Domestic abuse can affect anyone, regardless of age, disability, gender identity, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Domestic abuse can also manifest itself in specific ways within different communities.

The statutory definition of domestic abuse as set out in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as:

Section 1: Definition of ‘domestic abuse’
  1. This section defines ‘domestic abuse’ for the purposes of this Act.
  2. Behaviour of a person (‘A’) towards another person (‘B’) is “domestic abuse” if—
    1. A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and
    2. the behaviour is abusive.
  3. Behaviour is ‘abusive’ if it consists of any of the following:
    1. physical or sexual abuse
    2. violent or threatening behaviour
    3. controlling or coercive behaviour
    4. economic abuse (see subsection (4))
    5. psychological, emotional or other abuse
      and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.
  4. ‘Economic abuse’ means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on B’s ability to
    1. acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or
    2. obtain goods or services
  5. For the purposes of this Act A’s behaviour may be behaviour ‘towards’ B despite the fact that it consists of conduct directed at another person (for example, B’s child).
  6. References in this Act to being abusive towards another person are to be read in accordance with this section.
  7. For the meaning of ‘personally connected’, see section 2.
Section 2: Definition of ‘personally connected’
  1. Two people are ‘personally connected’ to each other if any of the following applies:
    1. they are, or have been, married to each other
    2. they are, or have been, civil partners of each other
    3. they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
    4. they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
    5. they are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship with each other
    6. they each have, or there has been a time when they each have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child (see subsection (2))
    7. they are relatives.
  2. For the purposes of subsection (1)(f) a person has a parental relationship in relation to a child if:
    1. the person is a parent of the child, or
    2. the person has parental responsibility for the child.
  3. In this section:
    • ‘child’ means a person under the age of 18 years;
    • ‘civil partnership agreement’ has the meaning given by section 73 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004;
    • ‘parental responsibility’ has the same meaning as in the Children Act 1989;
    • ‘relative’ has the meaning given by section 63(1) of the Family Law Act 1996.
Section 3: Children as victims of domestic abuse
  1. This section applies where behaviour of a person (‘A’) towards another person (‘B’) is domestic abuse.
  2. Any reference in this Act to a victim of domestic abuse includes a reference to a child who:
    1. sees or hears, or experiences the effect of, the abuse, and
    2. is related to A or B.
  3. A child is related to a person for the purposes of subsection (2) if:
    1. the person is a parent of, or has parental responsibility for, the child, or
    2. the child and the person are relatives.
  4. In this section:
    • ‘child’ means person under the age of 18 years;
    • ‘parental responsibility’ has the same meaning as in the Children Act 1989 (see section 3 of that Act);
    • ‘relative’ has the meaning given by section 63(1) of the Family Law Act 1996.

Forms of domestic abuse

Professionals and agencies must be aware that the types of abuse can differ in nature, dynamics, and impact, therefore to ensure they can deliver an effective response, there must be an explanation of the types and forms of abuse.

Intimate Partner Abuse –

Abuse in intimate relationships can vary in severity and frequency, ranging from a one-off occurrence to a continued pattern of behaviour which often continues or intensifies when a relationship has ended, which can be a very dangerous time for a victim.

Post-separation abuse, including stalking, harassment and forms of physical, emotional, sexual and economic abuse, and controlling and coercive behaviour often continues and causes ongoing harm.

Teenage Relationship Abuse –

Relationship abuse happens at all ages, not just in adult relationships. Teenage relationship abuse is not a term that is defined by the 2021 Act, or elsewhere in law, but if the victim and perpetrator are at least 16 years old abuse in their relationship will come under the statutory definition of domestic abuse set out in the Domestic Abuse Act. The act does not create a specific offence of domestic abuse and whilst young people under the age of 16 can experience behaviours which encompass domestic abuse, these would be considered child abuse. These can include a wide range of incidents or patterns of incidents of controlling or coercive behaviour, violence or abuse between teenagers (and may involve children younger than 13) who are, or have been, in an intimate relationship. This abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, economic or emotional abuse. For teenagers in particular, this abuse can often occur through technology.

Abuse in relationships between those under the age of 18 years will be treated as child abuse as a matter of law and child safeguarding procedures should be followed. Abuse involving perpetrators and victims aged between 16 and 18 could be both child and domestic abuse. It is important to remember that abuse perpetrated by someone over the age of 18 against someone under the age of 18 also constitutes child abuse as a matter of law.

Abuse by family members

Abuse by family members can involve abuse by any relative or multiple relatives. A wide range of family members will be considered to be ‘relatives’ that can perpetrate and be victims of abuse, and there is no requirement for the victim and the perpetrator to live together within the 2021 Act. For instance, familial abuse may be perpetrated by children, grandchildren, parents, those with parental responsibility, siblings, or extended families. In some cases, familial abuse may be perpetrated towards a victim by more than one person in the same family.

Abuse within a family set-up can encompass a number of different behaviours, including but not limited to violence, coercive or controlling behaviours, and economic abuse. Abuse by family members also encompasses forced marriage, ‘honour’-based abuse and female genital mutilation.

Child to parent abuse

Abuse within the family includes child-to-parent abuse (CPA). CPA can also be called adolescent to parent violence/abuse (APV/A), child and adolescent to parental violence and abuse (CAPVA) or parent abuse. Child-to-parent abuse can involve children of all ages and it is important that this does not exclusively involve physical violence. If the child is over 16 years of age, CPA is considered domestic abuse in accordance with the statutory definition under the 2021 Act. It is important to remember that this form of abuse, though commonly referred to as CPA, can also include parents, those with parental responsibility, siblings, or extended families.

This can include physical violence from a child towards a parent or other family members such as siblings and a number of different types of abusive behaviours, including damage to property, emotional abuse, and economic/financial abuse. Violence and abuse can occur together or separately. Abusive behaviours can encompass, but are not limited to, humiliating language and threats, belittling, damage to property and stealing and heightened sexualised behaviours.

Recognising Domestic Abuse

Physical abuse

Physical abuse, violent or threatening behaviour, are forms of abusive behaviour. This can involve, but is not limited to:

  • being, or threatened to be, kicked, punched, pinched, pushed, dragged, shoved, slapped, scratched, choked and bitten
  • use, or threats of use, of ‘weapons’ including knives and irons
  • being burned, scalded or poisoned
  • objects being thrown
  • violence or threats against family members and/or pets
  • causing harm by denying access to medical aids or equipment – for example Deaf persons may be prevented from communicating in sign language or may have their hearing aids removed; and
  • harming someone whilst performing ‘caring’ duties, which are often performed by relatives – this is especially relevant for disabled victims and may involve force feeding, withdrawal of medicine or over-medication

Sexual abuse

Many victims of domestic abuse experience behaviour that is sexually abusive in their relationships. This can involve:

  • rape
  • being pressured into sex, or sexual acts, including with other people
  • being forced to take part in sexual acts because of threats to others, including children
  • unwanted sexual contact or demands
  • ‘corrective’ rape (the practice of raping someone with the aim of ‘curing’ them of being LGBT)
  • intentional exposure to HIV or sexually transmitted infections
  • being pressurised or being tricked into having unsafe sex, including deception over the use of birth control
  • forced involvement in making or watching pornography; and
  • hurting a victim during sex including non-fatal strangulation

There are also links between sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, including forced prostitution. Perpetrators may force or coerce a victim into exchanging sex for drugs, alcohol or money, or committing a crime, such as theft, to pay, for example, for the perpetrator’s drugs or alcohol.

Controlling or coercive behaviour

What constitutes controlling or coercive behaviour is outlined in statutory guidance issued by the government under section 77 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Controlling or coercive behaviour is defined as:

  • controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour; and
  • 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 their victim

Below is a list of behaviours that are within the range and continuum of coercive or controlling behaviour. This list is not exhaustive:

  • controlling or monitoring the victim’s daily activities, including making them account for their time, dictating what they can wear, what and when they can eat, when and where they may sleep and so on
  • isolating the victim from family, friends and professionals who may be trying to support them, intercepting messages or phone calls
  • refusing to interpret, and/or hindering access to communication
  • intentional undermining of the victim’s role as a partner, spouse or parent
  • preventing the victim from taking medication, or accessing medical equipment or over-medicating them, or preventing the victim from accessing health or social care (especially relevant for victims with disabilities or long-term health conditions)
  • using substances to control a victim through dependency, or controlling their access to substances
  • using children to control their victim, for example, threatening to take the children away or manipulating professionals to increase the risk of children being prevented from having contact with the victim or having children’s social care involvement
  • using pets to control or coerce a victim, for example, harming, or threatening to harm or give away pets
  • alienating behaviours, including invidious drip feeding of negative views to a child by one parent about the other parent, or any attempt by one parent to frustrate or limit the child’s contact with the other parent, other than for reasons based on concern about the risk to that child
  • threats to expose sensitive information (for example, sexual activity, or sexual orientation) or make false allegations to family members, religious or local community including via photos or the internet
  • intimidation and threats of disclosure of sexual orientation and/or gender identity to family, friends, work colleagues, community and others
  • preventing the victim from learning a language or making friends outside of their ethnic/ or cultural background
  • threatening precarious immigration status against the victim, withholding documents, giving false information to a victim about their visa or visa application, for example, using immigration law to threaten the victim with potential deportation
  • threats of institutionalisation (particularly for disabled or elderly victims)
  • emotional and psychological abuse
  • spiritual abuse
  • economic abuse; and
  • verbal abuse

Coercive or controlling behaviour is common in domestic abuse and can coincide with many of the other behaviours

Technological abuse

Perpetrators can use technology and social media as a means of controlling or coercing victims. This happens frequently both during and after relationships with abusers and is particularly common amongst younger people. Examples of online abuse include:

  • placing false or malicious information about a victim on their or others’ social media
  • set up false social media accounts in the name of the victim
  • ‘trolling’ with abusive, offensive or deliberately provocative messages via social media platforms or online forums
  • image-based abuse – for example the non-consensual distribution or threat thereof of private sexual photographs and films with the intent to cause the person depicted distress (revenge porn)
  • hacking into, monitoring or controlling email accounts, social media profiles and phone calls
  • blocking the victim from using their online accounts, responding in the victim’s place or creating false online accounts
  • use of spyware or GPS locators on items such as phones, computers, wearable technology, cars, motorbikes and pets
  • hacking internet enabled devices such as PlayStations or iPads to gain access to accounts or trace information such as a person’s location
  • using personal devices such as smart watches or smart home devices (such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home Hubs) to monitor, control or frighten; and
  • use of hidden cameras

Emotional or psychological abuse

Domestic abuse often involves emotional or psychological abuse. This can include:

  • manipulating a person’s anxieties or beliefs
  • withholding affection
  • turning children and friends against the victim (which may have a subsequent impact on children) including falsely and without justification telling a child that the other parent abandoned them, never loved them, or never wanted them
  • distorting a child’s memories about the victim parent, including telling a child the other parent will pick them up/meet them, when that was not true, falsely telling medical/school staff they have sole custody of a child so that no information is provided to the other parent, painting the other parent in a negative light to the child, including mocking their personality characteristics, job, friends, family and belittling them (including in front of the child)
  • being stopped from seeing friends, relatives, or care workers
  • being insulted, including in front of others – this includes insulting someone about their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, faith or belief, ability to parent and ability to work
  • repeatedly being belittled
  • keeping a victim awake/preventing them from sleeping
  • using violence or threats towards pets to intimidate the victim and cause distress, including threatening to harm the animal as well as controlling how the owner is able to care for the animal
  • using social media sites to intimidate the victim; and
  • persuading a victim to doubt their own sanity or mind (including ‘gaslighting’)

Verbal abuse

Examples of verbal abuse include:

  • repeated yelling and shouting
  • verbal humiliation either in private or in company
  • being laughed at and being made fun of
  • insults and threats; and
  • mocking someone about their disability, gender identity, religious or faith belief, sexual orientation, physical appearance and so on

Spiritual abuse

Spiritual abuse is commonly understood as a part of emotional and psychological abuse that uses religion and faith systems to control and subjugate a victim. It is often characterised by a systemic pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour within a religious context.

Spiritual abuse can have a deeply damaging impact on victims. The abuse may include, the following but is not limited to:

  • manipulation and exploitation through the influence of religion
  • enforced accountability
  • censorship of decision making
  • requirements for secrecy and silence
  • marital rape and the use of religious scripture to justify that
  • coercion to conform or control through the use of sacred or religious texts/teaching, for example, theological justifications in sexual coercion or abuse
  • causing harm, isolation and or neglect to get rid of an ‘evil force’, ‘spirit’ or ‘jinn’ that is believed to have possessed the victim. This can include accusations of witchcraft, where the term witchcraft and association with it are used in a derogatory way
  • requirement of obedience to the perpetrator of domestic abuse, owing to religion or faith, or their ‘divine’ position; and
  • community isolation as a means of ‘punishment’

Spiritual abuse can also involve, using, or preventing a victim from practising their faith or religious obligations. This may include:

  • forcing the victim to act or behave in ways which contradict religious beliefs and or spiritual rituals and practice, for example, forcing the victim to transgress religious dietary observations
  • preventing the victim from performing prayers and/or attending communal worship
  • forcing sexual acts which contradict religious observance and or religious law (for example, during and after menstruation or pre-marital sex); and,
  • forcing or limiting access to abortion, birth control or sterilisation when this will contravene religious observance

Religious marriage and divorce

Religious marriages from faith communities other than Christianity are not recognised in British law. A couple need to register their religious marriage for them to access their legal rights and obligations under British law. This can be used by perpetrators to:

  • actively discourage or prevent the marriage being registered in British law ensuring that women are denied their legal rights in the event of a breakdown in the marriage – this along with an insecure immigration status of the victim can act as a powerful tool for coercion and control
  • coerce or trick women into being part of a multiple marriage where the husband can have more than one wife at the same time

A form of spiritual abuse may include the withholding of a religious divorce, as a threat to control and intimidate victims. In some cases, it will be accompanied by other manifestations of abuse within the marriage.

Refusing to let a partner practise their religion may also constitute a form of spiritual abuse, for example, restricting access to worship and their religion.

So-called honour-based abuse

So-called honour-based abuse (HBA) is a crime or incident which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the perceived honour of the family and/or community, or in response to individuals trying to break from constraining ‘norms’ of behaviour that their family or community is trying to impose.

HBA can cover emotional or psychological abuse and a range of other circumstances, not all of which represent domestic abuse under the 2021 Act, for example if the victim and perpetrator are not personally connected. However, HBA will typically be carried out by a member or members of the family and is likely to involve behaviours specified in the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the 2021 Act.

Economic abuse

Economic abuse means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on an individual’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or to obtain goods or services. This can include an individual’s ability to acquire food, clothes, transportation and utilities. These behaviours can include an attempt to control through restriction, exploitation and/or sabotage.

Economic abuse can also be a form of controlling or coercive behaviour, where it is done repeatedly or continuously. It can make the individual economically dependent on the abuser, and/or create economic instability, thereby limiting their ability to escape and access safety and can result in an individual staying with an abuser and experiencing more abuse and harm as a result.

Examples of economic abuse might include the following, where they have a substantial adverse effect on the victim:

  • controlling the family income
  • not allowing a victim to spend any money unless ‘permitted’
  • denying the victim food or only allowing them to eat a particular type of food
  • running up bills and debts such as credit/store cards in a victim’s name, including without them knowing
  • refusing to contribute to household income
  • deliberately forcing a victim to go to the family courts so they incur additional legal fees
  • interfering with or preventing a victim from regularising their immigration status so that they are economically dependent on the perpetrator
  • preventing a victim from claiming welfare benefits, or forcing someone to commit benefit fraud or misappropriating such benefits
  • interfering with a victim’s education, training, employment and career
  • not allowing a victim access to mobile phone/car/utilities
  • damaging property; and
  • not allowing a victim to buy pet food or access veterinary care for their pet

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough LSCB work closely with the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Partnership to develop an approach to support children & young people affected by domestic abuse in Cambridgeshire.

Visit their website for more information, resources and risk assessment tools including:

Self Help Booklet

for people who have gone through sexual violence or abuse