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What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is abuse that's perpetrated by someone you're connected to, such as a partner or relative. Do you feel like you're walking on eggshells? Are you worried about how someone might react? If so, you're not alone – and there's support available. 

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What is domestic abuse?

The term 'domestic abuse' covers a lot of things. It's often referred to as 'domestic violence' – and while it can include violence, it doesn't have to. It's not necessarily the 'what' that makes something domestic abuse, but the 'who'.

Many different forms of abuse are considered domestic abuse if they're committed by a current or former partner or by a family member. This could include, for example, financial abuse or psychological abuse. 

While it's often assumed that domestic abuse only occurs between people in a relationship, it can happen in different relationships – between an adult child and a parent, for example.

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Some key facts about domestic abuse

  • Domestic abuse doesn't necessarily involve violence.
  • Domestic abuse isn't always between partners in a relationship.
  • Domestic abuse doesn't only affect younger people. 
  • Domestic abuse doesn't have to happen more than once to count as abuse.

If you want to talk to someone, you can call Hourglass on 0808 808 8141 at any time of day or night.

How it might affect you

Everyone's experience of domestic abuse is different and individual to them. It can sometimes be difficult to spot and come to terms with domestic abuse – both for yourself in your own life as well as for someone you care about. 

We've produced some situations of domestic abuse based on real-life examples. For the purpose of these examples, names and some details have been changed. 

If any of it sounds familiar to you or someone you care about, you can seek support. We've added some useful organisations below. 

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Brenda's story

Brenda has been married to Peter for 45 years. Peter is considered a successful businessman and is well known and respected in the village that they live in. 

Peter recently retired and so they're spending a lot more time at home together. It should be nice, but Brenda feels like she's walking on eggshells. Peter's put a strict daily routine in place and Brenda feels there will be consequences if she doesn't stick to it and do as Peter says. She's worried Peter will be violent if she doesn't.

In the past, Peter has assaulted Brenda both physically and sexually. And even though it hasn't happened for over 30 years, Brenda lives in fear it could happen again. Especially now they're spending more time together.

Brenda depends on Peter financially. He controls all their income and what they spend money on and Brenda feels helpless. 

She's never spoken to her friends and family about how she's feeling and what's happened in the past as she feels ashamed – no one else has seen this side of Peter before. 

She also feels like she can't phone anyone up and ask for support as Peter seems to be constantly monitoring what she's doing. Brenda feels trapped in her own home. 

I'm walking on eggshells in my own home. I'm worried about what will happen if I don't do as he says. 

Ashran's story

Ashran lives with his son and daughter-in-law. They moved in with him after his wife died. 

At first, Ashran was happy to have the company and appreciated the support. All his friends told him how lucky he was to have such a caring family. But recently, things have changed. 

Ashran is a vegetarian, and has been since he was little. But his daughter-in-law has taken over cooking duties and insists everyone eats the same thing – this includes non-vegetarian meals. 

Ashran's son also persuaded his dad to allow him to become a second signatory on his bank accounts and has set up online banking – which Ashran doesn't know how to use or check. 

Ashran feels isolated in his own home. He feels he's lost independence and doesn't have control over a lot of his own decisions. 

I'm losing my independence and control of my own life. All my decisions are being made for me.

Jean's story

Jean lives with her beloved dog Oscar. While she still likes taking Oscar out for a daily walk, she's started finding it difficult to carry her shopping home from the supermarket. 

Jean's granddaughter, Elaine, has offered to go and do her shopping for her. Elaine suggested she takes Jean's card and just charges the shopping directly on that to save transferring money later. Jean thought this seemed a good idea. 

However, Jean noticed that the amounts on her bank statement and the receipts weren't adding up. At first, it was just a few pounds here and there and Jean didn't think much of it. But then she noticed more and more money being taken off – and it wasn't just her weekly shop. Elaine started using the card to order things online and quickly racked up a bill of a few hundred pounds. 

Jean mentioned to Elaine that she couldn't afford these charges and thought it was best she stopped using her card. But Elaine got angry with Jean and threatened Oscar if Jean told anyone what had been going on. She's never seen her granddaughter act like this before and has been left really scared. She doesn't know what to do.

It's so upsetting when someone in your own family treats you badly.

Who can I reach out to?

Whether you're looking for more support for yourself or someone you care about, there's help out there.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger

If it's an emergency, call the police on 999. If it's not an emergency, you can call the police on 101

If you or someone you know wants to talk to someone

The services below are experts in domestic abuse. They understand it may be unsafe for you to speak on the telephone or you may need time to consider your options. 


Hourglass and supports specifically older people experiencing any form of abuse. Visit their website or call 0808 808 8141. The Hourglass helpline and online chatbot are available 24/7. 


Refuge supports women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse. Visit their website or call 0808 2000 247.


ManKind provides information and support specifically for men experiencing domestic abuse. Visit their website or call 01823 334244.


Galop runs a helpline specifically for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic abuse. Visit their website or call 0800 999 5428.


PEGS provides support for parents, guardians or carers experiencing adult-child parental abuse. Parents at risk can refer themselves using the PEGS online self-referral form. Or, for more information about the kind of support and information that they offer, visit their website.

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We offer support through our free advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also have specialist advisers at over 120 local Age UKs.

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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