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What is domestic violence and what are the warning signs?

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Domestic violence and abuse includes a range of abusive behaviours which are used by an abusive partner, ex-partner or family member to maintain power and control over the victim.

Types of domestic violence and abuse

Not all abuse involves physical violence or threat. Controlling and coercive behaviour can also leave deep and lasting scars. It's rarely a one off incident but an on-going pattern of behaviour and takes place regardless of social background, age, gender, religion, sexuality or ethnicity.

A legal definition of domestic abuse is provided in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

Domestic violence and abuse can take different forms including but not limited to:

  • Physical abuse: pushing, hitting, punching, kicking, choking and using weapons.
  • Sexual abuse: forcing or pressuring someone to have sex (rape), unwanted sexual activity, touching, groping someone or making them watch pornography.
  • Financial abuse: taking money, controlling finances, not letting someone work.
  • Emotional abuse or coercive control: repeatedly making someone feel bad or scared, stalking, blackmailing, constantly checking up on someone, playing mind games. Coercive control is now a criminal offence under the Serious Crime Act 2015.
  • Digital or online abuse: using technology to further isolate, humiliate or control someone.
  • Honour based violence: this is abuse justified to protect the honour or respect of a family or community, such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Warning signs of domestic abuse

Feeling uncomfortable or being afraid in your relationship is the number one warning sign that your relationship isn't healthy.

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer 'yes' to one or more of them, you may be experiencing domestic abuse. 

Does your abuser:

  • Use physical or sexual violence without warning?
  • Tease you in a hurtful way and play it off as a 'joke' or tell you you're being too sensitive?
  • Call you names such as 'stupid' and 'useless'?
  • Act jealous of your friends, family, or co-workers or coerce you into avoiding or not spending time with them?
  • Get angry about or make you change the clothes and shoes you wear, how you style your hair, or whether or not you wear makeup and how much?
  • Check up on you by repeatedly calling, driving by or getting someone else to?
  • Go places with you or send someone just to 'keep an eye on you'?
  • Insist on knowing who you talk with on the phone, check your call log or phone bill?
  • Blame you for their problems or their bad mood?
  • Get angry so easily that you feel like you're 'walking on eggshells'?
  • Do things to scare you?
  • Stop you from seeing your friends or family?
  • Accuse you of being interested in someone else or cheating on them?
  • Read your email, check your computer history, go through your purse or other personal papers?
  • Keep money from you or keep you in debt?
  • Keep you from getting a job, doing a course or learning to drive?
  • Threaten to hurt you, your children, family, friends or pets?
  • Force you to have sex when you don't want to?
  • Force you to have sex in ways that you don't want to?
  • Threaten to kill you or themselves if you leave?
  • Act like "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde," acting one way in front of other people and another way when you're alone?

Recognising the warning signs of abuse is the first step but taking action is the most important step in breaking free. You may want to contact organisations for advice and help or to discuss your situation.


  • In an emergency, dial 999 and ask for help.
  • When you can't talk, dial 999 then press 55 when prompted.
  • For non-emergency police assistance, dial 101 for the Greater Manchester Police Switchboard (24-hour service).

​Domestic abuse contact details - see who can help with domestic violence and abuse.