Abusive relationships

Relationship abuse happens when someone you're in a relationship with hurts or exploits you. You can have an abusive relationship but not realise. You're in an abusive relationship when you experience physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse.

Recognising an abusive relationship

Abuse can happen in adult or young people's personal relationships at any age.  It is an abusive relationship if you experience: 

  • physical abuse - hitting, punching, pushing, biting, kicking or using weapons
  • sexual abuse - forcing you to have sex or watch pornography, unwanted kissing or touching, pressure not to use contraception
  • rape - persuading or forcing you to have sex when you don't want to
  • financial abuse - taking or controlling your money, forcing you to buy them things, forcing you to work or not to work
  • emotional abuse - insults and name calling, isolation from friends and family, controlling what you wear or where you go, checking up on you all the time

Warning signs of abuse

If you are in an abusive relationship, you might feel many different emotions. You might also notice the signs in a friend who may be in an abusive relationship.

Warning signs include:

  • depression and anxiety
  • isolation from family and friends
  • not doing so well at school or college
  • being argumentative
  • being fearful
  • concerns about making the boyfriend or girlfriend angry
  • physical signs such as bruises
  • using drugs and alcohol
  • often cancelling plans
  • changes in appearance
  • risky sexual behaviour

If you are being hurt

If you are worried about your relationship:

  • talk to friends, family, work colleagues or people you trust about what is happening to you
  • think about safe places where you can go
  • keep your mobile charged at all times so you can contact the police or emergency services if necessary
  • have a code word that will let your friends and family know if you need help

If you are being harassed by calls on your mobile, change your phone number.

If you get abusive emails or instant messages, you should save or print the messages. You can then give them to the police as evidence if you report the abuse. You can also change your email address.

If someone you know is being hurt

It can difficult to talk about abuse and support someone who is being hurt. 

If you want to approach your friend, do it in a sensitive way. For example, ‘I am worried about you because...’

If someone tells you they are in an abusive relationship:

  • don’t judge them, believe them
  • let them know they are not alone, it is not their fault and you know how hard it can be to speak about
  • help them to recognise that what is happening is unacceptable and they don’t have to put up with it
  • decide together what to do – this can involve making a ‘safety plan’, for example of how to escape or where to go if something happens
  • agree a code word they can use on the phone to ask for help and agree what you will do if you get their call
  • try to improve their confidence by listing the good things about them
  • be patient - ending a relationship can be hard for anyone, but particularly for someone who is being abused

Getting help

In an emergency, telephone the police on 999 for immediate help.

Tell someone you trust such as a friend, family member. If you're at school, tell a teacher, parent, relative, youth worker or doctor.


Children and young people under 19 can get advice from Childline. It is a free, 24-hour helpline. They can help you work out what to do safely. Calls to Childline are free and don't appear on your phone bill.

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