Warning signs

Refuge launched a hard-hitting campaign to raise awareness of the warning signs of domestic violence – and to save lives. 

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Every single week two women are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.

Refuge believes that forewarned is forearmed.

This powerful campaign, launched in 2008, aimed to educate the public about the warning signs of domestic violence.


What are the signs?

If a woman is forced to change her behaviour because she is frightened of her partner then she is being abused.  If she is experiencing any of the following then it’s likely that she’s being abused:

  • Is he jealous and possessive?
  • Does he cut her off from family and friends and try to isolate her?
  • Is he charming one minute and abusive the next? Does he have sudden changes of mood  – like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
  • Does he control her life – for example, her money, who she should see, what she should wear?
  • Does he monitor her movements?
  • Does he blame her for the abuse?
  • Does he humiliate or insult her in front of others?
  • Does he verbally abuse her?
  • Does he constantly criticise her?
  • Does he use anger and intimidation to frighten her and make her comply with his demands?
  • Does he tell her she’s useless and couldn’t cope without him?
  • Has he threatened to hurt her or people close to her if she leaves?
  • Does she change her behaviour to avoid making him angry?
  • Does he force her to have sex when she doesn’t want to?

There are many different ways of being abusive. Here are a few examples:

  • Damaging a woman’s possessions
  • Smashing up the furniture
  • Threatening to harm or kill the pets
  • Threatening to kidnap or get custody of the children if she leaves
  • Locking her out of the house during an argument
  • Terrorising her by driving fast or through red lights at high speed because he knows it frightens her

The aim of the behaviour, whether conscious or unconscious – is to take control of the woman’s life. Domestic violence is an abuse of power – it’s all about power and control.


Research released by Refuge highlights a worrying lack of awareness amongst women of the techniques used by violent men to control women*. The research shows that:

  • 81% of women said they received no information about domestic violence when they were at school and yet nearly all of them would have liked to have had lessons about domestic violence
  • 95% of respondents recognised physical abuse as domestic violence but only a quarter of respondents understood the more subtle techniques of control such as jealousy and possessiveness as indicators of domestic violence
  • Approximately a quarter of all the women questioned had experienced jealousy and possessiveness in an intimate partner relationship
  • 50% of respondents said they had experienced at least one of the warning signs
  • Of this 50% only one fifth of respondents said they would talk to someone about the abuse – and if they were to talk to someone about their experiences, friends – followed by family – were the most trusted confidantes

* Yougov research, sample size 513, 18-21 year old women, 15-21 July 2008


Sandra Horley CBE, Refuge chief executive, says: “Two women are killed every week by a current or former partner.  This is a huge statistic and one that we need to start addressing – and addressing fast if we’re to save lives and protect young women in the future.

“It is essential that women receive the right education and information so they can understand the techniques of control frequently used by abusive men.  It’s all too easy for women to excuse their partner’s possessive and jealous behaviour – but in so doing they run the risk of the abuse increasing in frequency and severity over time.  By understanding the signs early a woman is forewarned and forearmed.

“I am heartened to see that so many women would welcome this vital education.  Refuge urges the government to put domestic violence education and awareness as a top priority – in so doing we will save lives.”


Dani, 42, a domestic survivor, says: “My ex was so charming at the start of our relationship that I felt very flattered by him.  But after a short time the jealousy started, along with the mood swings where he readily switched from being charming to being abusive.

“I lived my life walking on egg shells.  I experienced nearly all of the warning signs – I was very closely controlled, criticised and isolated from friends and family.  I just didn’t realise that these were the warning signs, I didn’t recognise this as domestic violence.  If I had known then what I know now, my life would have been quite different.”

Refuge’s warning signs campaign has been undertaken free of charge – all creative, media and media spaces have been donated.


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