Domestic Violence - What is domestic violence?

What is domestic violence?

In 2013, the UK government agreed to define domestic violence and abuse as: "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."

  • The definition of "coercive behaviour" was expanded to explain it 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."
  • The definition of "controlling behaviour" was expanded to explain it 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."

Types of abuse

These include:

  • Physical abuse - hurting people physically, by kicking, punching, beating, slapping, strangling, burning, biting, etc.
  • Sexual abuse - forcing people to have sex when they don't want to, or to perform sexual acts they are not comfortable with.
  • Financial abuse - taking control of somebody's money and not allowing them choice. This makes it more difficult for the person to get away from their abuser and to get help.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse - destroying a person's feeling of self-worth or independence. This can be by:
    • Verbal abuse (blaming, shaming, shouting).
    • Keeping a person away from their friends or family.
    • Threatening or intimidating behaviour.
    • Controlling behaviour.
  • Elder abuse - when harm is done to an older person by a family member or partner. This happens in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, and often to somebody with a disability or illness.
  • Certain cultural practices such as:
    • Female genital mutilation - this is against the law even when the girl or woman is taken abroad for the procedure to be done.
    • So-called "honour" violence - when women are punished for bringing shame on the family by doing something which is not permitted in their culture. For example, inappropriate dress, seeking divorce, having a boyfriend from another group of society, pregnancy outside of marriage.
    • Forced marriage - marriage forced to take place without the consent or free will of the person getting married.

Domestic violence happens right across society, whatever gender, race, sexuality, social class or age people are.

Domestic violence is also sometimes referred to as "intimate partner violence" (IPV).

How common is domestic violence?

Domestic violence and abuse is a common problem. One in four women and one in six men will suffer it in their lifetimes. These numbers give some idea of the scale of the problem. From a 2011-12 survey in England and Wales:

  • Two women are killed each week by a male partner or ex-partner.
  • At any one time 100,000 people are at risk of being murdered or seriously harmed due to domestic violence.
  • 1.2 million women a year suffer domestic abuse.
  • 4 in every 100 women have been stalked every year.
  • Around 1,500 cases of forced marriage are reported each year.
  • 66,000 women are living with the consequences of female genital mutilation.
  • Domestic violence costs the taxpayer around £36 billion every year.

Worldwide, up to 70% of women experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some time in their lives.

Whilst domestic violence can affect anybody, it affects women more often than men.

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Dr Jacqueline Payne
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Mary Harding
Document ID:
28820 (v2)
Last Checked:
08 May 2017
Next Review:
29 June 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.