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What is domestic abuse?

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 now provides a clear, statutory definition of domestic abuse for the first time in the UK. It defines domestic abuse:

Behaviour of a person towards another person where they are each aged 16 or over and personally connected to each other and the behaviour is abusive.

Abusive behaviour includes abuse which is:

  • Physical or sexual
  • Violent or threatening
  • Controlling or coercive
  • Economic
  • Psychological, emotional or other abuses

It does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.

Economic abuse means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s ability to:

(a) acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or

(b) obtain goods or services.

Children living with domestic abuse

Part 1 of the Act provides that a child who sees or hears, or experiences the effects of, domestic abuse and is related to the person being abused or the perpetrator is also to be regarded as a victim of domestic abuse.

Coercive control

Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship is a criminal offence that came into force on 29 December 2015.

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance, and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

Whatever form it takes, domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, and should instead be seen as a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour through which the abuser seeks power over their victim, often escalating over time. Domestic abuse can start and occur in a relationship at any time, including after a couple has separated. It may not only take place in the home but also in a public place.

You can read the full guidance on the coercive control law from the CPS here.

Rights of Women have put together Reporting an offence to the police: A guide to criminal/police investigations, which may be useful to share with victims/survivors.

Further reading and resources

For tools to use with victims, including the DASH and S-DASH risk assessments, click here.

We need your help to continue our work reducing the risk of domestic abuse. Find out more about how you can get involved!