Module 2: Indicators for Domestic Violence

Learning objectives

The learning objectives of this module are to become familiar with the various indicators for domestic violence, their related risks and to be sensitised to them.


Indicators for domestic violence in adults

The following are indicators associated with victims of domestic violence. Please note that none or all of these might be present and be indicators of other issues. Some victims also give hints in conversations and their behaviour can also be revealing. Victims are therefore dependent on being listened to, one being persistent and asking for signs and clues. This is where using these indicators as a guide can complement the practice of asking directly.

Physical Indicators
  • Unexplained bruising and other injuries
    • Especially head, neck and facial injuries
    • Bruises of various ages
    • Injuries sustained do not fit the history given
    • Bite marks, unusual burns
    • Injuries on parts of the body hidden from view (including breasts, abdomen and/or genitals), especially if pregnant
    • Chapped lips
    • Teeth knocked out
  • Miscarriages and other pregnancy complications
  • Chronic conditions including headaches, pain and aches in muscles, joints and back
Psychological Indicators
  • Emotional distress, e.g. anxiety, indecisiveness, confusion and hostility
  • Sleeping and eating disorders
  • Anxiety / depression / pre-natal depression
  • Psychosomatic complaints
  • Self-harm or suicide attempts
  • Evasive or ashamed about injuries
  • Seeming anxious in the presence of their partner
  • Social isolation / no access to transport
  • Frequent absences from work or studies
  • Submissive behaviour / low self-esteem
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Fear of physical contact
  • Nervous reactions to physical contact/ quick and unexpected movements
Possible Indicators for sexual violence
  • Self-harming behaviour
  •  Unwanted pregnancies / abortions
  •  Complications during pregnancy
  •  Miscarriages

Indicators for domestic violence in children

Physical Indicators
  • Difficult eating / sleeping
  • Slow weight gain (in infants)
  • Physical complaints
  • Eating disorders (including problems of breast feeding)
  • Fingertip injuries

Psychological Indicators
  • Aggressive behaviour and language
  • Depression, anxiety and/or suicide attempts
  • Appearing nervous and withdrawn
  • Difficulty adjusting to change
  • Regressive behaviour in toddlers
  • Delays or problems with language development
  • Psychosomatic illness
  • Restlessness and problems with concentration
  • Dependent, sad or secretive behaviours
  • Bedwetting
  • ‘Acting out’, for example cruelty to animals
  • Noticeable decline in school performance
  • Fighting with peers
  • Overprotective or afraid to leave mother or father
  • Stealing and social isolation
  • Exhibiting sexually abusive behaviour
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Transience

Source: Hegarty (2011): Intimate partner violence – Identification and response in general practice


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