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What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can take many forms. Do you feel like you're walking on eggshells? Are you worried about how someone might react? Do you feel controlled? If so, you're not alone - there is 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' - but while it can include violence, it doesn't have to.

Any behaviour that is violent, sexually abusive, controlling, coercive or threatening can be domestic abuse. 

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 emotional abuse. 

While it's often assumed domestic abuse only occurs between those in a relationship, it can happen in different relationships - this may be between an adult child and parent or siblings, for example.

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Four key facts

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

If you want to talk to someone, call Hourglass on 0808 808 8141 at any time of the 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 in your own life or that of 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 and 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 control and independence 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 has 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.

Don't know who to talk to?

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 works specifically with older people to protect them from neglect and abuse. Visit their website or call 0808 808 8141.

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.

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Last updated: Apr 22 2022

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