Recognising the signs of domestic abuse

Call for help now:

Bradford Survive and Thrive One Front Door helpline:

0808 2800 999

National Domestic Abuse Helpline:

0808 2000 247
In an emergency, call 999

We use the phrase ‘abuse’ rather than ‘violence’ because a lot of domestic abuse isn’t physical. Just because they haven’t hit you doesn’t mean you aren’t suffering. Below we’re explaining different definitions of abuse to reassure you that you are in the right place, and your feelings are valid. Go to our useful contacts section to find a helpline that’s right for you.

Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse can also be called emotional or mental abuse, and this is where the abuser uses nonphysical actions to manipulate, upset, scare or humiliate you. Psychological abuse is just as damaging and harmful as physical abuse. Coercive control and gaslighting are forms of psychological abuse.

Gas lighting
Gas lighting is a common tactic of abusers. This is where they twist things until you feel like you are going crazy. Abusers can lie and manipulate to make you doubt yourself, and then use that doubt against you to control you. Here are some ways this is done:

  • Making you doubt the reality of what was said
  • Blatantly lie and when challenged, lie again to try to cover up their lies
  • Blaming you for things that aren’t your fault
  • Making you feel like you’re overreacting
  • Refuse to acknowledge when they have caused you pain

Some gas lighting things you might hear are:
“You’re overreacting”
“You are so dramatic”
“Can you hear yourself?”
“You’re losing your mind”

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is where the abuser physically hurts you. If you are physically hurt or in pain because of something your abuser has done, you are being physically abused. This could include:

  • hitting with hands or objects
  • slapping and punching
  • kicking
  • shaking
  • throwing
  • poisoning
  • burning and scalding
  • biting and scratching
  • breaking bones
  • drowning

Harming children is also domestic abuse, as is harming an animal.

Under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, children are now legally recognised as victims where:

  • the child sees or hears, or experiences the effects of the abuse
  • is related to the victim or the perpetrator;
  • a child is anybody under the age of 18.

This change is crucial as children’s perspectives on, or experiences of, domestic abuse have not always been taken into account. This is despite the devastating impact growing up with domestic abuse has on children. They can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, have nightmares, flashbacks and physical pains, and they can also become depressed and battle suicidal tendencies.

Economic abuse

Economic abuse is where the abuser uses or misuses money which limits and controls their partner’s life and reduces their freedom of choice. So this could be anything from withholding access to your bank account or racking up debt in your name. Other types of economic abuse include: restricting access to essential resources such as food, clothing or transport, or denying you the right to work.

You can find more information about economic abuse from the charity Surviving Economic Abuse.

Sexual abuse

Sexual violence is a term used to describe any form of unwanted sexual behaviour or acts like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.  If your partner does, or makes you do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable and you don’t feel like you can say no, this is abusive behaviour.

It doesn’t matter if you know and trust the perpetrator (including a partner), or if it is a complete stranger, if the behaviour or act is unconsented, this is sexual violence.

It also doesn’t matter what you were wearing, or if you were drunk or on drugs, nobody ever asks for, or deserves, any form of sexual violence. No-one.

The legal part

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 says that someone commits sexual assault if all of the following happens:

  • They intentionally touch another person.
  • The touching is sexual.
  • The other person does not consent to the touching.
  • They do not reasonably believe that the other person consents.
  • The touching can be with any part of the body or with anything else.


It could include:

  • Attempted rape.
  • Touching someone’s breasts or genitals – including through clothing.
  • Touching any other part of the body for sexual pleasure or in a sexual manner – for example, stroking someone’s thigh or rubbing their back.
  • Pressing up against another person for sexual pleasure.
  • Pressuring, manipulating or scaring someone into performing a sexual act on the perpetrator.
  • Touching someone’s clothing if done for sexual pleasure or in a sexual manner – for example, lifting up someone’s skirt.

However, please know that this is not a full list. Just because something isn’t included here doesn’t mean it isn’t sexual assault.

Causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent

In English and Welsh law, it is also a crime to intentionally ‘cause’ another person to engage in sexual activity without their consent.

This could include:

  • Making someone masturbate or touch themselves sexually.
  • Making someone sexually touch or take part in sexual activity with another person – with or without that other person’s consent.
  • Making someone be sexually touched by another person or having another person carry out sexual activity with them – whether the other person is consenting or not.

Sexual abuse is using sex in an exploitative manner or forcing sex on someone else. Previously consenting to sexual activity, or being married or in a relationship does not mean automatic consent. If your partner does, or makes you do, anything that makes you feel uncomfortable and you don’t feel like you can say no, this is abusive behaviour.