Signs and Indicators

Some facts about domestic abuse:

  • Domestic abuse is very common. Those affected by abuse may live with it for years before they tell anyone or seek help.
  • It takes time for someone to acknowledge that they are experiencing domestic abuse.
  • The average time taken for someone to leave an abusive relationship is 7 years.
  • Domestic abuse is very dangerous. Every week two women are killed by a current or former partner.
  • There is a much higher risk of self harm and suicide amongst victims of domestic abuse.
  • Everyone has the right to live free from violence and fear.
  • The victim is not to blame for the situation; only the abuser is responsible for their actions.

What we know:

There were 357 domestic homicides recorded by the police in England and Wales in the three-year period between year ending March 2017 and year ending March 2019. Of crimes recorded by the police:

  • In the year ending March 2020, the victim was female in 74% of domestic abuse-related crimes
  • Between the year ending March 2017 and the year ending March 2019, 77% of victims of domestic homicide were female compared with 13% of victims of non-domestic homicide.

Types of Abuse

Domestic violence takes many different forms.
The Government’s Policy to end Violence Against Women and Girls in the UK covers all types of domestic abuse including Honour Based Violence, Forced Marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, stalking and sexual violence.
For more information please see:

Select each of the words below to find out more about these types of abuse:

Physical abuse is the most recognisable form of abuse. It can range from a slap or shove to a black eye, cut lip, or broken bone.

In the most extreme cases it can result in death.

Physical abuse doesn’t always leave visible marks or scars.
Having your hair pulled or an egg thrown at you is domestic violence too.

Many women experience domestic violence without ever being physically abused.

Emotional abuse includes constant criticism, name calling, isolation from friends and family.

Emotional abuse can turn to physical violence over time.

This includes using force or threats to make you have sex or perform sexual acts with which you are uncomfortable.

It can also include taking and distributing of sexual photographs without your consent.

Financial abuse might include things like:

  • Your partner taking your money,
  • Stopping you from working,
  • Placing all the bills or debts in your name, or
  • Monitoring how you spend money and other financial resources e.g. the telephone

The Crown Prosecution Service definition says that this is “a crime or incident, which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and/or community”.

Honour Based Violence is often committed with some degree of approval and/or collusion from family and/or community members. It is a collection of practices, which are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour.

Physical violence can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and/or community by breaking their honour code.

Women are predominantly (but not exclusively) the victims of honour based violence which is used to assert male power in order to control female autonomy and sexuality.

Examples may include murder, un-explained death (suicide), fear of or actual forced marriage, controlling sexual activity, domestic abuse (including psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse), child abuse, rape, kidnapping, false imprisonment, threats to kill, assault, harassment, forced abortion.

This list is not exhaustive.

Such crimes cut across all cultures, nationalities, faith groups and communities.

They transcend national and international boundaries.

A forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both spouses do not (or in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved.

Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is any procedure that’s designed to alter or injure a girl’s (or woman’s) genital organs for non-medical reasons.

It’s sometimes known as ‘female circumcision’ or ‘female genital cutting’. It’s mostly carried out on young girls. There are no recognised physical or hygiene reasons for FGM to be carried out. FGM procedures can cause:

  • severe bleeding
  • infections
  • problems with giving birth later in life – including the death of the baby.

Male Victims

Men can experience domestic violence in both hetrosexual and same sex relationships.

Campaigners claim that men are often treated as ‘second-class victims’ and that many police forces and councils do not take them seriously.

Men experiencing domestic abuse may feel ashamed about what is happening or feel like they have done something to deserve it. They might be worried that people will think they are less of a man for ‘allowing’ themselves to be abused.

Refuge places and outreach support for men experiencing domestic abuse is available, although there is less provision than for women.

For the year ending March 2020, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 1.6 million women and 757,000 men aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year.

  • This is a prevalence rate of approximately 7 in 100 women and 4 in 100 men.
  • Over the past five years (April 2015 to March 20) on average 12 men per year had been killed by a partner or ex-partner (74 women per year).
  • Of domestic abuse crimes recorded by the police, 26% were committed against men. This equates to c155,000 offences per year.

Source – Crime Survey England and Wales

The signs of domestic abuse are the same for both male and female victims.

  • Male victims may feel ashamed and that they are ‘less of a man’ for ‘allowing’ the abuse to happen.
  • With some same-sex victims, threat of ‘outing’ is often used as a way to control by the abuser.

What might a person in an abusive relationship be feeling and experiencing?

Diversity Issues

It’s important to be aware of equality and diversity issues when working with victims of domestic abuse

Select each of the words below to find out more about these:

Some cultures make it difficult for women in an abusive relationship to seek help.

A failed marriage is often seen as the woman’s fault and she is blamed for letting down the family honour.

In some cultures a woman may not be able to divorce her husband due to religious reasons.

If someone is admitted to the UK with leave as spouse, unmarried partner or civil partner of a British citizen, or of a non-citizen who is settled in the UK, they may find it harder to leave an abusive partner because it will affect their right to remain in the UK.

In such cases, the victim will have no recourse (entitlement) to public funds (ie benefits).

The Home Office No Resource to Public Funds policy explains what to do in these circumstances.

In some cases women and children have received threats of deportation if they report abuse or had their passports confiscated by the family.

Some people face the challenge of English not being their first language.

When working with these individuals professionals should use approved interpreters who have a DBS check.

It is not appropriate to use family members or friends of the victim or members of the extended community to which they belong.

Written information should be available in alternative languages.

Where the abuser is also the primary carer this can make the victim more vulnerable.

A number of reports show that women with a disability are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse as women without a disability.

Some refuges may not have appropriate facilities to accommodate women with physical or learning disabilities.

LGBTQ+ people may be at more risk of domestic abuse according to research. Issues of stereotyping can cause shame, isolation and fear of having children removed if they speak up.

Some women refuges may not accept transgender men who have not fully transitioned.

People can also be excluded from some services due to issues with alcohol or drugs and these issues may make it hard for them to engage with support.

Being in an abusive relationship may mean that a family or victim move more regularly.

This may cause social isolation, poverty or discrimination.

This may make it hard for them to be engaged with support services including health, social care and education.

There are clear links between mental illness and domestic abuse.

Women with mental health issues who are experiencing domestic abuse may feel they will not be believed if they speak out.

Women and children who experience abuse can go on to develop depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

LGBTQ+ victims of domestic abuse are twice as likely to attempt suicide.

Evidence suggests that LGBTQ+ victims and survivors are not accessing services at the same rate as others in the population.

LGBTQ+ people may also experience unique forms of coercive control targeted at their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Victims With Mental Health Issues are more likely to:

  • Seek support for the abuse from their GP.
  • Experience financial difficulties as well as problems with substance misuse.

Victims of abuse with mental health problems can also become homeless due to a number of reasons.

Source – Safe Lives Spotlights

Domestic Homicide

There were a total of 357 domestic homicides recorded by the police in England and Wales in the three-year period between year ending March 2017 and year ending March 2019.

Source – Crime Survey England and Wales

Of crimes recorded by the police in the year ending March 2020, the victim was female in 74% of domestic abuse-related crimes.

Between the year ending March 2017 and the year ending March 2019,

  • 77% of victims of domestic homicide were female compared with
  • 13% of victims of non-domestic homicide


The 10 year femicide report recorded 1,425 femicides over the ten-year period of 2009-2018, with the annual number of victims varying from 124 (2016) to 168 (2010).

Numbers for 2019 and 2020 have increased to around 170.

Source: Femicide-Census-10-year-report.pdf

Signs to look out for

We’ve explored some different types of abuse. But what are the indicators that abuse is taking place?

Select each of the words below to find out more about these indicators of abuse:

  • Sprains, dislocations, fractures or broken bones
  • Burns from cigarettes, appliances, or hot water
  • Abrasions on arms, legs, or torso that resemble rope or strap marks
  • Internal injuries evidenced by pain, difficulty with normal functioning of organs, and bleeding
  • Injuries healing through “secondary intention”, indicating they didn’t receive appropriate care
  • Signs of traumatic hair and tooth loss
  • Repeated injuries to the same parts of the body

The following types of bruises are rarely accidental:

  • Bilateral bruising to the arms; look like a series of finger marks, indicating person has been shaken, grabbed or restrained
  • Bilateral bruising of inner thighs, indicating possible sexual abuse
  • “Wrap around” bruises that encircle a person’s arms, legs, or torso, indicating person has been physically restrained
  • Multi-coloured bruises, indicating that they were sustained over time.

  • A sudden change in an individual’s financial situation; not having as much money as usual or being in debt
  • Individual not having enough food for them or their children
  • If you work in the individual’s home, you should be aware of any documents that seem unusual
  • Documents relating to the person’s finances go missing.

Behavioural indicators:

  • Injuries sustained which are unexplained, or explanations are implausible
  • Inconsistent or implausible explanations of how injuries were sustained
  • A history of similar injuries, or numerous or suspicious hospitalisations
  • Victims are brought to different medical facilities for treatment to prevent medical practitioners from observing a pattern of abuse
  • Delay between onset of injury and seeking medical care

Behavioural signs to watch out for include:

  • Changing behaviour in front of their partner
  • Seeming nervous when with their partner
  • Appearing less confident or frightened
  • Constant phone calls or texts from their partner
  • Cancelling plans at the last minute or making excuses not to meet friends or family
  • Apologising for their partners’ behaviour
  • Changing appearance, ie dressing more conservatively
  • Using social media less (it could be being monitored by their partner).

Common Myths

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