Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, whatever your age, background, gender, religion, sexuality, ethnicity or disability. Around 1 in 3 women are affected by domestic abuse when they are pregnant. This may happen for the first time in pregnancy or existing abuse may get worse during pregnancy and after birth.
You may be shocked if you haven’t experienced this kind of abuse before. Please remember that you are not alone and it is not your fault. You may feel trapped and that there is no way out but there is lots of help available.
If you are in immediate danger
Domestic abuse is a criminal offence. If you or your family are in immediate danger, call 999. If you're unable to talk, press 55 after dialling. You can also call 101 in a non-emergency situation to report previous incidents or get advice.
Getting specialist support
Your partner may tell you that nobody will believe you or help you. That is not true.
Coping with domestic abuse takes a lot of strength and you deserve specialist support from people who understand. There are lots of services that support people experiencing domestic abuse and their children, whether you have left your partner or not.
You can also get support from the following organisations.
- The Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge. Call 0808 2000 247 for free, confidential advice. They will not tell you what to do, or judge you, but they can support you to understand your options and make a plan. They can talk to you about money, housing, safety, protecting your children, your legal rights and connect you with specialist services. The Refuge website also has lots of useful information.
- Women's Aid – find your local service for help in your area.
- If you identify as LGBT+, you can call Galop on 0800 999 5428 for emotional and practical support.
- The NSPCC can give you more information about protecting your children. Find out more by contacting on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected]
- You can call Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999 247 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) for support around forced marriage and honour crimes. You can also call 020 7008 0151 to speak to the GOV.UK Forced Marriage Unit.
Women’s Aid has information for women on a wide range of issues, such as housing, money, helping your children, and your legal right in The Survivor’s Handbook.
Men and domestic abuse
Men can experience domestic abuse too. Men can call Men's Advice Line on 0808 8010 327 ( Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) for non-judgemental information and support.
If you are worried that you are abusive, you can contact the free Respect helpline on 0808 802 4040.
All couples argue, don’t they? How do I know if it is domestic abuse?
Being pregnant or having a new baby can be such a happy event. But it can also bring a lot of new pressures on your relationship with your partner. Even the best prepared couples often feel tired, drained and overstretched.
It’s very common for couples to argue more after the arrival of a new baby. This is normal and it’s not the same as domestic abuse. However, if you find that you are arguing a lot and not finding a way through your differences together, this can still have a negative effect on both of you and your baby.
You can also:
- contact Relate, who offer lots of advice on relationships, family life and parenting, including a section for new parents – they also offer relationship counselling, including a live web chat service where you can talk to a relationship or family counsellor for up to 30 minutes for free.
- get relationship advice and support from Click Relationships
- find a private counsellor in your area though the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
Find out more about relationship problems in pregnancy.
What is domestic abuse?
There are different kinds of abuse, but it’s always about one person having power and control over another. It is the use of physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse or threats in order to control another person’s thinking, emotions and behaviour.
Abuse can be gradual, making you lose your confidence over time. Abuse can leave you feeling that you can’t trust your own judgement, that you’re afraid of saying or doing the ‘wrong thing’, or that you don’t have the right to make decisions.
There are lots of different forms of abusive and controlling behaviour, which can cause you harm in different ways. We cannot list them all here, but these are some types of abuse that anyone can experience. There is support available for any type of abuse you may experience.
Emotional or psychological abuse
This type of abuse may include:
- putting you down or calling you names
- blaming you for the abuse, making you feel guilty or like you’re ‘going crazy’
- blaming you for the abuser’s problems
- demanding constant attention or withholding affection as a form of punishment
- threats to harm you and others (such as your child, family or pets)
- harassment or stalking
- telling you that you can’t cope without them.
An abuser may:
- control your money or resources
- take your wages
- not let you work or study
- not pay bills
- get you into debt with loans in your name
- make you ask for money or want you to tell them what you spend every penny on.
Sexual abuse includes rape, sexual assault, prostitution, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and sexual bullying.
Sexual abuse does not have to be physical. It is about power and taking away your sexual choices. For example, they might force you to engage in unwanted sexual acts or to wear clothes you haven’t chosen, refuse to practice safe sex, demand sex when you don’t want it, or withhold sex and affection.
This is when another person uses a pattern of behaviour over time to exert power and control over another person. Coercive control is a criminal offence. These acts or patterns of threats, assaults, humiliation and intimidation are used by abusers to harm, punish or frighten their victims.
Physical abuse is not only hitting. An abuser might restrain you (hold you down), use weapons or throw objects to cause injury or make you feel afraid. They might pinch or shove you and claim it’s a joke.
They might send abusive texts, demand access to your devices, track you with spyware or share images of you online.
The impact of domestic abuse on parents
Domestic abuse during pregnancy puts you and your unborn child in danger. It increases the risk of miscarriage, infection, premature birth, and injury or death to the baby.
Domestic abuse can cause parents to experience significant emotional and mental health problems, such as stress and anxiety.
Abuse can also make you lose confidence in yourself as a parent. If you feel trapped financially or emotionally, you may feel that you can’t leave. This can make you feel that you’re not doing everything you can to protect your child or children.
If there is physical abuse, this may make you feel like you can’t keep your children physically safe.
Sometimes, domestic abusers may specifically abuse someone about their parenting. They may comment that they can’t do anything right and so cannot be a good parent.
The impact of abuse on children
As a parent, the safety and wellbeing of your children can be your biggest worry. Living in a home where domestic abuse happens can cause harm to a baby, child or young person's mental and physical wellbeing. This may have a long-term impact on their development.
If there is a way to leave the abusive household and find the right support, many babies and children can recover well from their experiences. More information on protecting your child is available from Refuge.
Why don’t people leave abusive relationships?
Do not judge yourself or anyone else for feeling unable to leave an abusive relationship. It can be extremely difficult to get out of an abusive relationship.
People might stay because they:
- are scared the abuse could become worse if they attempt to leave
- are worried that their abusive partner may have unsupervised access to their children
- don’t think the time is right or that they don’t have the money, childcare, family to support them
- have been hiding the abuse so well from those around them that they don’t feel people will believe them
- think it is best for their children if they try to keep the family together
- may also struggle to decide if what they are experiencing is normal or abuse
- think they are not capable of being on their own, due to the abuse they have received.
All these reasons are completely understandable. It is natural to hope that a partner will change, or that the abuse will stop. Often, an abusive partner will be very sorry after an incident of abuse and may promise it won’t happen again. But the truth is that domestic abuse usually gets worse over time.
We know reaching out for help can be hard, but it is a good thing. There are many people who have been in your situation and will be able to help you work out what is best for you and your family.
What do I do if I am experiencing abuse?
Ask for help – tell someone
If you're pregnant or a parent being abused, there is help available. You can speak to a:
- health visitor
- social worker.
All of these people are aware of domestic abuse and will be able to help you find the support you need. Anything you say to them is in confidence. That means they can't tell anyone else without your permission. Information about you won't be shared with other services without your permission, unless there's a concern that your unborn child or other children in your family, or someone else, is at risk of serious harm.
If you think you are being abused, or even if you aren’t sure, tell them about your situation. You don’t need to wait for a routine appointment.
Talking about how you feel can really help you to cope. Is there a friend, neighbour, or family member you trust? You could arrange a secret code with someone who lives close by (like ringing and hanging up, or a blank text), that lets them know you need help.
Will my baby be taken into care?
Many parents may be scared that their baby will be taken away if they are experiencing domestic abuse. The most important thing is that you are trying to make everything as safe as possible for your baby and you are making sure that they are not at risk of harm. There are many services available to help you to do this.
Sometimes social services may be contacted however, this does not necessarily mean that they are there to take your baby from you. Their role is to make sure you and your baby are safe and they will support you to do this.
Making a plan to leave
If you are experiencing abuse from your partner, deciding what to do can take time. Refuge can give you more in-depth advice that is suitable for your situation.
If you do decide to leave your abuser, this can be a particularly dangerous time. It is very important that you access specialist support. Your abuser may try to regain control and increase their threats and abuse. Look at the advice and support available from Refuge about planning to leave.
Keeping a record
Make notes of abusive incidents, including times, dates, names and details of how it made you feel. Tell your GP or other trusted health worker, so they have a record of the abuse. Save any abusive messages. These can be used as evidence. However, make sure they aren’t stored anywhere where your partner might find them. Make sure you cover your tracks online by following the useful advice on the Women’s Aid website.
Making up an emergency bag
Try to do this in one day while your partner is out. Give the bag immediately to a trusted friend or neighbour and know when and how you can access it. This bag could include:
- some clothes including children’s clothes and possibly spare school uniforms
- favourite toys
- phone charger
- phone numbers in case you can’t use your phone
- important documents such as passports for you and the children, birth and marriage certificates, driving licence, mortgage or tenancy agreements and national insurance card.
Planning an escape route in case of emergency
- Think about where you will go so you can call the police or alert a neighbour.
- Plan a place to meet with your children if you get separated.
- If you are confronted by your abuser call 999. Avoid rooms like the kitchen or garage, which contain objects that could be used to hurt you – if conflict is increasing, move to lower-risk parts of your home, where there is an escape route or access to a phone.
- Teach your children how to call 999 in an emergency.
- If you are not able to get out of the house, barricade or lock yourself into a room, from which you can call the police and people you trust.
Other ways of staying safe if you leave
Try to think about all the ways your partner might be able to find out where you are. For example, if you think your abuser might have access to your phone or messages, you could use a friend’s phone or buy a cheap pay as you go phone.
You may need to delete any searches related to looking for support on your internet history. You should also turn off any geo-location settings on your phone. Women’s Aid has more information about covering your tracks online.
It can be a good idea to let the police know if you’re taking your children away from the family home to avoid possible abduction claims.
Speak to any other caregivers and let them know what is going on. If you have children at school, nursery or childcare, make sure the staff know who should be picking up them up. Change any codewords they use or other security details they have for your children and who should have access.
Money and financial support
If it is possible to do so without alerting your partner, start putting some money aside, if you can, for if you need to leave in a hurry. Also start thinking about how you can have your own money and be independent in the future. You may be able to access benefits to cover your costs. Visit turn2us.org.uk or Entitled, which have benefit calculators to help you work out what you could claim if you were to leave.
What to do if you’re worried that someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse
There are lots of ways that you can support a friend or loved one if you think they are being abused. Our first instinct might be to want to protect the person but intervening directly can be dangerous for both of you.
Make sure you speak to the person you think is being abused in private. Make it clear that you won’t judge them and that it is not their fault. Let them know that you are worried and why. Take them seriously, believe what they say. Let them know that they are not alone and lots of help is available. Encourage them to contact one of the organisations listed above to find out about their rights and options.
Refuge has more information and advice about how to support a friend or loved one who is experiencing domestic abuse.