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Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as:  

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, 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. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.

Crown Prosecution Service definition

This definition includes so-called ‘honour’-based violence, forced marriage, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) . 

Central to this definition is that a victim and a person who is abusing them have a personal relationship. People who are ‘personally connected’ include:  

  • intimate partners  
  • ex-partners  
  • family members  
  • individuals who share parental responsibility for a child  

Domestic Abuse is routinely portrayed as a gendered crime, perpetrated by men against women. That is because, whilst anyone may experience incidents of inter-personal violence and abuse, women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of abuse, including sexual violence.  Every case should be taken seriously. 

Research shows that people from some gender identities face increased barriers to getting help and accessing specialist support services. 

Some data also suggests that individuals with a disability are at an increased risk, as well as women who are aged 18 – 25 years. This would suggest students in our community are at particular risk.  

At the University we must ensure that all victims feel able to disclose and access appropriate support, whatever their gender identity.

Physical abuse (violence)

This can include hitting, punching, pushing, kicking, choking, use of weapons, and threats of violence.  

Sexual abuse (violence)

This can be described as any behaviour (physical, emotional, verbal, online) perceived to be of a sexual nature which is controlling, coercive, harmful, exploitive, or unwanted that is inflicted on a person, and includes taking advantage of their incapacity to give informed consent.   

Economic or financial abuse

This is often an element of coercive behaviour, that co-occurs with other forms of abuse. It interferes with a victim’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources such as money, transportation, and utilities. This can make the victim economically dependent on the abuser and limit their ability to escape to safety. Examples of economic abuse include having sole control of the family income, preventing a victim from claiming welfare benefits, interfering with a victim’s education, training, or employment, not allowing or controlling access to mobile phone, transport, utilities, or food, and damage victim’s property.  

Controlling or coercive behaviour (or emotional/psychological abuse)

Coercive behaviour is an act or pattern of acts or assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a victim. Examples include a victim being isolated from family or friends, to limit or prevent outside support; monitoring their activities throughout the day; denying them freedom or autonomy (such as preventing them from going to university, or if they go out, stalking their every move, and taking their phone and changing their passwords). This may also include controlling aspects of a victim’s health and body, such as controlling how much they eat, sleep, or time spent in the bathroom. 


Often committed by ex-partners, this is a specific type of harassment, often described as a pattern of unwanted, fixated, or obsessive behaviour that is intrusive and causes fear of violence or serious harm. For example, abusers may bombard victims with unwanted and often threatening phone contact, and physical stalking at their home or place of work or study.  

Digital and online abuse

This can be described as technology-facilitated abuse that can include controlling and coercive behaviours, such as cyber (or digital) stalking, threatening or nuisance phone calls and emails, location tracking, online harassment, and dissemination of intimate images; commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’, this term minimises the harm it causes victims and is increasingly referred to as image-based sexual abuse. Digital and online abuse is a serious and widespread problem affecting people of all ages.

‘Honour’-based abuse (including forced marriage) and FGM

The Crown Prosecution Service (2017) defines ‘honour’ abuse as “an incident or crime involving violence, threats of violence, intimidation, coercion, or abuse (including psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse) which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of an individual, family and/or community for alleged or perceived breaches of the family and/or community’s code of behaviour.” Types of ‘honour’ abuse are wide-ranging, including psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, forced marriage, withdrawal from education, isolation, imprisonment, kidnapping and trafficking.

Spiritual abuse

This can be described as any attempt to exert power and control over someone using faith, religion, or beliefs. The Faith and Violence against Women and Girls Coalition noted that those in a position to help often overlook the significant barriers victims face in getting help due to the victim’s religious identity, faith community, and the spiritual abuse they have suffered at the hands of their abuser(s).    

Pet abuse

Domestic abuse and pet abuse frequently co-occur. Research by the Dogs Trust Freedom Project (a fostering service for people fleeing domestic abuse and going to a refuge) found that of 369 professionals working in the domestic abuse sector, 90% reported cases in which a pet had also been abused, and over half were aware of cases in which pets were killed.  

Work productivity/ academic engagement

  • Receives a high volume of emails, texts, phone calls from current/former partner and family members. 
  • Upset or anxious in response to emails, texts, phone calls. 
  • High absenteeism or persistently late without/ with unusual explanation.
  • Frequently anxious about leaving work/ classes on time and going home.  
  • Unusual reluctance with colleagues/ workplace/campus culture (or change in usual level).  
  • When working remotely/ online, appearing anxious/not attending or using camera when expected.  
  • Drop in student attendance/ grades, staff work performance, meeting work/assignment deadlines, and how they communicate/interact in class/meetings with colleagues or tutors/ peers. 

Psychological signs

  • Fear of current/ former partner or family member.  
  • Expresses that a family member (child/ parent) is at risk of harm from current/ former partner or other family member.  
  • Mentions abusive behaviour fleetingly, casually, or in other terms (“it’s a shame I can’t join in, but they get cross if I’m not back in time”).  
  • Frequently cry and/ or act anxious (online or on campus).  

Physical signs

  • Fatigue or frequent/ sudden/ unexpected medical problems/ sickness.  
  • Repeated visible injuries (such as bruises) and implausible explanations.  
  • Sudden change in dress or pattern of make up (excessive clothing in summer or seems unhappy/ uncomfortable in a complete change in style) and or unkept appearance.  
  • Notable change in weight.

There are a range of barriers for victims of domestic abuse to reporting the abuse and it is important that this is understood and acknowledged.   

There are internal barriers such as fears, beliefs, and attitudes that victims may have themselves such as:  

  • fear of not being believed, or being blamed  
  • embarrassment, shame  
  • self-blame and guilt  
  • fear of ‘dishonouring’ family  
  • protect partner/ relationship  
  • fear abuse may escalate  
  • fear of losing children, home  
  • being aware of options or available resources  
  • fear of losing job/ failing course, or impact on career/ studies  
  • concerns about confidentiality or privacy if disclosing at place of work/ study  

There are external barriers such as other people’s beliefs about domestic abuse and lack of specialist support, societal and cultural norms such as:  

  • abuser’s physical presence or controlling behaviour  
  • abuser’s manipulation of professionals  
  • lack of money/financial support  
  • societal isolation  
  • cultural and societal norms  
  • putting friends/family at risk or upsetting them  
  • public perceptions and victim-blaming attitudes  
  • unable to access domestic abuse policies or guidelines at place of work/study  

If a student discloses, they have been a victim of domestic abuse, they should be supported and respected without judgement. Students can seek support through their personal tutor, other academic staff, and staff from professional services including student services.   

It is also important to be aware of how distressing domestic abuse can be for the victim, and that even if the relationship has ended, the victim may still be at risk.  

Staff should: 

Risk assessment
Refer or signpost
Safeguarding responsibility
Responding to a perpetrator

It is important to know that students experiencing domestic abuse may experience difficulties with their wellbeing, finances and accommodation, as well as potential disruption to their studies. 

Ask the student if they have support in place with any services already, and signpost them to the support available to them internally and externally. See the resources section for external services. 

If you wish to refer a student to any other service, you will require their consent to pass on their details. 

  • For wellbeing support contact the Wellbeing and Counselling Team on [email protected]  
  • For accommodation advice and support contact the Accommodation Team [email protected] 
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