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What is Domstic Abuse?

How is it defined?

Domestic abuse can be defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.

How does it manifest?

Domestic violence can manifest itself in the following forms:

  • Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence
  • Psychological abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Harassment and stalking
  • Online or digital abuse


Am I experiencing domestic abuse?

Ask yourself the following

  1. Do you feel afraid of your partner
  2. Do you feel isolated, bullied, or belittled?
  3. Does your partner try to prevent you from seeing friends or family?
  4. Does your partner overbearingly check up on where your are or what you’re doing?
  5. Does your partner regularly criticise or insult you?
  6. Does your partner physically hurt you?
  7. Do you feel as though you walk on egg shells around your partner?
  8. Do you often change your behaviour to avoid triggering an incident?
  9. Does your partner threaten you or your children?
  10. Does your partner have financial control over you?
  11. Does your partner force you into having sex?
  12. Does your partner make you do things that you really don’t want to do?
  13. Does your partner accuse you of flirting with other people or being unfaithful?
  14. Does your partner tell you that you’re useless and couldn’t cope without them?
  15. Has your partner ever deliberately damaged any of your possessions?
  16. Does a sudden change of your partner’s mood dominate your home?
  17. Are you afraid to make your own decisions?

If you have found yourself answering ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, then you may be experiencing domestic abuse. The first thing to remember is that you are not alone. This is not, and will never be, your fault as you have a right to feel safe and live free of abuse. We will believe you and we will support you.

If you don’t feel safe, respected and cared for, then something isn’t right. Abuse can be both physical and emotional, and both types can be equally damaging. It is not safe to ignore signs of abuse because they are yet to present themselves physically.

If you think that you might be in an abusive relationship then there are ways to get out safely and with the support of others. If you feel comfortable, you can speak to one of our Advice Centre advisors who are available during weekdays from 10.00-16.30 Monday to Thursday, and 10:00-15:00 on Friday. You can contact us on 01484 473446 or email us at to book an appointment to speak with an advisor.


Check out our comprehensive list of local and national charities to find out where the closest domestic violence support centre is to you. You can also access our growing online resource bank to find advice escaping abusive relationships, as well as advise for moving forward from them.


How can I avoid being a bystander?


What’s a bystander?

A bystander is someone who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. With 26% of women reporting having experienced some kind of domestic abuse as adults and 15% of men reporting the same - preventing bystander culture and giving support to loved ones experiencing abuse is essential.

Who can help?

It is important to remember that the only person responsible for committing domestic abuse is the perpetrator - but all of us have some ability to look out for each other’s safety. It can be as simple as offering a cup of tea. Everyone has a part to play in preventing domestic abuse.

Why don’t people help more often?

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to step into situations, even if you know you are doing the right thing. The following are common reasons given by bystanders as to why they’ve remained on the sidelines:

  • “I didn’t know exactly what to say or do”
  • “I didn’t want to cause more of a scene”
  • “It’s none of my business”
  • “I thought someone else would get involved and step in”
  • “I didn’t want my friend to be angry with me”

It’s very normal to have thoughts like this, but it is still important to recognise your role in preventing domestic abuse and to know that your actions can have a massive impact on a situation if you are in the place to help. Many situations can be prevented from happening in the first place by bystanders.

What's my role?

The most important aspect of keeping others safe is learning how to intervene appropriately to the situations and your personal comfort level. Having a full knowledge of these boundaries will help give you the confidence to step into a situation when issues occur. Stepping in can be the difference a situation needs, but you should never put your own safety at risk when doing so.

What can I do specifically to help?

If you know or suspect that a family member, friend or work colleague is experiencing domestic violence, it may be difficult to know what to do. It can be very upsetting that someone is hurting a person you care about. Your first instinct may be to want to protect your friend or family member but intervening can be dangerous for both you and them. Of course, this does not mean you should ignore it. There are things you can do to help make them and any children safer. If you should witness an assault, you can call the police on 999. If you feel comfortable, you can try the following:

  • Talk to them to help them open up. You may have to try a number of times before they will confide in you so be patient and understanding during this time
  • Try to be direct and start by saying ‘I’m worried about you because…’ or ‘I’m concerned about your safety…’
  • Listen to and believe what they tell you - too often people do not believe survivors when they first disclose their abuse to other people
  • Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault and that you are there for them
  • Don’t force them to leave or criticise them for staying. Although you may want them out of the situation, they have to make that decision in their own time. It is important to remember that research shows an abused person is at most risk at the point of separation and immediately after leaving an abusive partner
  • Leave takes a great deal of courage. An abused person often faces huge obstacles, such as having nowhere to go, no money, and no one to turn to for support
  • Focus on supporting them and building their self-confidence
  • Acknowledge their strengths and frequently remind them that they are coping well with a challenging and stressful situation
  • Help them develop or keep up their outside contacts to help prevent isolation and a loss of support networks, this can help boost their self-esteem
  • If they have not spoken to anyone else, encourage them to seek the help of a local charity that understands what they are going through and offers specialist support and advice
  • Be patient. It can take time for someone to recognise that they are being abused and even longer to be able to make safe and permanent decisions about what to do. Recognising the problem is an important first step

If you would like to learn more about supporting a friend who you suspect or know is experiencing domestic abuse, please continue to refer to downloadable online guides (part of a series about preventing and surviving sexual and domestic abuse) to find access any further resources that we will make available for educating yourself about what you can do.

Where can I get support about this?

If you feel comfortable doing so, you can come and visit the Advice Centre (5th Floor of Student Central) to speak to us about your experiences. We can give you advice as to which pathways to reporting your abuse you can take, as well as support that doesn’t involve reporting, such as guiding you towards available support groups or counselling sessions. To see a comprehensive explanation for the services available to you as a student, as well as official reporting methods, please view our Reporting & Policy Guide. You can also see which charities that you might find beneficial on our Charities page. In addition to this, we have an ever-growing collection of self-help guides which are available at our Self Help Guide page.

If you are in immediate danger, always call 999.