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Health and Wellbeing
A Health and Well-being Wales Partner

The term ‘domestic abuse’ is usually used to describe abuse that takes place between adults who are in – or were once in – an intimate or sexual relationship.

However, abuse can happen within other close relationships, e.g. young couples, siblings, and half- and step-siblings.

Domestic abuse is about power. One person is attempting to control another with threats, physical violence, sexual force, financial control or emotional abuse – and often a combination of these.

It can happen to anyone irrespective of age, class, race, religion, gender, sexuality, intelligence, income or lifestyle.

Sexual violence is behaviour of a sexual nature which is not wanted and which is forced upon a person, e.g. rape, sexual assault or touching. It may involve giving someone alcohol or date rape drugs so they are unaware of what is happening to them.

Domestic abuse and sexual violence often go hand in hand. Someone can be raped or sexually assaulted by someone they are in a relationship with.

The effect on children

Allowing children to witness domestic abuse is itself a form of child abuse. If you have children and remain in an abusive relationship, there may be child protection issues.

Domestic abuse is known to have a negative impact on a child’s well-being even when there is no physical violence involved (or they do not see it).

The unpredictability of family life will make them feel helpless, frightened and anxious about the future. Children will witness the abused parent’s emotional distress and be fearful for their safety.

Babies and young children may be caught in the cross-fire and even get injured by accident. Older children may be drawn into taking sides; trying to protect other siblings or the abused parent could put them in danger.

If one parent is deliberately withholding money or food, children may go hungry or left cold and without adequate clothing. Disturbed sleep may make it difficult for school-age children to concentrate in lessons; others will have poor attendance.

Children whose self-esteem is at rock bottom as a result of domestic abuse may be more susceptible to eating disorders, self-harming and risk-taking behaviour.

Siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings

A certain level of rivalry and rough play is normal among brothers and sisters. Step-siblings may need some time to adjust to the new set-up, especially if new babies arrive. 

Occasionally, this low-level jealousy and/or aggression will escalate into something darker, like bullying, isolation and/or violent or sexually abusive behaviour, usually towards a younger or female sibling.

Parents should always stop violence between siblings. If the abusive child will not listen to reason, seek advice and get professional support if necessary.

Young relationships

Young people are not immune to domestic and sexual abuse in their relationships.

Look out for warning signs of a new partner’s potentially controlling nature:

  • obsessive jealousy
  • needing to know where the other person is all the time
  • putting them down or making them feel bad about themselves
  • pushing someone into sex, even when they are not ready for it
  • abusing drugs or alcohol
  • ‘playful’ punching, pushing, biting, hair pulling, kicking
  • grabbing someone’s face to force them to listen, stay or leave
  • refusing to accept the relationship is over, e.g. stalking

This behaviour is not normal and they should not make excuses for it. Relationships that start off abusive usually get worse.

Stopping domestic abuse

If you suspect a child is being abused or is witnessing domestic abuse, report your concerns immediately (you do not need to leave your name). Don't wait until you are 100% certain – it could be too late. Your call could save a child’s life.

Ring the police on 101 or contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, call 999. If your concerns are about a child of school age, ask to talk to the school’s designated child protection teacher.

Social workers have a legal duty to investigate any concerns about a child or young person under 18 if they are made aware that they might be at risk from abuse or neglect.

More information

Welsh Women’s Aid and Dyn Wales support women and men affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence.

Live Fear Free has live chat 24/7. Helpline: 0808 8010 800.

Stop It Now! supports parents and others to recognise and prevent the sexual abuse of children.

NSPCC Cymru protects children. Call: 0808 800 5000.

Young people can talk in confidence at MEIC (Call: 0808 802 3456) or ChildLine (Call: 0800 1111).  

The Survivors Trust Cymru supports victims of rape and sexual abuse. Tel: 0808 801 0818.

Young Minds supports those worried about abuse. There is also a parents’ helpline. Call: 0808 802 5544. (9.30am–4pm, Monday to Friday).

Last updated: 21/12/2022