Forms of domestic abuse and
potential identifying factors

Below presents a list the forms of abuse which are commonly categorised within the UK. As a social worker, developing an understanding of the various forms of abuse can be beneficial to help identification and assist in the development of effective interventions and support.


However, social work practitioners should establish a developed conceptualisation of abuse, and recognise that all forms of abuse are potentially connected and interchangeable. A female who is sexually abused, is by default, being emotionally and physically abused, they are also likely to be coercively controlled (LWA, 2014; DoH, 2015).

Food for thought?

It is also interesting for social workers to think about abuse contextually. Why do we label a spousal attack as domestic violence or abuse (DVA)? Why is this not simply an assault? 

Is the categorising of DVA preventing victims and professionals recognition of the diverse and fluctuating nature of DVA? If we see a person as a victim of sexual abuse DVA, does this hinder our ability to support their coercive control and the physical symptomology?

As professionals, social workers should not allow the existence of legal and academic typologies and labels to infringe broad thinking and support. Always use the skills and knowledge to recognise what is happening to each person in each situation, and respond to that appropriately. DVA is not a box that can be ticked, with interventions that fit all.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse can present in a multitude of forms, inclusive of; hitting, pushing, burning, cutting, beating, restraint and misuse of medication (ERYC, 2019).

Physical domestic abuse is suggested to be more easily identified than many other forms  (LWA, 2014), due to its often more visible symptomology. However, perpetrators and victims alike, can become astute in concealment (Gerencser, 1995; Women’s aid, 2019).

Some indicating factors of physical abuse can present through: a historic pattern of unexplained injuries; bruises in different stages of healing patterns; injuries on softer parts of the body (which are usually concealed like the abdomen); malnutrition or dehydration; weight loss; unusually nervous behaviours like lack of eye contact (Gerencser, 1995; ERYC, 2019).

Coercive control and financial abuse

Coercive control can take many forms: controlling a person financially; restricting or dictating their activities, friendships and employment; attending all appointments with them; controlling a persons interactions with others such as monitoring their phone; harassment or stalking. These are but a few examples. 


Coercive control is a contentious social issue and a form of abuse which can be hard for professionals to identify, evidence and support, as often the individual in receipt of this form of abuse may not recognise the abuse (Hamel, 2007; Beck & Raghavan, 2010). The implementation of legislation against coercion has been a significant development supporting victims and professionals (DoH, 2015).


People can be financially abused in a domestic relationship, this can include direct theft, fraud and ongoing coercion of their financial affairs or arrangements connecting to their will, property, inheritance or financial transactions, or misuse or misappropriation of their possessions and finances (ERYC, 2019). Some ways to identify coercive control such as financial abuse can be; if a person’s lacks the belongings you’d expect they could afford such as a mobile phone, power of attorney being attained when the person may have lacked the capacity to understand, a change in deeds or sudden inability to pay bills themselves and a significant reluctance to care services support (Hamel, 2016; ERYC, 2019).


Please see 'Understanding' for a link to the 8 stages of homicide research. Coercion and homicide are evidenced as significantly linked. 

Sexual abuse

Rape, unwanted touching or looking, unsolicited sexually charged teasing, innuendo, photography or forced engagement in pornography or witnessing sexual acts; any sexualised behaviours which are not welcome or are pressurised is sexual abuse (ERYC, 2019).

A few indicators of sexual abuse could include: changes in behaviours like socially withdrawing or becoming overtly sexual and inappropriate; non-medical incontinence; partaking in self-harm; bruising to thighs and arms; frequent infections and sexually transmitted diseases; pregnancy of an adult that may lack the capacity to have sexually consented (ERYC, 2019).

Sexual abuse when occurring domestically, is often the last form of abuse to be recognised or discussed with professionals. Social workers must develop trusting relationships with those they are supporting, so that difficult questions can be asked and support provided.

 
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Psychological & Emotional abuse

Psychological and emotional abuse can harm a persons life chances, damage their self esteem and alter a persons self-identity (Becker, 1963; Beck & Raghavan, 2010). Psychological and emotional abuse can embody threats of harm or abandonment, isolation, humiliation, exerting blame, coercion, control, intimidation. It can be harassment, verbally abusing, purposefully lowering of their self-esteem (ERYC, 2019).

Psychological abuse can be challenging to identify and support, especially in a domestic relationship (Dutton et al., 1999). Some indicating factors of the prevalence of psychological abuse can present as an ambivalence toward their spouse or carer, a visible lacking of self-confidence shown through body-language like lacking eye contact and head down or overly emotional responses (Beattie, 2004). Unusual weight loss or gain, lacking self-respect or an inability to talk positively about themselves, or a pattern of progressive isolation such as leaving work, quitting social activities (Mitchelle, 1983; Dutton et al., 1999; ERYC, 2019).

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Forced marriage

Forcing an individual to marry or into a life of domestic servitude against their will or when they do not or are not able to consent, is considered abuse. An arranged marriage is not inherently the same as a forced marriage (ERSAB, 2019). Forced marriages are primarily conducted within the black and ethnic minority communities in the UK, however this is not exclusively the case (ERSAB, 2019). Individuals may be forced into marriage which is incongruent to their sexual orientation, may be for monetary gain for another or status within a community (ERSAB, 2019). Forced marriage is also common in the elderly or with those who have learning difficulties; this abuse can occur when an individual lacks the capacity to consent and is manipulated or forced into a legal contract which then reduces their autonomy and gives another rights to their assets (ERSAB, 2019).

Ways to identify forced marriage can include a person demonstrating reluctance to discuss their upcoming marriage, unusual emotional responses to conversations about the marriage, going abroad for the marriage or not inviting others, a person lacking capacity or whom forgets they are getting married, a homosexual person entering into a marriage with someone incongruent to this or marrying someone who isn’t their usual partner or they may have never met (ERSAB, 2019).

 

Honour based violence and abuse

Hour-based violence and abuse can present in forms of isolation, social exclusion, physical and emotional abuse, coercive control (ERYC, 2019). This may derive from a cultural belief that a person is spiritually possessed, a disliking for the person’s life choices or sexual preferences or may be because they have a disability (Gill & Brah, 2014).

This form of abuse often differs from others as it can involve multiple perpetrators, often whole communities, local and wider a field. Victims are often subject to extreme levels of isolation, fear and can have very restricted choice and autonomy.

Ways to identify it can be a sudden absence of that female within their community, signs associated with other forms of abuse like visible injuries or a down-turn in self-esteem (ERYC, 2019). A person may disengage in their usual behaviours or may begin to act entirely contrary to their previous self (Gill & Brah, 2014).

 The UK is a diverse community with a rising demographic of people with divergent cultures (ONS, 2018). Social work practitioners should identify abuse in relation to the UK’s legislation and societal norms, irrespective of culture or reasoning, abuse is abuse and must be reacted to as such (DoH, 2015; BASW, 2019).  They may be purchased a flight ticket to leave the country very shortly after making a social announcement which is unfavourable within their culture; this can often be a sign of forced medical interventions such as forced travel to attain “cures” for being gay (Roberts, 2014).

Harassment and stalking

Theses are generally considered part of coercive control, but it is important for practitioners to recognise their significance in terms of impact they have on a person and the potentially devastating escalating affects.


Unwanted alarming or distressing behaviours, including threatening, insulting or intimidating texts, calls or language, damage to property, or public humiliation can be considered harassment. Stalking is also deemed a form of harassment, which may present as physically following someone, monitoring their daily or online activities, or spying on them in some way (Citizens Advice, 2019).

It is a bit of a grey area as to whether stalking and harassment from a current or ex, spouse or family member would be treated as domestic abuse or a criminal and civil offence in its own right, but many police forces have a specialist officer to manage all of the stalking and harassment cases for their region (Citizen’s Advice, 2019).

For social workers, it is uncommon that you would be required to identify stalking and harassment, as often victims can be much more forthcoming about this type, compared to other forms of domestic abuse. However, it is important to know that these actions are forms of abuse and should be taken seriously. They can have a detrimental effect on a person’s quality of life and mental health. They are also significantly linked to all other forms of abuse and to homicide.