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 and staff, share a responsibility to 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 are 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 are not sure whether you should take a concern seriously, or whether you should report, you should report it anyway.

If someone is in imminent or serious risk of harm, call 999 and call the HQ safeguarding team afterwards. Let the HQ safeguarding team know as soon as possible if you call the police.

You can contact the HQ Safeguarding team on:

  • Tel: +44 020 7834 6242 ext. 3037 (9am-5pm Monday-Friday excl. bank holidays)
  • Out of hours emergency phone: +44 07508 032997 (5pm-10pm Monday-Friday; 9am-10pm Saturday/Sunday)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Using the contact us form 

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is defined as any controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence, or abuse by partners, ex-partners or family members.

It can include a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which appear 'violent’. Taken in isolation, some abusive behaviours can seem like small acts. But they make up a pattern of behaviour that is frightening, upsetting, and damaging.

Domestic abuse can:

  • Vary in frequency and severity, just one occurrence counts as abuse.
  • Happen inside and outside the home.
  • Happen in person, over the phone, over social networking sites and on the internet.
  • Happen in any relationship, and can continue even after that relationship has ended.

Forms of domestic abuse include:

  • Coercive control
  • Psychological or emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse such as kicking, hitting, punching, cutting etc
  • Sexual violence, rape and assault
  • Financial or economic abuse
  • Harassment and stalking
  • Online or digital abuse
  • Forced marriage
  • 'Honour'-based abuse

See the section Forms of domestic abuse for more information.

Visit for more information on behaviour that equals domestic abuse

Domestic abuse and young people

Witnessing or experiencing domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on children and young people that can last into adulthood.

Children and young people might also feel confused or frightened, keeping the abuse to themselves. They can show their distress by acting in ways that can be a sign that they have experience of domestic abuse.

This 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

Every child will respond differently to trauma. Some may be more resilient and not show any of these behaviours or other negative effects.

Does this sound like your situation?

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

If you are in immediate danger or scared for your safety, call 999 or your local emergency services,

If you can’t speak on the phone about your situation, use the silent solution which is available when you call 999. This lets you tell the police know that it is a genuine emergency without speaking.

  • 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.

Find out more about the Silent Solution System.

If you feel that you can’t contact an organisation yourself, a trusted friend could help you.

Support organisations

These are general lists and are not exhaustive. There may be more local organisations available to you.

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.

Women's Aid NI (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

Welsh Women's Aid - The national charity in Wales working to end domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women

MWN Helpline - A national specialist faith and culturally sensitive service which offers information, support, guidance and referrals to Muslim women and girls from diverse ethnic/faith backgrounds who are suffering from or at risk of abuse or facing problems on a range of issues

AVA  - A leading UK charity committed to ending gender-based violence and abuse

Children and young people

The Hideout - 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 here to help anyone under 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through


Respect Men's Advice Line - Non-judgmental support, practical advice, and information to increase the safety of men experiencing domestic abuse (and the safety of any children).

Mankind Initiative - Our confidential helpline is available for male victims of domestic abuse or domestic violence across the UK.

'Honour'-based violence and forced marriage

Karma Nirvana - a national charity supporting victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage. Runs 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

Broken Rainbow - A national domestic violence helpline for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) communities.

Concerned about your own behaviour

Respect phoneline - a confidential helpline, email and webchat service for domestic abuse perpetrators and those supporting them. 

Raising awareness of violence against women and children

WAGGGS have developed the ‘Stop the violence’ campaign aimed at ending violence against girls and young women around the world.  Visit their website to find out how you can add your voice to the campaign and use their resources to spread the word.

Understand the different forms that domestic abuse can take.

Forms of domestic abuse

Coercive control is controlling behaviour that makes a person dependent and restricts their everyday life. This can include isolating them from support, controlling or exploiting their resources and denying them independence – acts like deciding what clothes they can wear, or which people they can spend time with.

It can be an isolated act, or a pattern, which involves assault, threats, humiliation, degradation, isolation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a person.

Coercive control is a criminal offence and its criminalisation in 2015 marked a huge step forward in tackling domestic abuse.

Intimidation and threats, criticism, undermining, name calling, being made to feel guilty and being told what you can and cannot do are all behaviours that can be considered psychological or emotional abuse.

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

Financial and economic abuse is a form of controlling and harming someone through misusing money and financial services. It often happens alongside other abusive behaviours.

It can involve using credit cards without permission, putting contractual obligations in their partner’s/family member’s name or gambling with family assets. And it can leave a person without access to their own bank accounts, unable to buy essential items, with no access to any money of their own or 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 perpetrator - such as restricting or denying child maintenance or other financial payments.

Stalking is a pattern of persistent and unwanted attention that makes you 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.

Stalking and harassment are both considered criminal offences within the UK.

A forced marriage is one in which either or both people involved do not consent to the marriage. People can be forced into marriage in different ways – it could be physical, psychological, financial, sexual, or emotional pressure.

Any marriage involving someone who does not have the capacity to give consent is a forced marriage

Violence and abuse are considered ‘honour’-based when they are 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).