Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is much more common than people think; one in four women and one in six men will experience it at some point in their lives.

It can happen to anyone, in all types of relationships, regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, class, disability, sexuality, lifestyle, nationality or age.

It’s rarely a one-off occurrence, but usually a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour.

Definitions and signs of domestic abuse

The Safer Somerset Partnership has adopted the HM Government definition of domestic abuse (March 2013) 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.”

Domestic Abuse Act 

In 2021, the UK Government plan to introduce a new Domestic Abuse Act, which will create a legal definition of domestic abuse.

The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: 

  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Financial / Economic


Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse involves:

Regular and deliberate use of a range of words and non-physical actions used with the purpose to manipulate, hurt, weaken or frighten a person mentally and emotionally; 

and/or distort, confuse or influence a person’s thoughts and actions within their everyday lives, 

changing their sense of self and harming their wellbeing.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse can be

  • A direct injury. 
  • Withholding someone’s medication. 
  • Making someone take drugs or consume large quantities of alcohol.
  • It can include the threat to hurt a person or animal. 
  • Torture.
  • Damage to property are also types of physical abuse.

How would you know?

  • You may notice someone has injuries that are either unexplained, or the reason for them, doesn’t match the extent.
  • They may appear unwell, or in pain.
  • They maybe intoxicated or clearly under the influence of drugs.
  • They maybe scared due to the treats of physical harm.
  • Their property maybe damaged.
  • They may seem to be self-harming.


Sexual abuse includes making someone participate in sexual activity when they don’t want to. This includes coercing someone to have sex or making them witnessing it. 

How would you know?

  • Someone may tell you.
  • They maybe dressing inappropriately for the weather or location.
  • Their language maybe sexualised or opposingly, they may find it difficult to talk about anything that’s remotely sexual (even regarding film, tv or music).

Financial abuse

Financial abuse take many forms. It’s a type of abuse that can start subtle and is often hard to detect.

When defining financial abuse, we know there are many elements at play. It is true that financial abuse often involves or is associated with:

  • Someone taking or misusing someone else’s money or belongings for their own gain
  • Harming, depriving or disadvantaging the victim
  • Controlling someone’s purchases or access to money
  • Often associated with other forms of abuse
  • Doesn’t always involve a crime like theft or fraud

 Types of financial abuse

What financial abuse looks like can vary which can make it difficult to detect and identify because it can be concerning money, property or belongings.

Financial abuse might look like:

  • Borrowing money and not giving it back
  • Stealing money or belongings
  • Taking pension payments or other benefit away from someone
  • Taking money as payment for coming to visit or spending time together
  • Forcing someone to sell their home or assets without consent
  • Tricking someone into bad investments
  • Forcing someone to make changes in wills, property or inheritance

Signs of financial abuse

 There are a number of behaviours and signs that might suggest financial abuse could be happening:

  • Unexplained money loss
  • Lack of money to pay for essentials such as rent, bills and food
  • Inability to access or check bank accounts and bank balance
  • Changes or deterioration in standards of living e.g. not having items or things they would usually have
  • Unusual or inappropriate purchases in bank statements
  • Isolation and withdrawal from friends and family
  • Lack of things you’d expect someone to be able to afford e.g. TV, grooming items, clothing

Controlling behaviour

This 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.

How would you know?

Signs include:

  • Unable to make decisions, no matter how large or small without first checking with the person causing them harm
  • Criticised publicly or talk of being criticised and ‘can do nothing right’
  • Aren’t allowed to speak for very long on the telephone or meet with people 
  • Being cared for or loved is “conditional”. Basically, you aren’t good enough right now, but if you do something then you will (or might) be
  • Having lots of gifts, holidays, a new car or another treat. Creating a ‘guilt’ that because the person causing harm has provided this, then the survivor is beholden to them
  • Jealousy, snooping, spying or wanting constant disclosure where someone is, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it

Coercive behaviour

“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.”

How would I know?

  • Controlling who you can speak to, monitoring you online and/or offline, creating drama when you want to go out preventing you from making your own choices about when you go out, preventing access to transport and limiting your time with others.
  • Making you feel bad for wanting to make your own decisions, so making you feel guilty about wanting to wear something or go somewhere.
  • Taking over your relationships, or telling people not to speak with you.
  • Undermining you, putting you down, criticising you or your friends and family.
  • Gaslighting you – distorting the reality to manipulate you.
  • Threatening you or your friends, family or pets.
  • Attempting suicide or threatening self-harm if you try to leave or don’t do a certain thing.
  • Creating the rules to live by (just applies to you and not them), micro management of your life.
  • Stalking – following you, monitoring you online/offline, appearing in places you go to, watching you, using others to watch you.

Who can be affected?

Remember that domestic abuse also includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage. Also that domestic abuse victims and survivors can be from any gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, and income or household status makes no difference.

Steps you can take

Domestic abuse can take many different forms, and victims (male or female) may be made to feel responsible and guilty for the abuse, and it can go on for years, often increasing in frequency and severity. Sometimes it only ends when one person kills the other.

What you can do if you, or someone you know, is in an abusive relationship there are three steps you can take:

  • Recognise it is happening
  • Accept that you (or the person you know) are not to blame
  • Seek help and support

Remember it’s also not only between partners or couples. But also between family members.

If you’re concerned your personal or family relationships maybe abusive, then please contact either the specialist local or national helplines.

Do you want to talk to someone about domestic abuse?

Contact the Somerset Domestic Abuse Support helpline: 0800 69 49 999

Or email the Somerset Integrated Domestic Abuse Service
General Enquiries:

Opening Hours: 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm Saturday and Sunday.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please always call the Police on 999.

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