Topic Research

What is domestic abuse/violence?

Primary Research:

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There is slight different between domestic abuse and domestic violence. Domestic abuse involves injuring someone, such as a spouse, partner, or other family member within the domestic setting. The effects of domestic abuse often result in lifelong issues long after the victim has left the abusive environment.

The injuries caused by domestic violence can be either physical or emotional.

Domestic violence and abuse, includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse in couple relationships or between family members. Domestic violence can happen against women and against men, and anybody can be an abuser.

Official statistics show the number of incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the authorities every year. But the problem is much bigger than shown in official statistics, as many victims and children don’t tell anyone about the abuse, and they are not recorded as crimes. That’s why SafeLives also uses data from our Insights database – the largest national database of domestic abuse cases in the UK, with more than 35,000 records from 2009 to date.

Key statistics about domestic abuse in England and Wales  

  • Each year nearly 2 million people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse – 1.3 million female victims (8.2% of the population) and 600,000 male victims (4%)  2 
  • Each year more than 100,000 people in the UK are at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse 3
  • Women are much more likely than men to be the victims of high risk or severe domestic abuse: 95% of those going to Marac or accessing an Idva service are women 4,
  • In 2013-14 the police recorded 887,000 domestic abuse incidents in England and Wales  2
  • Seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales 2
  • 130,000 children live in homes where there is high-risk domestic abuse 3
  • 62% of children living with domestic abuse are directly harmed by the perpetrator of the abuse, in addition to the harm caused by witnessing the abuse of others 1
  • On average victims at high risk of serious harm or murder live with domestic abuse for 2-3 years before getting help4
  • 85% of victims sought help five times on average from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse4


Caada (2014), In Plain Sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse. Bristol: Caada.

2 ONS (2016), March 2015 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW)

3 SafeLives (2015), Getting it right first time: policy report. Bristol: SafeLives.

4 SafeLives (2015), Insights Idva National Dataset 2013-14. Bristol: SafeLives.

5 SafeLives (2014), Marac national dataset 2014. Bristol: SafeLives.


Getting help and support for domestic violence:
It does not have to extend to a life threatening emergency situation to seek help. If domestic abuse is happening to you, it’s important to tell someone and remember you’re not alone.There are many ways you can see help for domestic violence, such as:

  • talk to your doctor, health visitor or midwife
  • women can call 0808 2000 247, the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge
  • men can call the Men’s Advice Line free on 0808 801 0327 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm) or ManKind on 01823 334 244
  • in an emergency, call 999

The Survivor’s Handbook from the charity Women’s Aid is free, and provides information for women on a wide range of issues, such as housing, money, helping your children, and your legal rights.

Men can also email, which can refer men to local places that can help, such as health services and voluntary organisations.

For forced marriage and “honour” crimes, contact Karma Nirvana (0800 5999 247) or The Forced Marriage Unit (020 7008 0151).

Galop provides support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence.

Anyone who needs confidential help with their own abusive behaviour can contact Respect on their free helpline on 0808 802 4040.


Signs of domestic violence and abuse:
There are different kinds of abuse, but it’s always about having power and control over you. Some of the sings of domestic violence and abuse:

  1. Emotional abuse
  2. Threats and intimidation
  3. Physical abuse
  4. Sexual abuse
  5. A third of domestic violence and abuse against women starts during pregnancy. If the relationship is already abusive, it can get worse.

More about domestic violence in pregnancy.

If you decide to leave:The first step in escaping an abusive situation is realising that you’re not alone and it’s not your fault.Before you go, try to get advice from an organisation such as:

If you’re considering leaving, be careful who you tell. It’s important your partner doesn’t know where you’re going.

Women’s Aid has useful information about making a safety plan that applies to both women and men, including advice if you decide to leave.

Helping a friend if they’re being abused:If you’re worried a friend is being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong. They might not be ready to talk, but try to find quiet times when they can talk if they choose to.If someone confides in you that they’re suffering domestic abuse:

  1. listen, and take care not to blame them.
  2. Acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
  3. Give them time to talk, but don’t push them to talk if they don’t want to
  4. acknowledge they’re in a frightening and difficult situation
  5. Tell them nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has said.
  6. Support them as a friend – encourage them to express their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions.
  7. Don’t tell them to leave the relationship if they’re not ready – that’s their decision
  8. Ask if they have suffered physical harm – if so, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP
  9. Help them report the assault to the police if they choose to
  10. Be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help for people experiencing domestic abuse.

Sexual assault:

Women and men who have been sexually assaulted can get confidential help, treatment and support at a sexual assault referral centre.

Read more about getting help after a sexual assault.

Find your nearest sexual assault referral centre


Secondary Research:

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Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse 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 the following:

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

Domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men. It is a form of gender-based violence, violence “directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately” (CEDAW, 1992).

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.

How common is domestic abuse?

We know from our work, and the work of the Women’s Aid federation of services, that domestic abuse is very common, however this is often difficult to accurately quantify. Domestic abuse is a largely hidden crime, occurring primarily at home. Women often don’t report or disclose domestic abuse to the police (HMIC, 2014) and may underreport domestic abuse in surveys, particularly during face-to-face interviews (ONS, 2015). In addition, prevalence estimates do not take into account important context and impact information, for example whether the violence caused fear, who experienced multiple incidents and who experienced coercive controlling behaviour. When these factors are taken into account the gendered nature of domestic abuse becomes clearer.

Key statistics:

  • There are no reliable prevalence data on domestic abuse but the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) offers the best data available. According to these data, an estimated 1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2017 (ONS, 2017), and an estimated 4.3 million women aged 16-59 have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16 (ONS, 2018). When these figures are presented along the current prevalence estimates for male victims, however, the gendered nature of domestic abuse is obscured. This is because these data do not take into account important context and impact information, such as whether the violence caused fear, who the repeat victims were and who experienced violence in a context of power and control. When these factors are taken into account the gendered nature of domestic abuse becomes much more apparent. See ‘Domestic abuse is a gendered crime’.
  • On average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales.*  (ONS, 2018)
  • On average the police in England and Wales receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour. (HMIC, 2015)
  • The domestic abuse had been reported to the police for just over one quarter of the women using community-based services in the Week to Count 2017 and just over two fifths of women resident in refuge services on the Day to Count 2017. One eighth of the community-based service users and one sixth of the women resident in refuge services saw criminal sanctions or a criminal case against the perpetrator(s) of the abuse. (Women’s Aid, 2018)

Between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2017, a total of 241 women were killed by their partner/ex-partner In England and Wales (ONS, 2018). This gives us an average of 1.54 women per week (241/[52 weeks*3]) – rounded up to two women per week.


Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). (2014) Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abusePublished online: HMIC, p. 31

Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2015). Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2013/14. Chapter 4: Intimate personal violence and partner abuse. Published online: ONS, p. 3

Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2017) Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2017. Published online: ONS

Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2018) Domestic abuse: findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales: year ending March 2017. Published online: ONS

Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2018) Homicide in England and Wales: year ending March 2017Published online: ONS

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). (2015) Increasingly everyone’s business: A progress report on the police response to domestic abuse. Published online: HMIC, p. 28

Women’s Aid. (2018) Survival and Beyond: The Domestic Abuse Report 2017. Bristol: Women’s Aid


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