What is domestic violence?

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is the abuse of one partner within an intimate or family relationship. It is the repeated, random and habitual use of intimidation to control a partner.


The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual. Anyone forced to alter their behaviour because they are frightened of their partner’s reaction is being abused. View more about recognising abuse.

Who does it affect?

  • Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, social background, gender, religion, sexuality or ethnicity
  • It happens in all kinds of relationships: heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
  • Statistics show the vast majority of domestic violence incidents are carried out by men and experienced by women

When does it happen?

  • It can begin at any stage of the relationship
  • Domestic violence is rarely a one-off. Incidents generally become more frequent and severe over time

What causes domestic violence?

  • Domestic violence is caused by the abuser’s desire for power and control
  • It stems from an imbalance of power between the sexes
  • It is not caused by alcohol, drugs, unemployment, stress or ill health. These are only excuses or justifications for an abuser’s behaviour. View more about the myths of domestic violence.
  • A combination of factors allows it to continue:
    – individual experiences of both the abuser and the abused (jealousy, fear of abandonment, low self-esteem);
    – society’s inadequate response (e.g. failure to prosecute, insufficient housing, lack of childcare, tendency to blame the abused woman);
    – society’s stereotypical beliefs and negative attitudes towards the roles of men and women (e.g. “love, honour and obey” and “you made your bed, you lie in it.”)
  • It continues because men are allowed to get away with it

Domestic violence is a crime. We all have a role to play in ending it.

View more about ending domestic violence.

To understand more about domestic violence, read Power and Control by Sandra Horley CBE, Refuge’s chief executive.