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What is relationship abuse?

Relationship abuse is when someone hurts or upsets someone else who they are in a relationship with. Some people can be in an abusive relationship and not even realise it.

Relationship abuse can include:

  • physical abuse – hitting, punching, pushing, biting, kicking or using weapons
  • sexual abuse – forcing you to have sex or watch pornography, unwanted kissing or touching, pressure not to use contraception
  • rape – persuading or forcing you to have sex when you don’t want to
  • financial abuse – taking or controlling your money, forcing you to buy them things, forcing you to work or not to work
  • emotional abuse – insults and name calling, isolation from friends and family, controlling what you wear or where you go, checking up on you all the time

There are different forms of abuse and for more information and to find out where to get help visit:

Some people think abuse only happens in adult relationships, but it can happen at any age. Abuse can happen to anyone regardless of the type of relationship, age or whether they are a boy or a girl.

Percentage of Girls abused in relationships

Sexual 33%
Physical 25%
Emotional 75%

Percentage of Boys abused in relationships

Sexual 17%
Physical 18%
Emotional 50%

Warning signs of abuse

If you are in an abusive relationship, you may feel or experience a lot of different emotions. You might also notice the signs in a friend who may be in an abusive relationship.

Warning signs include:

  • depression and anxiety
  • isolation from family and friends
  • not doing so well at school or college
  • being argumentative
  • being fearful
  • concerns about making the boyfriend or girlfriend angry
  • physical signs such as bruises
  • use of drugs and alcohol
  • frequent cancelling of plans
  • changes in appearance
  • risky sexual behaviour
Abuse in Relationships Leaflet

If you are being hurt

If you are worried about your relationship:

  • there is support to help you – it is not your fault
  • talk to friends, family and trusted adults about what is happening to you
  • think about safe places where you can go
  • keep your mobile charged at all times so you can call the police or emergency services if you need to
  • have a code word that will let your friends and family know if you need help

If you are being harassed by calls on your mobile, try to change your phone number.

If you are getting emails or instant messages that are abusive, you should save or print them. You can then give them to the police as evidence if you choose to report the abuse. You can also change your email address.

If someone you know is being hurt

It can be very hard to talk about abuse and it can also be hard to support someone who is being hurt. Make sure you look after yourself as well as them.

If you want to approach your friend, do it in a sensitive way. For example, ‘I am worried about you because…’

If someone tells you they are in an abusive relationship:

  • don’t judge them, believe them
  • let them know they are not alone, it is not their fault and you know how hard it can be to speak about
  • help them to recognise that what is happening is unacceptable and they don’t have to put up with it
  • decide together what to do – this can involve making a ‘safety plan’, eg of how to escape or where to go if something happens
  • agree a code word they can use on the phone to ask for help and agree what you will do if you get that call
  • try to improve their confidence by listing the good things about them
  • be patient – ending a relationship can be hard for anyone, but particularly for someone who is being abused

Getting help

In an emergency, call the police on 999 for immediate help.

Tell an adult you trust, eg a teacher, parent, relative, youth worker or doctor.

You can also get help from ChildLine. They can help you work out what to do safely. Calls to ChildLine are free and never appear on your phone bill.

Rape Crisis can give you advice about rape and sexual violence, including details of the nearest Rape Crisis Centre if you need support.

The Mix’s relationship support site ( a scientific and thoughtful approach to relationships for young people. Read articles on a range of topics, from increasing self-confidence to managing a breakup – all written in partnership with Click.

There are a number of other websites where you can get more information about unhealthy behaviour in relationships.

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