money worries 685Forms of domestic abuse

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.

Most people can identify physical abuse – it is the most ‘obvious’ form of domestic violence. But what about the more subtle forms? This page gives information on the other techniques perpetrators may use to abuse and control. For more information on recognising abuse, click here.

Emotional abuse

Sometimes called ‘psychological abuse’, emotional abuse is an attack on a woman’s personality rather than her body, and it can be just as harmful as physical abuse. Examples include calling her names, putting her down, making her feel like she is going mad and blaming her for the abuse, or controlling her every move through threats and intimidation. The grinding impact of emotional abuse can chip away at a woman’s sense of self. She may gradually begin to believe her abuser when he tells her, day in, day out, that she is worthless, that no-one will believe her, that no-one cares about her but him. For more on recognising emotional abuse, read about Refuge’s ‘Care or Control?’ campaign.

Sexual abuse

Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence. Sexual abuse – including rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation – is commonly used by domestic violence perpetrators as a way to control and abuse their partners. Sexual abuse is any form of sexual activity (involving physical contact, words, or photographs) that takes place without the other person’s full and informed consent. It makes no difference whether a man’s wife or girlfriend has consented in the past. Sexual abuse also includes an abuser withholding his partner’s access to contraception, or forcing her into sexual practices she finds degrading. You can find out more about sexual violence, consent and how to get support here.

Economic abuse

Economic abuse – which includes financial abuse – is a way of controlling a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain their own money and resources. Economic abuse can take many forms. Abusers may prevent a woman from earning or accessing her own money (for example, by banning her from going out to work, or sabotaging job interviews, or by taking the welfare benefits she is entitled to); spend or take her money without consent; build up debts in her name; or damage her possessions or property. If a woman is separated from the abuser, he might withhold child maintenance payments. Find out more about economic abuse here, and learn about Refuge’s latest research in our 2020 report Know Economic Abuse.