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Signs of domestic abuse in adults

What to look for if you suspect someone is experiencing domestic abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, for the first time, creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which 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 / emotional – for example victim-blaming, name-calling, belittling
  • physical – for example hurting or threatening to hurt physically
  • sexual – for example forced to take part in unwanted, unsafe or degrading activity
  • economic – for example restricting finances / access to work, getting a victim into debt
  • coercive control – for example isolating, monitoring, threats, humiliation

The act also recognises the impact of domestic abuse on those who are ‘personally connected’ and defines what is meant by this as:

“…intimate partners, ex-partners, family members or individuals who share parental responsibility for a child.”

There is no requirement for the victim and perpetrator to live in the same household. Also, for the first time, the Domestic Abuse Act recognises that a child who sees or hears, or experiences the effects of, domestic abuse and is related to the person being abused or the perpetrator is also to be regarded as a victim of domestic abuse.

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate or dependent by:

  • isolating them from their sources of support
  • exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain
  • depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape
  • regulating their everyday behaviour

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a victim.

Domestic abuse is about power and control and currently affects approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in the UK.

The following signs may be indicative that someone is experiencing domestic abuse:

  • their partner is jealous and possessive
  • their partner tries to isolate them by cutting them off from family and friends
  • their partner has frequent mood swings, like really nice one minute and abusive the next
  • their partner controls what they do, who they see, what they wear
  • their partner monitors their movements, constantly phones or texts to find out where they are
  • their partner blames them for the abuse
  • their partner humiliates them or insults them in front of others
  • their partner is verbally abusive
  • their partner constantly criticises them
  • their partner uses anger or intimidation to make them comply with their demands
  • their partner tells them that they are useless and couldn’t cope without them
  • their partner threatens to hurt them or those close to them if they leave
  • the person changes their behaviour to avoid making their partner angry
  • their partner forces them to have sex when they don’t want to