Domestic Abuse

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic Abuse. What health workers need to know.

Domestic abuse is perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner and may be physical, sexual, financial and/or psychological.  It is characterised by a pattern of coercive control escalating in frequency and severity over time.  Although most victims are women, men can also experience domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse:

  • can be actual or threatened violence
  • can happen occasionally or often
  • can begin at any time, in new relationships and after many years
  • sometimes starts in pregnancy
  • stems from, and reinforces, gender inequality between women and men.

Who is at risk?

The key risk factor for experiencing abuse is being female.

Domestic abuse can occur in any intimate relationship.

It occurs in every social class, and across boundaries of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and religion.

Factors such as age, financial dependence, poverty, disability, homelessness and insecure immigration status can heighten women’s vulnerability to abuse or entrap them further.  For instance:

  • Minority ethnic women may face language barriers or racism in accessing services, but they may also fear being accused in their communities of bringing shame and dishonour upon their families.
  • Disabled women may experience communication or physical barriers to getting help or leaving an abuser, or they may be isolated because of their impairment.
  • Young women are at a higher risk of all forms of abuse yet often this can be overlooked or minimised, particularly in their teenage years.

Health impact

Domestic abuse can impact on physical, mental and sexual/reproductive health.

Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Contusions, fractures, abrasions, internal injuries
  • Repeated injuries, chronic pain and ill health
  • Pelvic pain, urinary tract infection, gynaecological difficulties
  • Unwanted pregnancy, pregnancy complications, miscarriage, uterine infection
  • Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, self-harm
  • Drug and alcohol misuse

Your role as a health worker

As a health worker you are in a unique position to respond to domestic abuse by treating the patient with respect and dignity and applying the RADAR domestic violence intervention:

  • Routinely enquiring about domestic abuse
  • Asking direct questions
  • Documenting your findings
  • Assessing safety
  • Responding non-judgementally

Further information on what to look for and what you can do to help can be found in the guidance.

The presence of domestic abuse may also mean that dependent children are at risk of serious harm.  If you suspect this, you should follow local child protection procedures and seek a multi-agency response to increasing safety for those affected.

Help and information

Domestic Abuse Helpline:
0800 027 1234 (24 hours)

Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline:
08088 01 03 02 (daily 6pm – midnight)

Scottish Women’s Aid:
0131 226 6606

Women’s Support Project:
0141 552 2221

Galop LGBT 
Same sex domestic abuse:
National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline:
0800 999 5428

LGBT Domestic Abuse Project
Scotland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender domestic abuse project

Men’s Aid:
Male victims of domestic abuse:
Helpline: 0871 223 9986

Support for Survivors

If you are looking for support for your own experiences of GBV you can call:

Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline
0800 027 1234

Rape Crisis Scotland
08088 010302

or click on:

Scottish Womens Aid

Survivor Scotland

Galop National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline


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