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What is abuse?

Knowing what abuse is helps us all recognise it when it happens.

  • Abuse can be emotional, physical, sexual or financial.   
  • The abuser can be a partner, ex-partner, family member, community leader or member, a friend, someone at work or a stranger.   
  • It can happen to anyone: an adult or a child, female or male.   
  • It can happen at home or in a public place like a community centre, school or work.   
  • It can be in person, or through technology and online.

It’s ALL harmful

Below you will see some examples of abusive behaviour. Sometimes people experience one or more of these at once.

Abuse can happen to anyone, but we know these behaviours disproportionately affect women and girls.

Abuse in a public place

This can include:

  • Making sexually explicit comments or gestures in public – whether on the street, in a bar, on public transport or another public place
  • Leering or unwanted staring
  • Sitting uncomfortably close on public transport
  • Unwanted questions about someone’s sex life
  • Unwanted sexual attention or asking for sex
  • Upskirting (taking pictures or filming up someone’s skirt without them knowing)
  • Flashing
  • Following someone
  • Stalking (a pattern of obsessive behaviour which can include sending unwanted presents, making unwanted communication, damaging property, physical or sexual assault. This can be perpetrated by an ex-intimate partner, a stranger or anyone known to the victim)
  • Groping (unwanted sexual touching anywhere on the body, which could be sexual assault)
  • Spiking (when someone puts alcohol or drugs into another person's drink or their body without their knowledge and/or consent)

Abuse at work or in an education setting

This can include:

  • Inappropriate comments (including ones of a sexual nature), gestures or touching
  • Repeated pressure to go out on a date
  • Asking for sexual activity in exchange for promotion
  • Stalking

Sexual abuse

This can include:

  • Unwanted touching
  • Sexual assault (touching in a sexual way without consent)
  • Getting someone to engage in sexual activity without their explicit consent
  • ‘Stealthing’ (removing a condom during sex without the other person knowing)
  • Choking, slapping or spitting on someone during sex without their consent
  • Assault by penetration (penetration of the vagina or anus using anything other than a penis without consent)
  • ‘Sex for rent’ (giving someone accommodation in exchange for sexual activity)
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Grooming someone for sex
  • Rape

Online abuse

This can include:

  • Making unwanted sexually explicit comments on social media
  • Sending unwanted sexual messages to someone
  • Cyberflashing (sending someone an explicit picture that they haven’t asked for)
  • Putting pressure on someone to send nude pictures of themselves
  • Cyberstalking (the use of the internet and other technologies to harass or stalk another person online)
  • Image-based abuse, also known as “revenge porn” (posting sexually explicit images or videos of a person on the internet without their consent, typically by a former sexual partner)

Domestic abuse

This can include:

  • Emotional or psychological abuse (e.g. putting someone down, playing mind games, making them feel they’re to blame for everything or that they’re crazy – also known as gaslighting)
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour (e.g. controlling someone's finances, telling them who they can see, telling them what they can wear)
  • Stalking (this can occur within an ex-intimate partner setting, e.g. monitoring someone’s phone, tracking their movements)
  • Economic abuse (e.g. coerced debt, controlling spending, bank accounts, investments, mortgages, benefit payments)
  • Violent or threatening behaviour (e.g. non-fatal strangulation)
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse (see above)
  • So-called ‘honour’-based abuse (harmful things that are done in the name of a family’s or community’s so-called ‘honour’)
  • Forced marriage

Children and young people under the age of 16 can also be victims of domestic abuse if they see, hear or experience the effects of it and are related to or under parental responsibility of the victim or perpetrator.

Domestic abuse doesn’t necessarily need to be between partners who live together, it could be between a child and parent or people living separately.

Additional forms of abuse

These can include:

  • Female genital mutilation
  • Modern slavery
  • Stalking

What do you know about abuse towards women and girls?

How many women and girls have experienced abuse? Are most sexual assaults committed by strangers? What is controlling or coercive behaviour?

The more we understand the problem, the better our chances of preventing violence against women and girls.


My teenage daughter was sexually harassed on the street. She still gets flashbacks and is scared to walk home on her own.*

*Testimonials are anonymous to protect identities, but all are based on real experiences