Director of Public Health Annual Report 2021: Domestic Violence and Abuse

Last updated: 24 August 2021 Download the report (pdf, 857.0 KB)

What is domestic abuse and how can we recognise it?

The Domestic Abuse Bill (2021) set a new definition of domestic abuse. The new definition covers the nature of the relationship and the range of behaviours that are considered abusive.

Behaviour is abusive if any of the following occur:

  • physical or sexual abuse
  • violent or threatening behaviour
  • controlling or coercive behaviour
  • economic abuse
  • psychological, emotional or other abuse

The behaviour can be a single incident or ongoing behaviour.

Domestic abuse can happen in different types of relationships. It can be between family members, ex-partners and people not living together. The definition refers to people aged 16 or over, but the Bill says that children can still be victims. If the abuser directs his or her behaviour at a child to be abusive to another adult, this is domestic abuse (see the appendix for a full definition).

There were 24,856 offences of coercive control recorded by the police in the year up to March 2020 in England and Wales.

It is defined as “…assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim”. This can also include stalking, which is a pattern of persistent and unwanted attention.

For women, the most common and most dangerous context of abuse has been shown to be coercive control.

“In middle class suburbia, there’s a culture of things being hidden. It’s humiliating to admit you’re going through something like this.”

– Victim of domestic abuse, Buckinghamshire

How can we recognise signs of domestic?

Recognising domestic abuse is the first step to taking action.

Recognising domestic abuse is the first step to taking action. Some victims as well as their friends, family and colleagues may not recognise or acknowledge the abuse.

There are available resources to help us all recognise domestic abuse.

We can assist victims safely if we respond effectively as a positive bystander.

Signs that someone may be a victim of domestic abuse include:

  • withdrawn
  • isolated from family and friends
  • bruises, burns or bite marks
  • finances controlled
  • stopped from leaving the house for college or work
  • internet, social media or other communications monitored
  • put down or told they are worthless
  • told that abuse is their fault or that they are overreacting

Children may respond to abuse in different ways. Signs in children include:

  • anxious, depressed or withdrawn, easily startled
  • difficulty sleeping, having nightmares or flashbacks
  • physical symptoms such as tummy aches
  • bed wetting
  • behavioural problems like temper tantrums
  • problems in school, behaving as though they are much younger than they are
  • aggression
  • lowered sense of self-worth
  • skipping school, using alcohol or drugs, or self-harming
  • eating disorder
  • feeling angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused

“It took me a long time to realise there was a problem and seek help. I felt that it wasn’t bad enough to be abuse because he wasn’t hitting me.”

– Victim of domestic abuse, Buckinghamshire