Recognising domestic abuse

Understand more about the signs of domestic abuse, and how we can help and support all our members

Children, young people, and adults have the right to live free from abuse and violence in all areas of their lives.

And we all, as Girlguiding members, need to help protect and promote the safety and wellbeing of those in our organisation. This advice and guidance on domestic abuse will help you understand more about what domestic abuse is, and how you can recognise and support those who are at risk of harm.

If you’re worried, or have received a disclosure, that somebody in Girlguiding may be experiencing or is at risk of experiencing abuse, you should follow our safeguarding reporting procedures .

If you’re not sure whether you should take a concern seriously, or whether you should report, you should report it anyway.

If someone is in immediate or serious risk of harm, call 999 and call the Safeguarding team afterwards. Let the Safeguarding team know as soon as you can if you call the police.

If you are a member of British Guiding Overseas please contact your the chief commissioner as soon as possible for more advice. Extra details are available on our Safeguarding Procedures webpage.

You can contact the Girlguiding HQ Safeguarding team on:

  • +44 020 7834 6242 (9am-5pm Monday-Friday, not Bank Holidays)
  • Out of hours emergency phone: +44 07508 032997 (5pm-10pm Monday-Friday; 9am-10pm Saturday and Sunday)
  • Email: [email protected]

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is defined as any controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour , violence, or abuse by partners, ex-partners or family members. This can also include behaviours that limit a person’s financial independence.

Domestic abuse includes a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which might seem 'violent’. Looked at by themselves, some abusive behaviours can seem like normal interactions. But all together, they make up a pattern of behaviour that is frightening, upsetting, and damaging.

Domestic abuse can:

  • vary in how often it happens and how bad it is - just one occurrence counts as abuse.
  • happen inside and outside a home.
  • happen in person, over the phone, over social networking sites and on the internet.
  • happen in any relationship and can keep happening even after that relationship has ended.

Types of domestic abuse

Types of domestic abuse include:

Coercive control

Coercive control is controlling behaviour that makes a person dependent and restricts their everyday life. This can include cutting them off from support, not letting them be independent and controlling or using their resources unfairly. This could be deciding what clothes they can wear or which people they can spend time with.

It can be an isolated act or a pattern. It can include assault, threats, humiliation, degradation, isolation and intimidation, or it can be other types of abuse that are used to harm, punish, or frighten someone.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse includes someone forcing any intentional, unwanted contact with someone else or something close to someone else’s body. It also includes any behaviour that causes or could cause someone injury, disability, or death. It can include kicking, hitting, punching, cutting, throwing items and pulling hair.

Abusive behaviour might not always cause physical pain or leave bruises, but it’s still unhealthy and should always be taken seriously.

Sexual violence, rape and assault

This type of abuse includes any behaviour that pressures or makes someone to do something sexually that they don’t want to do. It can also include behaviour that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or where or how any sexual activity takes place.

Some examples of sexual abuse are unwanted kissing or touching, stopping someone from using protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and using sexual insults towards someone.

Psychological or emotional abuse

Intimidation and threats, criticism, being made to feel small, name calling, being made to feel guilty and being told what you can and can’t do are all behaviours that are psychological or emotional abuse.

If someone’s behaviour towards you makes you feel controlled or unable to speak to someone about it, then it’s abuse.

Financial and economic abuse

Financial and economic abuse is a form of controlling and harming someone by misusing money and financial services. It often happens at the same time as other abusive behaviours.

It can be using credit cards without permission, putting contractual obligations in a partner’s or family member’s name or gambling with things that belong to the family or a partner. It can mean someone has no way to use their own bank accounts, can’t buy essential items, have none of their own money or end up with debts that have been built up in their name.

Lack of money or no access to economic resources can make it much harder to leave an abusive situation. Even when a survivor has left the home or ended the relationship, financial control can still be exerted by the abuser, like restricting or denying child maintenance or other financial payments.

Harassment and stalking

Stalking is a pattern of persistent and unwanted attention that makes someone feel pestered, scared, anxious or harassed. You might have heard about celebrities being stalked, but anyone can experience stalking when another person becomes obsessed or fixated and targets them with unwanted attention and actions.

Some examples of stalking are regularly receiving unwanted gifts or messages, having property damaged, getting repeatedly followed or spied on and receiving threats. You can find more information about harassment on our Anti-bullying and harassement webpages.

Stalking and harassment are both criminal offences within the UK.

Online or digital abuse

You can find more information about online or digital abuse on our Digital safeguarding policy webpage.

Forced marriage

A forced marriage is when either or both people involved don’t consent to the marriage. People can be forced into marriage in different ways, like physical, psychological, financial, sexual, or emotional pressure.

Any marriage involving someone who lacks the capacity to give consent is a forced marriage.

‘Honour’-based crimes

Violence and abuse are considered ‘honour’-based when they’re being used as a way of protecting or defending the ‘honour’ or code of behaviour of a person, family or community. It can involve violence, threats of violence, intimidation coercion or abuse (including psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional abuse).

Go to Love is Respect's website for more information on behaviour that is domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse and young people

Being subjected to or seeing domestic abuse it can have a devastating impact on children and young people that can last into adulthood. Witnessing domestic abuse is child abuse.

Children and young people might feel confused or frightened and keep the abuse to themselves. Their distress can be expressed with behaviours that may be a sign that they have or are being exposed to domestic abuse. These behaviours can include:

  • Bullying
  • Aggression
  • Attention seeking
  • Bedwetting, insomnia, or nightmares
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts
  • Constant or regular sickness such as mouth ulcers, colds, or headaches
  • Problems in school or troubles with learning
  • Withdrawal

It's important to know that every child will respond differently to trauma and some might be more resilient and not show any negative effects.

Does this sound like your situation?

If any of the above sounds like a situation you or someone you know is in, there are organisations can give you advice, guidance, or support.

Support organisations

There might be local organisations available to you that aren’t on this list.

Women and children:

Refuge: Supporting women and children who have experienced violence and abuse.

Women's Aid: A grassroots federation working together to provide life-saving services in England and build a future where domestic abuse is not tolerated. They have also produced an Expect Respect Healthy Relationships Toolkit to help lead sessions around healthy relationships for children and young people aged 4-18.

Women's Aid (Northern Ireland):  A lead voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland addressing domestic and sexual violence and providing services for women and children.

Women's Aid (Scotland): A lead organisation in Scotland working towards the prevention of domestic abuse.

Women's Aid (Wales): The national charity in Wales working to end domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women.

Muslim Women's Network UK: A national specialist faith and culturally sensitive service that is confidential and non-judgmental. They primarily offer information, support, guidance and referrals to Muslim women and girls from diverse backgrounds who are suffering from or at risk of abuse or facing problems on a range of issues.

Ava Project: A leading UK charity committed to ending gender-based violence and abuse.

Hot Peaches Pages: An international list of sexual & domestic violence agencies with abuse information in over 115 languages and information on abuse help agencies for every country in the world.

Children and young people

The Hide Out: Women's Aid have created this space to help children and young people to understand domestic abuse, and how to take positive action if it's happening to you.

Childline: A service that’s run by the NSPCC. Childline is there to help anyone under 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through.


Men's Advice Line: A team of friendly advisors will listen and believe you. Their team is available to offer non-judgmental support, practical advice, and information.

ManKind: Their confidential helpline is available for male victims of domestic abuse and male victims of domestic violence across the UK. They support men suffering from domestic abuse from their current or former wife or partner (including same-sex partners).

‘Honour-based’ violence and forced marriage

Karma Nirvana: A mational charity supporting victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage. Honour crimes are not determined by age, faith, gender, or sexuality and they support and work with all victims. They run a national helpline offering direct support and guidance to victims and professionals

LGBT+ community

Galop: Emotional and practical support for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic abuse. The National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* (LGBT) Domestic Violence Helpline provides confidential support to all members of the LGBT+ communities, their family, friends, and agencies supporting them.

Concerned about your own behaviour?

Respect phoneline: A confidential helpline, email and webchat service for domestic abuse perpetrators and those supporting them. They support men and women who are using abuse in same-sex or heterosexual relationships.

Raising awareness of violence against women and children

WAGGGS have developed the Stop the violence campaign. It's aimed at ending violence against girls and young women around the world.

British Guiding Overseas (BGO)

Even if you're outside of the UK, you’ll still be able to access all internet support from the above resources. But you’ll need to check for guidance specific to your country to ensure that the information you rely on is accurate.

If you are in immediate danger or scared for your safety, or you’re worried about the immediate safety of someone else, call 999.

The silent solution

If you can’t speak on the phone about your situation, use the silent solution. This lets you tell the police that it is a genuine emergency without speaking:

From a mobile phone:

  • Phone 999 from a mobile
  • Listen to the questions from the operator
  • Respond by coughing or tapping the handset if you can
  • If prompted, press 55. This lets the operator know it is a genuine emergency and you will be passed through to your local police force.

From a landline:

  • Call 999 from a landline
  • If you don't speak or answer questions and the operator can only hear background noise, they'll transfer your call to the police.
  • If you replace the handset, the landline may remain connected for 45 seconds in case you pick it up again.
  • Calling 999 from a landline automatically gives the police information about your location.

For more information about the Silent solution click here to go to the website.