What is domestic abuse?

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The term domestic abuse describes the actual or threatened physical, emotional, sexual and /or financial abuse of an individual by a partner, family member or someone with whom there is or has been a close relationship.

Abusers do not abuse in response to stress or anger and an incident of abuse is rarely a one off event. It describes an ongoing pattern of behaviour adopted by one partner, usually male, in an attempt to exert power and control over another partner, usually female. The abusive behaviour often involves isolating the individual from their family and friends.

Domestic abuse is very common with research showing that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men regardless of age, social class, race, disability or lifestyle, will be affected during their lifetime.  It can also occur in heterosexual and same sex relationships.

Less than half of all incidents are reported to the police, but they still receive one domestic violence call every minute in the UK.


  • Domestic violence accounts for between 16% and one quarter of all recorded violent crime. (Home Office, 2004; Dodd et al., 2004; BCS, 1998; Dobash and Dobash, 1980)
  • One incident is reported to the police every minute. (Stanko, 2000)
  • 45% women and 26% men had experienced at least one incident of inter-personal violence in their lifetimes. (Walby and Allen, 2004) ) – however when there were more than 4 incidents (i.e. ongoing domestic or sexual abuse) 89% of victims were women.
  • In any one year, there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women from partners or former partners. (Walby and Allen, 2004)
  • Women are much more likely than men to be the victim of multiple incidents of abuse, and of sexual violence: 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever experienced domestic violence; and women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence. (Walby and Allen, 2004)
  • Women are more likely than men to have experienced all types of intimate violence (partner abuse, family abuse, sexual assault and stalking) since the ages of 16. And nearly half of the women who had experienced intimate violence of any kind, were likely to have been victims of more than one kind of intimate abuse. (Coleman et al., 2007).
  • 54% of UK rapes are committed by a woman’s current or former partner. (Walby and Allen, 2004).
  • On average 2 women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: this constitutes around one-third of all female homicide victims. (Povey, (ed.), 2004, 2005; Home Office, 1999; Department of Health, 2005.
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