Intimate partner abuse

If you are in immediate danger and/or the wellbeing of your children is at risk, please contact 999. Emergency services are there to help and can advise you on next steps.

People from all walks of life can experience abuse by their partner. It can happen to women and men of all ages and from all backgrounds, and in both heterosexual and same sex relationships. No one is immune and it’s important that the earliest signs are not ignored. If you, or someone you know is affected, there are a number of ways you can get support.

What is intimate partner abuse?

When one partner in a relationship causes harm to the other – physically, financially, sexually, verbally, or other form, abuse is taking place. A person does not need to have been physically assaulted to be experiencing abuse. It can occur on a first date or after a long period of being together. And although the term ‘abuse’ might mean different things to different people, it’s really important to remember that abuse can take on many forms, some of which can be very subtle, especially in the very early days.  

Physical abuse

This can involve your partner hitting, slapping, tripping, shoving, kicking or biting you. Some people have also experienced having objects thrown at them or being held against their will. Other forms of physical violence can take the form of forcing a partner to live in sub-standard housing, restricting access to food or medical care, or tampering with their partner’s birth control method.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can involve shouting, name-calling and bullying, racist and sexist comments, humiliation (either in private or in front of other people), and being kept away from friends and family. A partner might monitor your every movement demanding to know where you at all times, or they might make decisions about who you can see and what you can wear. It’s not unusual for an abuser to tell their partner that they deserve the abuse or that they should try harder to avoid being punished.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse isn’t limited to rape but can include being forced into any sexual activity you don’t want such as kissing, cuddling or touching. Being forced to do something when you don’t have the ability to say “no” also counts as sexual violence. For example, if you’ve had too much to drink, have taken drugs, or have been given drugs without your consent. Some people have also experienced being forced to have sex with a partner’s friends or have been filmed in sexual situations without their knowledge or consent.

How does intimate partner abuse start?

It often begins with emotional abuse from the very early days. It’s really important to recognise that even if you consider any emotional signs you see to be minor or just ‘a normal part of any relationship’, emotional abuse often escalates into other forms of abuse. Abuse is abuse and you don’t have to suffer punches or broken bones to be abused.

Red flags of an abusive relationship

Abusers don’t tend to abuse their partner from day one – instead, it escalates over time. Some common red flags to watch for at the start of any relationship include:

  • Embarrassing you or putting you down either when you’re alone or with other people
  • Looking at you or acting in ways that make you feel scared, in danger, or bad about yourself
  • Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing your friends or family
  • Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions
  • Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
  • Threatening to harm your pets
  • Preventing you from working or attending school
  • Blaming you for the abuse, or acting like it’s not really happening
  • Destroying your property
  • Shoving, slapping, choking or hitting you
  • Attempting to stop you from pressing charges
  • Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
  • Preventing you from using birth control or pressuring you to become pregnant when you’re not ready.

What can you do?

If you’re experiencing any form of abuse, it’s important that you take steps as quickly as possible.

Don’t blame yourself

No one deserves to be abused nor is it possible to stop the violence by ‘just trying harder’. Abusers suffer from low self-esteem and anger control problems, and blame others for their inexcusable behaviour. Remember, the abuser chooses to abuse and the only person who can make the decision to leave is you. However, there are many reasons why people in abusive relationships don’t leave including financial dependence, immigration status, a lack of a safe place to live, peer and/or cultural pressure, worries about their children and/or pets, and concerns that they won’t be believed by the police or other agencies.

To get help leaving and to create a safety plan, contact Refuge in complete confidence. Never feel shame for staying in an abusive relationship – the abuse is not your fault and there is plenty of help out there.

Leave the relationship safely

Abuse never gets better – it always gets worse. Leaving the relationship as soon as the violence begins can be difficult but remember that the longer you stay, the greater the danger to both your physical and emotional wellbeing.

  • Before you end the relationship, tell a trusted friend or family member of your plans. Make sure that anyone you tell won’t tell your partner of your intentions. Either end it over the phone, or if you must do it in person, make sure that you have other people you know and trust with you at the time.
  • Stick with your decision – it’s not unusual for an abuser to try and win their ex-partner back with gifts and flowers, promising never to do it again. Remember, if violence has happened once, it will happen again.
  • Change your mobile number, email address and any social media accounts beforehand and only give out new information to trusted friends and family members.
  • If the abuser knows where you live and work, speak with your local police service by calling 101, the non-emergency phone number. The police will be able to give you advice on how to stay safe including guidance on home security and personal safety.
  • For more advice on how to leave an abusive relationship safely, contact:

If you are in immediate danger and/or the wellbeing of your children is at risk, please contact 999. Emergency services are there to help and can advise you on next steps.