Types of abuse

We know everyone’s experience is different and every situation is unique. Abusive relationships often have some common threads running through them. Domestic abuse can occur in intimate partner relationships or family settings it can include but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

Physical violence

This is the most visible form of abuse and can often be used by perpetrators to intimidate and cause immediate fear. Physical violence does not always leave a mark on someone’s body. Examples can include:

  • Punching, hitting, slapping, pulling hair, biting, pushing, shoving, burning/scalding, poisoning, restraining, pinning someone down, strangling, using excessive physical force/pressure, objects being thrown.

Coercive Control

This type of behaviour is a silent but lethal weapon used to ebb away at a person’s ability to exist, creating a climate of chronic fear. Coercive control expert Evan Stark says: “the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the abuser, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.” Examples include:

  • Intimidation, isolation from friends/family, withdrawal of affection and/or support, humiliation, threats, periods of silence or sulking, extreme regulation of behaviour, limited or no right to privacy, depriving basic needs, controlling finances, degrading or dehumanising partner/family member.

Sexual abuse/control

Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of their sex, gender, identity, age, sexual orientation, religion, class or background. Examples include:

  • Any sexual act/contact that includes force (including emotional blackmail, threatening to get sex from elsewhere, forcing partner to watch pornography, forcing partner in to sex with others, pestering for sex and sexual degradation.

Emotional/psychological/mental abuse

This type of abuse is specifically used to reduce confidence and self-esteem creating over reliance on the perpetrator. It is often subtle and can go unseen for prolonged periods of time. Examples include:

  • Name calling, put downs, degrading, humiliating, gaslighting, playing on fears/phobias, making false allegations, destructive criticism, verbal abuse, disrespecting (not listening or responding when partner/family member is talking), denying the abuse took place, portraying a gentle calm image to the public and the opposite to the partner/family member.


Stalking behaviour can be very threatening, in isolation they may seem like small acts however, the reality is usually more sinister. Stalking is a criminal offence defined by PAS as a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive and causes fear of violence or serious alarm and distress. Examples include:

  • Sending unwanted flowers/gifts, turning up at unannounced at place of work, home address etc, sending in/direct messages, tracking, monitoring, repeatedly following and/or spying on partner/family member, persistently attempting unwanted contact by whatever means available.

Digital abuse

This type of abuse is alarmingly on the increase, the rise of social media platforms as well as advances in technology means perpetrators have found ingenious ways of exercising control and power. Examples include:

  • Monitoring/moderating social media profiles, checking emails/texts/snapchats/direct messages, sharing or threatening to share intimate photos/messages without consent, using spyware or GPS technology without consent or knowledge, placing false or malicious information about partner/family member on social media outlet, limiting partner/family members control and/or access to social media content.

Economic abuse

This type of abuse is another common aspect of coercive control. Unsurprisingly money can be a powerful tool used to control the partner/family member from either acquiring, using or maintaining their own money and resources. Economic abuse can often occur long after the relationship has ended. Examples include:

  • Banning partner/family member from going to work, insisting on joint bank accounts, giving the partner/family member a set ‘allowance’, spending/taking money without consent, damaging possession or property, take out loans without consent, build up debts, withdraw or restrict financial assistance, not allowing the purchase of necessities, refusing or limiting access to partner/family members bank account.

Honour Based violence

Honour based violence can and does occur against men as well as women, it is most prevalent in communities where the concept of honour is seen as an important factor tying the family/community together. Bringing shame and dishonour can have severe consequences, honour-based crimes can often have multiple perpetrators. The punishment for compromising a family or communities honour can lead to verbal abuse, physical abuse, family disownment, forcing individual in to a non-consensual relationship/marriage, sending individual abroad, keeping individual locked in the house/secret location and in some tragic cases death.

Examples of what can constitute dishonour:

  • Loss of virginity, sex outside marriage, pregnancy, running away, not adhering to rules, Westernisation, refusing an arranged marriage, homosexuality, ‘inappropriate relationships’, ideological differences, reporting/fleeing domestic abuse, causing gossip, girls/women ‘allowing’ themselves to get raped.

Forced Marriage

The UK Home Office provides the following definition of forced marriage: “A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. It is an appalling and indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights. The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.”

It is important to note there is a vital distinction between an Arranged Marriage and Forced Marriage.

Arranged Marriage – This is where both parties give their full consent to the marriage and there is no element of fear, guilt or force (however small it may be).

Forced Marriage is a violation of human rights, it is widely recognised as a form of domestic abuse. Forced Marriage also includes marriages of children under the age of consent as well as marriages between Gay and Lesbian people who do not wish to marry the opposite sex.

Examples of abuse that can lead up to a Forced Marriage

  • Emotional abuse, threats of physical abuse, isolation, removal of phones, access to social media/emails withdrawn, passports taken away, emotional blackmail, rape, assault, abduction.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female Genital Mutilation is often referred to as female circumcision or Female Cutting. The World Health Organisation define Female Genital Mutilation as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

Female Genital Mutilation is commonly carried in the name of family honour, often it’s a tradition carried out by generations of families to ensure virginity is preserved as well as increasing sexual pleasure for the man.

FGM is a crime in the UK, it is also a crime to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM or to assist someone trying to do this.

Those at risk of FGM:

  • If a family member has experienced FGM
  • The husband’s family has experienced FGM
  • Family or husband’s family come from an FGM-practising country
  • Family or friends are talking about a ‘special procedure’, ‘special occasion’ or ‘becoming a woman’
  • Family is planning a long holiday or a female elder is coming to visit

Not only is FGM is a gross violation of Human Rights of girls and women but it has profound and enduring heath implications.