. Show them that they have your full attention and that you believe everything that they’re saying. This builds trust.
- Assure them. Tell them that the abuse is not their fault and that they don’t deserve to be treated in this way. Let them know that they’re never alone – you’ll be there to help them and there are plenty of other support options out there if they’d like to access them.
- Don’t judge. You might feel frustrated that the person won’t leave their abuser. Unfortunately, escaping domestic abuse is not that simple. The person being abused might stay for a number of reasons, such as feeling dependent on the abuser, having no access to money, telling themselves that the abuser can change, or being scared that they’ll be hurt if they leave. You can tell your friend or family member that abuse isn’t part of a healthy relationship, but try not to shame them or question their choices.
- Explore support options with them. Ask your friend or family member if they’d be open to finding support and if they’d like your help in doing so. You can point them in the direction of some domestic violence organisations, resources and helplines, like the ones listed in our Support section below.
- Look after yourself. Supporting someone through domestic abuse can be very difficult and draining. Make sure that you take care of yourself by avoiding dangerous situations, making it clear how much support you can offer and not feeling responsible for ‘fixing’ the problem.
If you’re struggling, there are lots of helplines that you can call to talk about how you’re feeling. You may also want to tell a trusted person, such as another relative, teacher or counsellor. This isn’t selfish – taking care of your own wellbeing is equally as important and can help you to continue providing support.
- Call 999 if you or the person you’re worried about is in danger or at risk of being hurt. If you’re living in the same house as the abuser and don’t know what to do, you can also contact a helpline (see the Support section below). If you can’t use the phone, lots of helplines also have 1-2-1 chat or messaging services.
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By: Ruby Guyler