We #StandWithUkraine, find out how to help here.
Last updated: 17.01.22

What are the Risk Factors for Domestic Violence?

It’s impossible to know the true figures for the amount of domestic violence that takes place in the UK, as although there are statistics based on the cases that have come to police attention or resulted in legal action, it is highly likely that there are countless other incidents that will never be reported. What we do know is that domestic violence and abuse is an issue that affects thousands of people every year, and is one that tends to occur in patterns of behaviour learned from a range of experiences.

There is no reliable set of risk factors that contribute to domestic violence, and in many cases the perpetrator may not meet any of the risk factor criteria. However, a range of research has led to experts coming up with a range of attributes that are commonly found in those who commit acts of domestic violence, meaning that it is possible to identify those who may be more likely to become abusers.

Being able to identify domestic violence risk factors means that preventative action can be taken before abuse takes place or becomes more serious, which protects potential victims and helps to break the cycle of abuse. In this article, we define domestic violence and the different forms it can take, and then break down the different categories of risk factors and give examples of some of the most common.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a term used to describe the systematic pattern of behaviour that an abuser uses to control their partner or someone they have a close relationship with. It has a very similar definition to domestic abuse, which was legally defined in the ‘Domestic Abuse Act 2021’ as "physical or sexual abuse; violent or threatening behaviour; controlling or coercive behaviour; economic abuse; or, psychological, emotional or other abuse".

There is a range of different types of domestic violence, all of which cause some kind of harm to the victim. This violence happens regularly, habitually, and can occur at random. If someone has been forced or feels like they have to alter their behaviour through fear of another person’s reaction, they are being abused and likely are a victim of domestic violence.

For acts of violence to be classed as domestic violence, legislation states that it must occur between two people over the age of 16 who are “personally connected”. This personal connection could be:

  • Two people who are married or have a civil partnership
  • Two people who are engaged
  • Two people who are the parents of the same child
  • Two people who have an intimate, personal relationship
  • Relatives

Domestic violence is commonly thought of as acts of physical violence on an individual, but often a lot of the abuse is also emotional or psychological. It can occur in any kind of relationship between people of any gender, age, background or sexuality.

The Four Types of Domestic Violence Risk Factors

Research and work in preventing domestic violence have helped to identify a variety of risk factors that can make someone more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of this kind of abuse. Whilst the presence of one or several of these risk factors statistically make someone more likely to experience domestic violence in some way, they don’t guarantee that it will happen and should just be used as guidance to inform preventative measures, not accusations.

The most commonly identified risk factors for those who commit acts of domestic violence can be separated into four different categories; individual, relationship, community and societal. The details of these are explained in more detail below.

Individual Risk Factors

Individual risk factors of domestic violence refer to attributes or experiences that a person may have had that make them more likely to commit domestic violence. The most significant of these is when a person has been a victim of domestic violence themselves as a child, as statistically, this makes them incredibly likely to become an abuser themselves.

Many individual predictors of domestic violence are personality traits that make someone likely to feel bad about themselves. Domestic violence can often happen when an abuser lacks healthy and non-violent methods of processing difficult emotions, leading them to commit acts of violence towards others.

Here are many of the most common individual risk factors associated with domestic violence.

  • Low self-esteem
  • Low income or financial difficulties
  • Being unemployed
  • Low levels of education and academic achievements
  • Having few friends or being socially isolated
  • Aggressive or criminal behaviour as a young person
  • Heavy use of alcohol or drugs
  • Feelings of depression and/or suicidal thoughts
  • Anger and hostility towards others, along with an inability to process anger in a healthy way
  • A lack of non-violent conflict-solving skills 
  • Personality traits that lead to antisocial behaviour and conduct
  • Borderline personality disorder, or traits associated with this disorder
  • A history of being physically abusive
  • A history of being physically abused as a child or young person
  • A history of poor parenting
  • Being emotionally dependent on another person, or emotional insecurity
  • Strong beliefs in stereotypical gender roles

Relationship Risk Factors

Domestic violence is defined as taking place between two people with a close personal relationship, and there is a range of risk factors associated with this relationship or other, connected relationships that mean domestic violence is more likely to occur. If a relationship, be it romantic or familial, is unhealthy, has weak foundations or has been subject to a lot of previous conflict and trauma, one of the individuals involved is more likely to resort to domestic violence as a result of this.

Having unhealthy relationships with others can also be one of the top causes of domestic violence, particularly if an individual was abused by their parents or had friends who were aggressive and violent towards their partners or peers. Many of our adult relationships are modelled on the ones we had as a child, and if these childhood relationships were abusive the pattern is likely to continue.

The following are some common risk factors for intimate partner violence.

  • Frequent fighting or tension
  • Jealousy and possessiveness
  • Separation and instability such as multiple breakups or divorce
  • Economic stress or conflict over shared finances
  • An imbalance of power and control in the relationship, with one partner having more power than the other
  • Unhealthy relationships or interactions with other family members
  • Friendships with peers who are antisocial or aggressive
  • Relationships with family members with a lack of education
  • Parents with a history of domestic violence

Community Risk Factors

Whilst individual and relationship factors are the most common aspects that affect the likelihood of domestic violence occurring, the community an individual belongs to is also an important risk factor. Difficult living circumstances that involve things like poverty, a lack of education and a hostile community environment can all make someone more likely to commit domestic violence, whether this is because of what they have experienced themselves or because of the issues they face as a result of living in a struggling community.

Community risk factors are important to understand when it comes to preventing domestic violence, as these are the factors that can be changed through things like legislation, policy and community work. Below are some of the top community factors that contribute to domestic violence.

  • Poverty
  • Overcrowded housing
  • Lack of regular, nutritional meals
  • Limited access to education
  • Lack of positive relationships with caregivers
  • Lack of examples of healthy relationships in the family and community
  • Hostile interactions with neighbours and others in the community, lack of support or accountability from members of the community
  • Living in a community with high unemployment rates
  • Living in a community with high crime rates
  • Living in a community with easy access to drugs and high rates of alcohol and drug abuse 

Societal Risk Factors

Leading on from community risk factors, societal risk factors can also make domestic abuse more likely to happen. This is particularly prevalent when an individual grows up in a society where certain values and stereotypes are emphasised that can lead to people believing that their violent behaviour is acceptable.

Here are some of the key societal domestic violence risk factors.

  • Belonging to a culture with traditional ideas and expectations of gender roles
  • Cultural norms of aggression and even violence towards others
  • Belonging to a society with high levels of economic inequality
  • Lack of strong policies and laws supporting the economy, education, and social systems


What is a domestic violence charge?

There is no singular legal domestic violence charge, as whilst many of the behaviours involved with this type of abuse are criminal offences, domestic violence in itself is not. Perpetrators of domestic violence can be arrested and held until they are charged with crimes such as physical or sexual assault, threat to kill, harassment, coercive control or rape.

What constitutes domestic violence?

A variety of different behaviours can be classified as domestic abuse. These include physical or sexual abuse, digital abuse, coercion, harassment and stalking, emotional or psychological abuse, and threats of violence or even death. It is usually perpetrated by the victim’s partner or a member of their family.

When did domestic violence become illegal?

Many of the behaviours or acts that can be involved in domestic violence were made illegal through individual laws and legislation, but it wasn’t until 1976 that the ‘Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act’ was created to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse. ‘The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act’ (DVCV) was then brought in in 2004 as a complete overhaul of all previous legislation that provided instructions on what legal action to take in cases of domestic abuse and introduced new offence and procedural changes.


The statistics for the percentage of people who experience domestic violence in the UK alone are staggering, and whilst there is plenty of action being taken to change these rates and offer support and empowerment to victims, there is still more that can be done. Understanding the risk factors for domestic violence, whether you work in social care, education or another industry, can help to identify warning signs and ensure that intervention takes place early on, which reduces the likelihood of domestic violence occurring in the future.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help stop domestic abuse, we offer an ‘Awareness of Domestic Violence and Abuse’ online course which covers the above risk factors in more detail, along with advice on what to do if you think someone you know is at risk of becoming a victim of domestic violence.