Domestic abuse, sometimes referred to as relationship abuse or interpersonal violence, can be described as a course of behaviour from a current or previous partner that can include coercive control, psychological, financial, emotional and/or physical abuse. Sexual abuse also often occurs in these relationships. When the relationship ends, elements of abuse can continue and can include stalking; threats to harm; and digital abuse.  Anyone can be a victim of relationship/intimate partner abuse.  Whilst predominately perpetrated by men and experienced by women, it can also affect men, women and non-binary people in any relationship, regardless of culture, religion, age or class. 

Relationship abuse can include:
  • emotional/psychological: threats, humiliation, manipulation, criticism and name-calling (including racial abuse), undermining your self-confidence, controlling what you do or who you speak to, stalking & monitoring your movements, telling you what to wear and where you can go, isolating you from your friends and family, threatening to or distributing intimate images and controlling/withdrawing your use of social media/mobile phone.
  • physical: hitting, pushing, punching, kicking, burning, making you eat/ drink/take other substances, harming your family/children/pets, use of weapons and acts of strangulation- or threats of.
  • sexual: rape or forcing you to engage in sexual acts and so called “rough sex” (including with others) , refusal or insistence to use birth control; forced abortion; abuse during pregnancy and deliberate passing on of STI’s.
  • financial and educational: not letting you work/study, withholding/controlling money.
Domestic abuse is illegal in UK under The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 and any form of it can be reported to the Police.

Coercive control

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse and it refers to a pattern of actions that seek to exert dominance and control over an individual through psychological and emotional manipulation. Coercive control comes from a person who is close to you, typically a partner or ex-partner. If the same behaviors are displayed by someone who is not personally connected to you, it is not classed as coercive control by Scottish law, but may qualify as a different criminal offence.

Examples include: 
  • Manipulating you into doubting your perceptions, memory, or sanity (gaslighting), e.g. ‘It didn’t happen’, ‘You misunderstood’, It was a joke’.
  • Constantly criticizing, insulting or belittling you.
  • Ignoring you or giving you the silent treatment as a means of punishment.
  • Using words, looks, or gestures to instil fear. 
  • Extreme jealousy.
  • Trying to control what you wear, how and who with you spend your time.
  • Using guilt or emotional blackmail to make you feel responsible for their actions or emotions. 
  • Threats of self-harm or suicide if you don't comply with their demands.
  • Isolating you from friends and family.
  • Pressuring you to engage in sexual acts you don’t want or are uncomfortable with.
  • Ignoring your boundaries and consent around sexual activities.
  • Watching your social media accounts i.e. keeping track of who likes your posts or who messages you. 
  • Sending you negative or insulting messages. 
  • Using technology to track your movements and activities.
  • Sending you explicit pictures without your consent and demanding you send them in return. 
  • Constantly texting you and making you feel you can’t be separated from your phone. 
  • Insisting that you give them your passwords to your email or your social media accounts. 
Controlling an coercive behaviours have a damaging effect on mental health and emotional and physical wellbeing.  Nobody deserves to be mistreated or harmed in any relationship, and there are resources  available to help you. Remember you can seek help and support regardless of whether you are still in an abusive relationship or not. We understand it can feel very difficult and unsafe to leave such a relationship and you may wish to seek advice and help in order to increase your safety during this period. 

The Equally Safe Team is a specialist staff team within the University's Wellbeing Service that offers support for anyone affected by gender-based violence. If you need more support, please see our list of support agencies here.

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