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New study suggests receiving threatening or obscene messaging in the form of repeated digital or mail communications is common in the context of intimate partner violence, with victims at higher risk of mental disorder, self-harm and suicidality within the following year.

By Mr Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer), Published

Threatening or obscene messaging includes repeated, unwanted texts, emails, letters or cards experienced by the recipient as threatening or obscene, and causing fear, alarm or distress. It is a rarely examined aspect of intimate partner violence.

Led by City, University of London a new study has examined just how common exposure to threatening or obscene messaging from a current or ex-partner is in the UK; it looked at the characteristics of those who are most at risk, and for associations with other forms of violence and abuse, mental disorder, self-harm, and suicidality.

The study was an analysis of results from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey conducted with over 7,000 interviewees, mainly face-to-face, in 2014.

The analysis found that one adult in fifteen (6.6%) who had been in a relationship had received threatening or obscene messages from an intimate partner, with one in four victims of abuse reporting repeated messages in the previous year.

Recipients of these messages were twice as likely to be female than male, and more likely to be younger adults. They were also more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged, and to have experienced other forms of sexual and partner violence as well. Even after accounting for these other adversities, receiving repeated threatening or obscene messages was associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.

Sally McManus, Senior Lecturer in Health in the Violence and Society Centre at City, University of London and lead author of the study said:

“It’s so very important that when in clinical, police, or other service settings - service providers ask about all the kinds of contact people may have from current as well as former partners. Threats and obscene messages may be a way of extending control after a relationship ends, and is linked to continued poor health in victims.”

Whilst the study did not differentiate between technology-enabled and other means of threatening or obscene messaging, the authors suggest that the near ubiquity of the likes of texts, instant messaging, and social media, may mean exposure to threatening and obscene messaging could become even more immediate and pervasive.

The study is published in the journal, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Getting Support 

For people who may be affected by the contents of this release, a list of organisations from which to seek support in the UK:

Women’s Aid

A grassroots federation working together to provide life-saving services in England and build a future where domestic abuse is not tolerated. Links to sister organisations in Scotland


UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good.


For Women and Children. Against Domestic Violence.

Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Standing Together

Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse is a national charity bringing communities together to end domestic abuse.


Working to end domestic abuse. Leading the development of safe, effective work with perpetrators, male victims and young people using violence and abuse


We are the only UK-based, umbrella women's organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and Minoritised women and girls i.e. women which are defined in policy terms as Black and 'Minority Ethnic' (BME).


We support LGBT+ people who have experienced abuse and violence


Whatever you’re facing, a Samaritan will face it with you. We’re here, day or night, for anyone who’s struggling to cope, who needs someone to listen without judgement or pressure.

Call: 116 123 for free from any UK mobile phone network or landline provider (restrictions may be in place on landlines from some offices, organisations and care homes).