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Violence, abuse and unhealthy relationships

Recognising signs of violence and abuse

It is important to be aware of the many ways violence, abuse and unhealthy relationships can develop.

Get help

Types of violence and abuse

Violence and abuse can happen to people of all ages, sexualities, cultural, social and ethnic backgrounds. Violence and abuse are terms used to describe different types of behaviour, including:

1. Relationship abuse and unhealthy relationships

It can be difficult to identify the signs of an unhealthy relationship, especially when it’s your own. Everyone deserves to feel safe and loved in a relationship.

Relationship abuse does not always involve the use or threat of physical violence. If you notice a pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, it may mean you are in an unhealthy relationship. It is possible you may also be experiencing violence and abuse.

It can be difficult to identify the signs of an unhealthy relationship, especially when it’s your own.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship include:

  • your partner is controlling or possessive
  • you are being ridiculed or criticised
  • you are being manipulated
  • you are being intimidated
  • you are being threatened
  • your partner is isolating you from other friends or family or limiting who you see
  • your partner is controlling what you spend
  • you are experiencing physical or sexual violence.

2. Rape, sexual assault and sexual violence

Rape and sexual assault

Sexual violence can take place in or outside of a relationship. Sex without a person’s consent due to drugs, alcohol or unconsciousness is considered as rape and assault by penetration.
Consent can only be given if:

  • someone has the capacity to give their consent
  • someone is free to make the choice to consent.

Sexual assault is considered to be unwanted touching of a sexual nature.

Sexual violence within in a relationship

Being with someone does not determine your consent to a sexual act. With any sexual encounter there should be freedom and capacity to choose to participate, which might not be possible if someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Consent is to be given and can be taken back at any time.

Sexual harassment and stalking

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwanted touching, kissing, verbal and non-verbal behaviour. Harassment can be in person, online or via other means such as stalking. Examples of stalking include following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact through any means, including social media.

Other forms of sexual violence

Other forms of sexual violence include:

  • sexual exploitation, trafficking and slavery
  • non-consensual sharing of sexual images/videos
  • sextortion
  • revenge porn.

Violence related to gender

Women are disproportionately affected by violence and abuse compared to men. Therefore, gender-based violence is a specific term used to describe violence against women and girls. This includes any experience of:

  • relationship abuse (domestic violence)
  • rape, sexual assault and sexual violence
  • harassment and stalking
  • forced marriage
  • honour-based violence
  • female genital mutilation
  • trafficking and forced prostitution
  • sexual exploitation (including through the sex industry)
  • coercive control
  • sextortion (webcam blackmail).


Harassment is unwanted conduct and related to many different types of physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct. It can occur through a single explicit incident or may be sporadic or ongoing. This behaviour tends to create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Hate crime

A hate incident is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone because of their:

  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • gender identity.

Hate incidents can include name calling, bullying, physical violence or any other type of violence and abuse.


If you are experiencing someone's behaviour as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting this can be considered as bullying.

Bullying can also be an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure another person.  Bullying behaviour can occur in many different types of relationships. The University's Dignity at Work and Study Policy outlines the ways in which both staff and students are expected to behave towards others.

Unacceptable behaviour

Other forms of inappropriate behaviour and conduct includes behaviour, acts or conduct that:

  • cause another person distress or discomfort
  • contribute to negative campus culture
  • isolate others, making them feel excluded.

How violence and abuse is experienced

Violence and abuse often include many types of abusive and controlling behaviour which are used together intentionally to control another person, or to have power over them. It is rarely a one-off incident and usually gets worse over time. Where a person does experience a one-off incident the abuser is likely to do it again, and to others. The people responsible for violence and abuse are most likely to be known to the person experiencing it, including friends, acquaintances, partners and family members.

Get help

If you are experiencing violence or abuse, there are a range of support options for you to choose from. If you are worried about a student, learn how you can help.

The Disclosure Response Team

The Disclosure Response Team are a team of specialist University staff trained to respond to disclosures of violence and abuse. They support students affected by harassment, hate crime, sexual violence, relationship abuse and other forms of unacceptable behaviour.

If you believe you are in immediate danger or you are concerned about your safety, learn how to access further help and keep yourself safe.

How the Disclosure Response Team can help

The Disclosure Response Team offer you practical support, including:

  • support to manage ongoing safety concerns
  • contact face to face, via phone or online, to talk about your experience and all the options of support available
  • practical advice on housing, financial and academic needs
  • support if the person who has been violent/abusive lives or studies with you
  • signposting to specialist support agencies.

To access this support, make an identified disclosure using the online form.

Tell them

Please complete the online disclosure form to make an identified or anonymous disclosure.

The Disclosure Response Team aim to respond to all disclosures within two working days, within the hours of 09:00-16:00, Monday to Friday, excluding bank holidays.

They understand that it can be difficult to trust other people to tell them what has happened. Some common worries about sharing these experiences include:

  • what if no one believes me?
  • what if I’m judged?
  • what has happened to me is not that bad
  • the person who is responsible is someone I know.

It is your choice whether you tell someone about your experiences. However, it is important to know that the University can support you.

The Disclosure Response Team take all disclosures seriously and will believe what you tell them.

If you would prefer not to complete the form, but would still like to access support, please send them an email: disclosureresponseteam@cardiff.ac.uk. This is a confidential inbox, only accessed by members of the Disclosure Response Team.

What will happen next

A member of the Disclosure Response Team will contact you to offer an appointment to provide advice and guidance. They will explain the different support and reporting options available, and can refer you to specialist services, if you choose.

Anonymous disclosure

If you decide to disclose your experience of violence or abuse you can remain anonymous or you can choose to identify yourself so the Disclosure Response Team can contact you and offer support.

If you choose to submit an anonymised disclosure, the Team will be unable to take action in response to the information you share. However, they can use the information to look at trends of incidents taking place on and off campus, which helps inform how they educate students and helps them to take precautions to increase student safety.

Download the Bright Sky app

Bright Sky is a free to download mobile app providing support and information for anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know.

The app is available to use in English, Polish, Punjabi and Urdu.

Download the app on the App Store.
Download the app on Google Play.

Download the Safezone app

Cardiff University provides all students with access to a SafeZone app, where you can contact University Security directly by sharing your location and communicating quickly via text message. If you feel unsafe anywhere on campus, you can use the SafeZone app to report this and seek immediate assistance. It will also show you where you are on campus in a variety of formats.

Other external sources of advice and support include

Live Fear Free: a government scheme offering help to all survivors, victims, professionals, and concerned others. Live Fear Free offer specialist advice on all forms of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, including rape, sexual harassment, and stalking. All gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities are welcome and they can refer on to additional services if an individual would like. Their language line option means that language is no barrier, and all helpline support workers are fluent in Welsh and English. Out of hours helpline 0808 80 10 800, info@livefearfreehelpline.wales

Refuge: Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline for women and children

Cardiff Women’s Aid: 24/7 helpline 029 2046 0566

Men’s Advice Line: Advice and support for men experiencing domestic violence and abuse 0808 801 0327

Galop: National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline 0800 999 5428 help@galop.org.uk

Student Advice

Student Advice can also provide you with practical advice and support. We can advise on housing and any implications of the abuse on your study. If the perpetrator is a Cardiff University student, we can advise on how to make a complaint against them to the University. We can support you through your complaint and advise on submitting extenuating circumstances or taking an interruption of study if that becomes necessary.

Contact Student Advice

+44 (0)2920 781410


Cardiff University Students’ Union, registered in Wales. Nothing here in contained constitutes an order for goods or services unless accompanied by an official order

Telephone | 029 2078 1400 Email | StudentsUnion@Cardiff.ac.uk Website | cardiffstudents.com Address | Park Place Cardiff CF10 3QN Charity No. | 1137163 Company Registration No. | 07328777
Undeb Myfyrwyr Prifysgol Caerdydd, wedi’i gofrestru yng Nghymru. Nid oes dim yn gynwysedig yma yn gorchymyn am nwyddau neu wasanaeth oni bai bod archeb swyddogol yn cyd-fynd ag ef

Ffôn | 029 2078 1400 E-bost | StudentsUnion@Cardiff.ac.uk Gwefan | cardiffstudents.com Cyfeiriad | Plas y Parc Caerdydd CF10 3QN Rhif Elusen | 1137163 Rhif Cofrestredig y Cwmni | 07328777