What is domestic abuse?

The plight of those in the public eye, such as the TV presenter Ruth Dodsworth, highlights the silent suffering of many who either cannot leave their desperate situations or those who are conditioned, over the years, to accept being controlled by their abusers. Ruth Dodsworth’s experience involved her husband cutting her off from friends and finances, controlling her finances and turning up at work unannounced. Without a sense of self, she began to accept her situation as standard, as her self-esteem was crushed, and she continually doubted herself. the turning point came when her children expressed their fear for her safety, as she said she could not recognise the danger or the extent to which she was being abused.


How to recognise domestic abuse

Coercive control has been designated a crime since 2015. This pernicious type of intimidation is compared to the effects of being taken hostage. It is included in the Domestic Abuse Act 2020, along with economic abuse, psychological, emotional or other abuse (along with physical abuse).

Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour on the part of an abuser designed to control their partner. It can happen at any point in a relationship, including after separation. Anyone forced to change their behaviour because they are afraid of their partner or ex-partner’s reaction to any event could be experiencing a form of abuse.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, background, gender, religion, sexuality or ethnicity. However, statistics show that most domestic abuse is carried out by men and experienced by women. It can inflict long-lasting trauma on victims and especially on children who may be aware of it and hear it occurring.

Domestic abuse is never the fault of the person who is experiencing it and it is a crime.


Warning signs of domestic abuse

Signs of domestic abuse are not always physical, nor obvious, as detailed above. However common physical signs include:

  • Unexplained bruising
  • Black eyes and/or swollen lips
  • Sprained wrists
  • Red marks on the neck

It is common for someone experiencing domestic abuse to cover up these physical signs, for example by wearing long-sleeved tops even in hot weather.

Emotional signs of abuse include:

  • Agitation, anxiety, or constant apprehension
  • Changes in sleep habits (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • Developing a drug or alcohol problem
  • Extremely apologetic or meek
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Low self-esteem
  • Seeming fearful
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Talking about or attempting suicide

Neither of these lists are exhaustive, but they may help to identify someone who is experiencing domestic abuse behind closed doors.


Changes in behaviour

Experiencing abuse often results in changed behaviour in the victim. You might notice that this person becomes reserved or distant, isolates themselves by cutting off family and friends, cancels appointments/meetings at the last minute, or displays extreme privacy regarding their personal life.

The victim (and sometimes their children) may display signs of fear or anxiety, appearing nervous or timid. Although victims may not talk about the actual abuse, they might refer to the abuser as “grumpy” or explaining that they have a bad temper. They may state that the partner is particularly bad-tempered when drinking alcohol or in certain situations.

Sometimes, the fear a victim experiences is so intense that they feel unable to make decisions or to even protect themselves or their children. When the fear gets to that point, they may even turn down help offered to them by friends, family, or even professional protective services.


How can you help someone going through abuse?

The following are some suggestions for helping someone you know, or suspect may be undergoing domestic abuse:

  • Create a safe space – let them know you are speaking in private and will not judge.
  • Tell them you are worried and take them seriously if they express fear or concern.
  • Tell the person it is not their fault, and you are not judging them.
  • Remind the person that they are not alone.
  • Encourage the person to reach out for help – from yourself, but also from domestic abuse hotlines, charities, protective services, and the police in an emergency situation.
  • Give the person time to open up to you.


Legal help

If you have been the victim of domestic abuse, you can apply for a non-molestation order (protecting you from being harmed or threatened by the person who has abused you) or an occupation order (which will prevent your abuser from living in the family home or entering the surrounding area).


Domestic Abuse Lawyer

At Marks Law, we have the expertise to help you if you have suffered from or have been accused of domestic abuse. We can also advise you on the availability of civil remedies. Please click here to read more.

To speak to us today, please call 020 7123 4600 or email contact@marks-law.co.uk.



The following provide support to victims of domestic abuse:

Refuge offers a 24-hour hotline at 0808 2000 247 and online resources.

The Cassandra Centre provides advice, support and counselling services for young people and families who are directly or indirectly involved in abusive relationships.

Women’s Aid work to end domestic abuse and have a variety of ‘hotlines’ and forums to assist women in need.

The police at 101 for non-emergency situations and 999 for emergencies.

In terms of legal help, here are some useful articles from Refuge and VeryWellMind.