What is domestic violence?


What actually defines domestic violence? What sort of behaviour does it include?

Domestic violence is what takes place when one person harms another person with whom they are in some kind of relationship.

They don't need to be living together, they don't need to be heterosexuals, and it's not necessarily a man harming a woman (though that's more common than woman-on-man violence).

Domestic violence is:

  • Physical: hitting, pushing, restraining, kicking, having things thrown at you.
  • Emotional: being called names, being threatened, being forced to stay inside, being isolated from family and friends
  • Financial: having your money restricted, not being 'allowed' to work, having your spending monitored
  • Not sure if what you're experiencing is domestic violence?
    Ask yourself: does the other person's behaviour frighten you so that you alter your behaviour?
    If the answer is yes, then you are being abused.
  • Sexual: being forced to have sex, being encouraged to take part in sexual acts you don't want to be part of, being forced to perform sexual activities you consider degrading

Domestic violence is not:

  • Something that only happens to people on low incomes, or to people who didn't go to university, or to people who are out of work, or to people in particular ethnic groups. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone: wherever you live, whatever your income, whatever your background.
  • Something that always involves alcohol. Some abusers are heavy drinkers or alcoholics; some never drink alcohol at all.
  • Something that can be excused by stress. Not remotely. Some abusers are under stress, and some men who are under a lot of pressure aren't abusive.
  • Sexual foreplay and women do not find it a turn-on. Most women who are involved with abusive men are terrified.
  • Excusable - being in 'a bad temper' doesn't make it OK. Nothing makes it OK.

What causes domestic violence?

Domestic violence is about control: it happens because the abuser has a deep-seated desire for power. Most domestic violence is man-on-woman, and its history is the history of power imbalance between the sexes: historically, men had more power, and that power extended to it being acceptable to hit or harm a female partner.

It becomes a pattern of behaviour where the abused person is unable to get away from her abuser because of fear, low self-esteem and lack of financial independence.

Taking a wider view, it's sometimes 'allowed' to happen because there's a feeling that domestic life is a private sphere, and other people can't meddle in it. But domestic violence is against the law. People who ignore it allow it to carry on happening.

Domestic violence: the facts

  • Each year, one woman in nine is severely beaten by her male partner
  • One woman in four experiences domestic violence at some point in her life
  • Domestic violence is the most-repeated crime on record
  • It's thought that only around 35% of domestic violence is ever reported - and the true figure could be lower
  • In 50% of domestic violence incidents, children are within hearing distance
  • More unborn babies die because of violence than because of gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia
  • Around eight in 10 domestic violence victims are women, and two in 10 are men


"Don't be fooled into thinking the abuse isn't 'bad enough to leave'. If you are treated in any way less than cherished, loved and respected, it is bad enough to leave." RealityIsMyOnlyValentine

As these statistics bear out, domestic abuse is depressingly commonplace. Mumsnetters don't have the qualifications or experience to offer relationships counselling, or to provide practical help in cases of domestic violence, but they can offer empathy and support while you figure out what to do.

For practical sources of expert help, look at our domestic violence webguide.


Last updated: about 6 hours ago