What is domestic abuse?

Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse [1] 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. It is very common. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men.

Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following:

Domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men. It takes place “because she is a woman and happens disproportionately to women.”[3]

Women are more likely than men to experience multiple incidents of abuse, different types of domestic abuse (intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking) and in particular sexual violence. Any woman can experience domestic abuse regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, sexuality, class, or disability, but some women who experience other forms of oppression and discrimination may face further barriers to disclosing abuse and finding help.

Domestic abuse exists as part of violence against women and girls; which also includes different forms of family violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so called “honour crimes” that are perpetrated primarily by family members, often with multiple perpetrators.

Perceptions of abuse

The Crime Survey of England and Wales data on violent crime and sexual offences, for the year ending March 2015, shows that of 4,564 adults questioned, 92% believe it is always unacceptable to hit or slap their partner in response to their partner constantly nagging or moaning (91% of men, 92% of women). These levels of objection decrease amongst adults when asked about partners cheating, 77% of adults surveyed believe it is always unacceptable to hit or slap their partner in response to their partner having an affair or cheating on them (76% of men and 78% of women). [4]

Commonly asked questions

If you or a friend need help, we are here to listen.

I need help speech bubble


[1] Our default position is to talk about “domestic abuse” because we recognise that survivors may not identify with “domestic violence” if they have not been physically abused, and we want to meet the needs of survivors and talk to them in a way that is as accessible as possible. However, we know that within the sector “domestic violence” is frequently used (the government website describes “domestic violence and abuse”) and there will be circumstances where this is the most appropriate terminology.

[2] Psychological and emotional abuse have tended to be used interchangeably. The former covers abuse that impacts on the mind and mental health the latter abuse that impacts on emotions and well-being.

[3] United Nations (UN) Declaration on the elimination of violence against women 1993.

[4] Office for National Statistics Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2015/16. Chapter 4: Intimate personal violence and partner abuse (Published online: Office for National Statistics, 2016) Table 4.36

© 2015 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

Terms & conditionsPrivacy & cookie policySite mapProtect yourself onlineMedia │ Jobs

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?