(Read the tone-of-voice guide in our brand guidelines for more how to write about homelessness and people who are homeless.)

Domestic abuse is the third most common reason for someone to become homeless.  

Whenever we write about domestic abuse, and in whatever context, it is important that we all use the language and tone that is currently considered best practice. 

A woman sitting on a couch, looking out the window.

Shelter’s current work on domestic abuse  

At the moment, Shelter has: 

  • a domestic abuse service in Sheffield

  • a Women’s Voices group, part of Inspiring Change Manchester and made up of women who have experienced domestic abuse 

  • published a report called Stuck in Limbo, co-produced by the Research team and the Women’s Voices group, which makes recommendations for helping survivors with their housing issues  

  • begun a Community of Practice, bringing together expertise from across Shelter’s service, to influence women-centred services

  • been supporting the charity Crisis’s call to give domestic abuse survivors priority need in housing 

  • a Reaching Communities (Big Lottery funded) peer research project looking at women’s centred services in Birmingham, Bristol, and Sheffield

  • membership in the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance, represented at meetings by teams from across Policy and Services

Domestic abuse and domestic violence  

The terms domestic abuse and domestic violence are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between them.  

Domestic abuse is a broad term. And, although it includes physical violence, it is not limited to this. It describes the wide range of abuse that can occur in relationships, such as mental, verbal, financial, sexual, and emotional.  

Domestic violence is narrower in its meaning and is more limited to one-off acts of physical violence.  

Domestic abuse is now, therefore, the preferred term, and has largely replaced domestic violence.  

We should all always use the term 'domestic abuse' - and not 'domestic violence' - in our communications.

What is domestic abuse?  

Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following: 

  • physical abuse 

  • emotional, psychological, and mental abuse 

  • sexual abuse 

  • coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation, and control with the use, or threat, of physical or sexual violence) 

  • financial abuse  

  • verbal abuse 

  • religious and spiritual abuse 

  • honour-based violence 

  • forced marriage 

  • female genital mutilation (FGM) 

  • stalking and harassment 

  • online and digital abuse  

Domestic abuse can happen between adults who are, or have been, intimate partners, or between family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.  

Typically, domestic abuse forms a pattern of controlling and abusive behaviour, and can escalate over a period of time. Survivors may also experience several different types of abuse from the same perpetrator. 

What to say when writing about domestic abuse  

In our communications, we should:  

  • talk about ‘survivors’ and ‘perpetrators'. It is far more empowering, and gives people more agency, when we use the word ‘survivors’ instead of ‘victims’. The use of ‘perpetrators’ also helps make it clear where the responsibility for the crime lies   

  • keep to the facts, as we could be subject to libel accusations if we misrepresent the situation in any way 

  • place responsibility firmly on the perpetrator  

  • use empowering language. For example, talk about ‘supporting survivors to rebuild their lives’, rather than ‘recusing people’  

What to avoid when writing about domestic abuse  

In our communications, we shouldn’t:  

  • use the word ‘victim’, except in a criminal justice situation or if someone has been killed 

  • use sensationalizing language. For example, calling the abuse a ‘horror’ or talking about ‘fleeing domestic abuse’ 

  • talk about invasive or graphic details which compromise the dignity of the survivor  

  • use insensitive or trivialising language. For example, ‘crime of passion’   

  • use stock images that reinforce the idea that domestic abuse is only ever a one-off act of violence  

Further information  

If you’d like to read more about domestic abuse, the following charities have good websites: 


Learn how we write about homelessness and people who are homeless in our tone of voice guidelines.

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