When a close family member, current or former partner is abusive to you, you’re experiencing domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can involve physical, controlling or coercive behaviour, verbal, emotional and financial or online abuse, and threats to harm or kill you. Domestic abuse can happen anywhere and is a crime.
What domestic abuse looks like
You might not always know you’re experiencing domestic abuse. A partner or former partner or a close family member may physically harm you or be abusive to you. It is important to know that you are not to blame, you are not alone and that help is always available. The only person to blame is the person being violent or abusive.
Domestic abuse can be violent or non-violent. It can include:
- controlling or coercive behaviour
- economic and financial abuse
- making you doubt yourself
- manipulating the truth
- online and technological abuse
- psychological/emotional abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- threatening behaviour
Who can be an abuser
Anyone can experience domestic abuse and anyone can be an abuser, regardless of age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, background, race or religion.
An abuser can be a close family member and includes your parent, grandparent, child or step-child, in-laws, grandchild, brother or sister.
Controlling or coercive behaviour
Controlling or coercive behaviour is when an abuser uses threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuses that can harm, punish or frighten a victim. Contolling or coercive behaviour is a crime and is used by an abuser to:
- make you dependent
isolate a victim from support
exploit a victim
restrict a victim's freedom
control and watch a victim's everyday activity
There is a video you can watch to learn more about What is coercive control?
Domestic abuse is a crime
You do not have to be harmed physically or emotionally by abusive behaviour for it to be an offence.
Domestic abuse is an offence when:
- there has been a pattern of abusive behaviour two or more times
- the two individuals are partners or former partners, or are family members
- a reasonable person would consider the behaviour likely to cause physical or psychological harm
- the abuser intends to cause harm or is reckless to this
A single incident of abuse can still be an offence but the domestic abuse offence would not apply unless the abuse has happened on two or more occasions.
Any other offence like criminal damage, common assault or grievous bodily harm carried out with a single incident of domestic abuse could lead to an increased sentence for an abuser.
Prison terms and fines
- The maximum penalty is up to 12 months in prison in Magistrates Court, or 14 years in Crown Court
- There may be a fine of up to £5,000 or it could be unlimited
- The jail sentence can be increased if the domestic abuse offence involves a child
- the jail sentence can be increased where there is domestic abuse with another offence link criminal damage, theft or assault
On conviction, a criminal record will show:
- the domestic abuse offence
- if the sentence has been increased as a child was involved
- any other crime involving domestic abuse
If you are no longer together
If you no longer live with an abuser, this does not make a difference. What is important is that:
- there is, or has been, a personal connection
- there was abusive behaviour
- it happened two or more times
- it is likely to cause harm
- the accused intended to cause harm or is reckless to this
Children and abuse
Children can be victims of domestic abuse. The domestic abuse crime applies to both adults and those under 18.
Where a parent abuses a child under 16 the child cruelty offence would apply instead of the domestic abuse offence
Abusive behaviour of a young person aged 16 or 17 by their parent is covered by the domestic abuse offence
Sentencing may be increased if children are involved if:
- a victim is under 18
- a child saw, heard or was present during the abuse
- they are used to abuse another person
- abusive behaviour is (or is threatened to be) directed at them
- a reasonable person would consider the abusive behaviour would adversely impact the child
You can read more about different types of violent and abusive behaviour.
- Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse strategy
- Abusive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship and the Domestic Abuse Offence
How to get help
- In an emergency dial 999 (If you can’t speak press 55 to let police know it is an emergency)
- Phone 101 to report, or press 55 if you cannot speak
- Reach out to friends family or any of the support services that are available
- Call the freephone 24 hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline
- You can call Crimestoppers confidentially on 0800 555 111
- support services for victims
You can get help to leave a home where you don’t feel safe by contacting the Domestic and Sexual Abuse helpline.
If you know someone else is being hurt or if you're worried that one of your friends, family members or carers is a victim of domestic abuse, tell them about your concerns. You could help them talk through the situation and support them if they want to report the abuse.
Free travel for those fleeing domestic abuse
Free travel on bus or rail is available if you need to go to a refuge or emergency accommodation, which can be arranged through local women's aid groups or the NI Housing Executive. Travel will be by Ulsterbus or NI Railways between stated Translink stations. You can get tickets by presenting a completed form from Women’s Aid, the NI Housing Executive or the 24hr Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline.
More useful links
- Domestic and Sexual Abuse helpline
- Getting help after sexual violence
- Regional directory of sexual violence services
- Reporting a crime
- Health and Social Care Trust Child Gateway Services
- Adult Gateway services
- Support services for victims
- How to hide your online history
- Assist NI advocacy support service for victims of domestic and sexual abuse
- Domestic Abuse Awareness Raising Tool NI (DAART)