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Knowledge Base » Safeguarding » Understanding the Cycle of Violence in Domestic Abuse

Understanding the Cycle of Violence in Domestic Abuse

Last updated on 27th March 2023

Domestic abuse is widely understood to be violence between partners or ex-partners, family members, or carers. Abuse runs much deeper than violence, though, and can take a range of forms.

Being able to identify the signs of domestic violence and abuse is important in your role as a manager or professional, as well as in your own personal life. From being a taboo subject for centuries, abuse in the home is slowly becoming more commonly talked about.

With increased awareness of the signs of abuse should hopefully come better support mechanisms. Especially when your work role is with vulnerable adults or children, you need to be aware of the resources available to you locally in case you need to refer people on.

Bearing all of this in mind, in this post we’re going to explore the subject of domestic violence and abuse.

We’ll cover important details that you should know, including:

  • The definitions assigned to domestic abuse
  • Five types of abuse to be aware of when identifying abuse at home
  • Important statistics surrounding the prevalence and trends of domestic abuse
  • What the cycle of violence looks like
  • The signs that you or someone else is a victim of domestic abuse
  • Where to turn to for support on the subject


Giving you the confidence to help potentially vulnerable people around you.

What is domestic abuse?

Although usually associated with male on female partner violence, there are plenty of men who are victims of domestic violence. Around 2.5% of all men in the UK were victims of partner abuse in 2019; the numbers for women are higher but that doesn’t detract from the fact that men can be victims, too.

Further, it’s not just couples in relationships that can experience domestic abuse.

This term also covers:

  • Siblings
  • Parents
  • The elderly
  • People being cared for


This is when they are victims of abusive behaviours in the home or other domestic setting. We’ll explore these different experiences of abuse and how common they may be a little later on.

Now we’ve covered some of the misconceptions of domestic abuse and violence and what it isn’t, we should look at a definition of what domestic abuse is. According to the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales, the definition of domestic abuse is:

“…any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality.”

Situations such as forced marriage and so-called “honour-based” crimes fall into the definition of domestic abuse as well.

Aggressive woman and domestic violence against husband

What are the five main types of abuse?

As we touched on earlier, abuse has been heavily associated with physical or sexual violence for a long time. These are indeed facets of abuse, but it can run much deeper than that within familial and personal relationships.

Whilst we look at these five types of abuse, it’s important to note that they may be slightly different in character to child abuse. The types of abuse and examples are all in reference to all parties being over the age of 16.

Physical abuse

This means when physical force is used to hurt, injure, or endanger the other person. Physical abuse is never an accident, although the perpetrator is likely to try and claim that it is, either at the time of the act or when other people notice any marks.

It can include, but isn’t limited to:

  • Punching
  • Kicking
  • Slapping
  • Use of weapons


And anything else that could cause harm to the victim.

We may all have a strong idea of what physical abuse looks like, but it is still common, as you’ll see in the statistics a little later on.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can be more subtle yet just as damaging as physical abuse. There are lots of elements that come under the category of emotional abuse, such as:


Emotional abuse can leave you feeling worthless, uncared for, and unloved. There are deep scars that can be left when you’re told negative things about yourself constantly.

Emotional abuse is often linked to physical abuse; being yelled at before or whilst being hit for example. It doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand, and even if you’re not being physically harmed, emotional abuse is still abuse.

unhappy woman suffering from home violence

Psychological abuse

When it comes to psychological abuse, the abuser may try to isolate or intimidate their victim, such as cutting off access to their friends, taking over or demanding passwords for social media accounts, or making threats of physical or sexual abuse.

The aim of psychological abuse is to:

  • Hurt
  • Weaken
  • Frighten


The victim and allow the abuser to take control of their life.

Often even more subtle than emotional abuse, this type of domestic abuse can cause long-term suffering to the victim. It’s a common form of abuse in abusive relationships, with 91% of people who have been in an abusive relationship reporting this type of abuse in their experience.

Sexual abuse

First, rape and sexual abuse can happen in a relationship or marriage – consent can be withdrawn at any time. Second, men can be victims of rape and sexual abuse too.

Understanding these two points throws open the discussion of sexual abuse as a form of domestic violence. This abuse can range from rape to sexual abuse and forced sex acts, as well as sexual exploitation such as taking and sharing images against your wishes.

Another element of sexual abuse can involve birth control and contraceptives. Refusing to wear a condom or not allowing a woman to take her contraceptive pill are both forms of sexual domestic abuse.

Financial abuse

Sometimes also referred to as economic abuse, this entails the abuser taking control of money or resources. It may be parents not allowing their 18-year-old child to have their own bank account or taking all of a partner’s salary and only giving them a small amount back.

Even stopping someone accessing the job market can be financial abuse, such as sabotaging job interviews.

Other examples include:

  • Borrowing money in the victim’s name
  • Damaging valuable possessions
  • Causing trouble with benefits claims
  • Not adding the victim onto rental contracts or mortgages
  • Withholding child maintenance


Financial abuse can be one of the hardest types of abuse to break away from. Without independent economic means, a victim can feel trapped and helpless.

Domestic abuse UK statistics

The numbers associated with domestic violence and abuse can be harrowing. Putting numbers into some context can really bring home how common domestic abuse is.

In terms of how common domestic abuse is, nearly one third of women aged 18-59 will experience some form of domestic abuse in her life. Of all the victims of domestic abuse, around one third will be male – this isn’t a single gender issue.

These statistics can be hard to be certain about. Domestic abuse is still seen as something shameful and not to be talked about. The power and control an abuser exerts on their victim can mean a lot of abuse remains hidden and goes unreported.

Lots of research has been done on the topic to try and get a better picture of the situation, without relying solely on crime reports. This is because men are much less likely to tell anyone about their abuse, with 39% of men not wanting to report abuse compared to 12% of women.

When looking at the types of abuse encountered, a little over 90% of abused people reported non-violent abuse, 33% experienced the use of force, and sexual violence or attempts made up 5.1% of abusive situations according to research from the Office of National Statistics.

Marital rape became a crime after a legal case in 1991. It’s still misunderstood, with over a third of over-65s not believing that rape in marriage is possible, whilst that number drops to 16% of young people, aged 16-24.

Worryingly, research suggests that someone who is at high risk of harm or murder, will live with their partner for 2-3 years before seeking help. This is important; being able to offer support, advice, and help to those being abused can help remove them from their situation sooner and prevent escalation.

Violent husband and abused wife with child

Domestic abuse during the pandemic

During lockdown, there has been a marked increase in people accessing services for abuse victims. Refuge, a domestic abuse charity, reported an increase in services being accessed by 25% within the first couple of weeks of lockdown, up to April 2020.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that there is more abuse happening, but it could indicate a worsening of situations for those already in a dangerous situation.

Between March and June 2020, reports of domestic abuse to police in England and Wales increased by 7% from the same time the previous year. The ONS are cautious to link this to the pandemic directly, but it is rather telling.

Remember, no matter the circumstances, pandemic or any other external factor, all types of abuse are wrong and need to be dealt with effectively.

The cycle of violence

Now we understand what domestic violence and abuse is, it’s important to be able to recognise it. As a victim or someone supporting a person through an abusive situation, identifying the cycle of domestic abuse and violence is important.

This cycle refers to the acts and feelings of the abuser. However, each one will be experienced by their victim in different ways.

1. Abuse is the committing of the act of abuse, whether it be a slap, a barrage of verbal abuse, confiscating a mobile phone, or myriad other acts that can physically or mentally harm the victim.
2. Guilt for an abuser isn’t the same guilt that most people would feel. Abuser guilt is generally round the fear of being caught or exposed and this can manifest in trying to control the actions and emotions of their victim to prevent a police report.
3. Excuses or rationalisation lead to the victim being blamed for the abuse. This can be in the form of gaslighting, or telling the abused person it was their fault for not understanding the situation. This is done to try and minimise the feelings of guilt.
4. Normal behaviour can even be “better” than normal, with displays of love like a day out, extra money being available, or access to friends and family. Promises of “never again” usually happen at this stage in the cycle of violence and abuse.
5. Fantasy is when the abuser thinks through their actions for their next round of abuse. Abusers tend to plan, whether it’s the next sexual assault or how to bring about further isolation.
6. Set-up links the ideation of abusive actions to the actual perpetration of abuse. This could be buying alcohol in advance of an act of violence, sending messages on social media, or organising to be alone with the victim.

What are the signs of domestic abuse?

Knowing what the cycle of violence and abuse looks like from the abuser’s end is one side of the coin. How the victim reacts and copes with their situation can also be a telling sign that there is something wrong and a person needs help.

These signs can also be useful for a person being abused to know. As more people become aware of domestic violence and appropriate interventions, a person being abused can consciously display these, often subtle signs to try and elicit offers of help.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but should give you pointers to understand what abnormal or changed behaviour might look like:

  • Shame is felt for many reasons; the person is embarrassed they “let it happen” to them or they don’t want to harm the reputation of someone they love. You might spot this as someone unwilling to talk about aspects of their life or clamming up when you ask about a bruise, for example.
  • Blinded by love or infatuation can lead the victim to make excuses for their abusers. In a setting of family abuse, an adult being abused by their parent might tell themselves the abuse is a sign of love and care.
  • Self-blaming is another way to protect an abuser and can also be a direct consequence of the abuse. An elderly person might blame their failing health for the angry shouting their carer directs at them, or a husband may feel inadequate when his wife tells him he’s not manly enough.
  • Being frightened means having fear of the person, going into certain situations, or doing certain activities. A person being psychologically abused may be frightened of answering a message or being seen talking to a friend in a local shop.
  • Thinking it was a one-off, even when there is a pattern, can be a coping mechanism of abuse victims. “It’s the first time she actually hit me”, or “my dad hasn’t taken all of my salary before” can be a way of explaining abuse to themselves.
  • Confusion is common in abuse victims. Someone being emotionally or psychologically abused may struggle to make decisions for themselves if they are being controlled, or they may not understand seemingly simple tasks like how to access their bank account if it’s financial abuse.


In general, changed behaviour should raise a red flag for you to probe your concerns further. There are helpful and damaging ways to do this, so make sure you approach the situation in a way that’s not going to make things worse for the victim.

Unsure of how to offer support or help to a person trapped in the cycle of violence? These resources are a good place to start and should be happy to help you know what you can do.

Scared girl showing signs of domestic abuse


Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone. Although women tend to be the victims more often, men can and do experience domestic abuse. Whoever is being abused, there is no excuse and help and support is available.

It’s normal to be worried about someone you suspect or know is being abused. Be sure to seek advice – confrontation can often lead to harsh repercussions for the victim, no matter how kind your intentions are.

Knowing the signs and cycle of violence and abuse can help you spot an abusive person. Understanding the behaviours of an abused person should mean you can seek the right advice and support, whether you know the person as a colleague, through your work in the community, or as a friend, acquaintance, or neighbour.

Links to support

If you believe someone is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999. Be sure to explain that you think it’s domestic abuse so they can handle the situation in line with their training.

Refuge is a national charity that can offer help and advice to the victim of abuse or to a person with concerns about friends or family. Their phone number is 0808 2000 247 and there’s a live chat service on their website.

Men’s Advice Line is specifically to support male victims of domestic violence, on 0808 801 0327 or send an email to

For LGBTQ+ victims of domestic abuse, they can contact Galop by phone or email on 0800 999 5428 and

Karma Nirvana is a service to support people facing honour-based abuse or forced marriage. Their phone number is: 0800 5999 247, you can email them on, or make contact through their website.

Hourglass offers support for anyone concerned about abuse of elderly people and can be contacted by phone on 0808 808 8141.

Clare’s Law is a service that gives any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them.

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About the author

Joanne Rushton

Joanne began her career in customer services in a UK bank before moving to South East Asia to discover the world. After time in Malaysia and Australia, she settled in Hanoi, Vietnam to become an English teacher. She's now a full-time writer covering, travel, education, and technology.

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