What is Domestic Violence? Meaning & Definitions

This post is a part of our guide series to support anyone who may be experiencing domestic violence or has questions on what they should do:

What is Domestic Violence?
Who Commits Domestic Violence and Why?
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Domestic Violence?
How to Handle & Deal with Domestic Violence
How to Escape (or Help Someone Else Escape) Domestic Violence
How to Heal and Recover from Domestic Violence
What Impacts Does Domestic Violence Have on Victims and Their Family/Friends?
How to report Domestic Violence (and Who to Report it to)
How is Domestic Violence Proven in Court?
Punishment and Sentencing for Violent Domestic Abuse
How can Domestic Violence be Prevented?
What Effects Does Domestic Violence Have on Wider Society?
Domestic Violence Data & Statistics
Domestic Violence Helplines, Support & Further Reading


Domestic abuse and violence can affect anybody and everyone, the victim, families, neighbours, colleagues, friends and the wider community.

The effects of domestic abuse extend to society and is not just something that affects the individual or family members involved.

This article is aimed to help anyone who is experiencing or being affected by domestic violence. It provides some useful information on domestic violence so that you can be better prepared to identify it and empowering you to take the first steps to helping yourself or someone you know.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is the behaviour of one person used to intimidate or humiliate another, normally family members and current and/or ex partners.  Usually, the abuser will try to assert dominance, power and control over their partner; in most circumstances this is achieved by making their partner fearful. The different forms of abuse are:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Financial

It’s important to remember the abuser doesn’t need to commit a physical act to be abusive, in fact any incident/s of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour can be considered as domestic abuse.  An example of this is stalking and harassment, these are a form of domestic abuse, which are sometimes overlooked by victims.

How does the law define Domestic Violence?

The legal definition of domestic violence and abuse as defined by the UK government is…

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical 
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

The definition of domestic abuse came into force by the UK government from 13th March 2012.

Is Domestic Violence always Physical?

Domestic violence does not always have to be physical in order for it to be classed as domestic violence. Any form of abuse where the individual acts in a certain way in order to obtain control or power over another is classified as domestic abuse. No matter how small the incident may be.

Physical abuse is when an individual uses physical force against another. This can be in the form of numerous ways such as kicking, slapping, punching, strangling and other ways in which physical harm can be applied to someone else.

Who is most vulnerable or likely to become a victim of domestic violence?

Domestic abuse and violence can affect anybody and everyone, the victim, families, neighbours, colleagues, friends and the wider community.

However, for victims, there is some contributing factors that would put some individuals at a higher risk of being abused than others this includes, age, financial situation, substance abuse, physical and mental health issues and history of previous abuse. Whilst domestic abuse can affect both men and women, it is more likely to be experienced by women.

In domestic violence matters which involve families, children will experience or witness the abuse and will therefore be affected too.

What is the Domestic Violence Bill?

In the UK, domestic abuse is considered to be a serious crime. In order to protect abuse survivors, the UK implemented the Domestic Abuse bill in 2020 which states that any act of domestic violence is punishable with imprisonment.

One of the mandatory terms of the bill is that the abuser’s sentence must last up to a maximum of three years and no less than six months.

As well as to protect abuse survivors, one of the other purposes of the Domestic Abuse bill is to raise awareness regarding the impact of domestic abuse on victims and families. Furthermore, the aim of the bill is for better use of the justice system in order to better protect victims.

We understand how difficult it is to see someone you know or love experiencing abuse, sometimes trying to help a victim is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify

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