Women’s Aid

Dealing with Domestic Violence

What is domestic abuse?

Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse [1] as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. It is very common. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men.

Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following:
Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence)
Psychological and/or emotional abuse[2]
Physical abuse
Sexual abuse
Financial abuse
Online or digital abuse

Domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men. It takes place “because she is a woman and happens disproportionately to women.”

Women are more likely than men to experience multiple incidents of abuse, different types of domestic abuse (intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking) and in particular sexual violence. Any woman can experience domestic abuse regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, sexuality, class, or disability, but some women who experience other forms of oppression and discrimination may face further barriers to disclosing abuse and finding help.

Domestic abuse exists as part of violence against women and girls; which also includes different forms of family violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so called “honour crimes” that are perpetrated primarily by family members, often with multiple perpetrators.

Perceptions of abuse
The Crime Survey of England and Wales data on violent crime and sexual offences, for the year ending March 2015, shows that of 4,564 adults questioned, 92% believe it is always unacceptable to hit or slap their partner in response to their partner constantly nagging or moaning (91% of men, 92% of women). These levels of objection decrease amongst adults when asked about partners cheating, 77% of adults surveyed believe it is always unacceptable to hit or slap their partner in response to their partner having an affair or cheating on them (76% of men and 78% of women).

Recognising domestic abuse
Although every situation is unique, there are common factors that link the experience of an abusive relationship. Acknowledging these factors is an important step in preventing and stopping the abuse. This list can help you to recognise if you, or someone you know, are in an abusive relationship.

They include :
Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting; mocking; accusing; name calling; verbally threatening.
Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold money, disconnecting the phone and internet, taking away or destroying your mobile, tablet or laptop, taking the car away, taking the children away; threatening to report you to the police, social services or the mental health team unless you comply with his demands; threatening or attempting self-harm and suicide; withholding or pressuring you to use drugs or other substances; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; taking money from your purse without asking; refusing to help with childcare or housework.
Breaking trust: lying to you; withholding information from you; being jealous; having other relationships; breaking promises and shared agreements.

Isolation: monitoring or blocking your phone calls, e-mails and social media accounts, telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives; shutting you in the house.
Harassment: following you; checking up on you; not allowing you any privacy (for example, opening your mail, going through your laptop, tablet or mobile), repeatedly checking to see who has phoned you; embarrassing you in public; accompanying you everywhere you go.
Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; destroying your possessions; breaking things; punching walls; wielding a knife or a gun; threatening to kill or harm you and the children; threatening to kill or harm family pets; threats of suicide.

Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don’t want it; forcing you to look at pornographic material; constant pressure and harassment into having sex when you don’t want to, forcing you to have sex with other people; any degrading treatment related to your sexuality or to whether you are lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual.
Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling, pinning you down, holding you by the neck, restraining you.

Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen; saying you caused the abuse; saying you wind him up; saying he can’t control his anger; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.
Our online questionnaire may also help you to recognise if you are in an abusive relationship.

Is it abuse?
Further information and support
Calling the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership with Refuge)
The Survivor’s Handbook

Am I in an abusive relationship?
Everyone has arguments, and everyone disagrees with their partners, family members and others close to them from time to time. And we all do things at times that we regret, and which cause unhappiness to those we care about. But if this begins to form a consistent pattern, then it is an indication of domestic violence and abuse.

The answers to the following questions may help you:

Has your partner tried to keep you from seeing your friends or family?
Has your partner prevented you or made it hard for you to continue or start studying, or from going to work?
Does your partner constantly check up on you or follow you?
Does your partner unjustly accuse you of flirting or of having affairs with others?
Does your partner constantly belittle or humiliate you, or regularly criticise or insult you?
Are you ever afraid of your partner?
Have you ever changed your behaviour because you are afraid of what your partner might do or say to you?
Has your partner ever destroyed any of your possessions deliberately?
Has your partner ever hurt or threatened you or your children?
Has your partner ever kept you short of money so you are unable to buy food and other necessary items for yourself and your children or made you take out loans?
Has your partner ever forced you to do something that you really did not want to do?
Has your partner ever tried to prevent you from taking necessary medication, or seeking medical help when you felt you needed it?
Has your partner ever tried to control you by telling you that you could be deported because of your immigration status?
Has your partner ever threatened to take your children away, or said he would refuse to let you take them with you, or even to see them, if you left him?
Has your partner ever forced or harassed you to have sex with him or with other people? Has he made you participate in sexual activities that you were uncomfortable with?
Has your partner ever tried to prevent your leaving the house?
Does your partner blame his use of alcohol or drugs, mental health condition or family history for his behaviour?
Does your partner control your use of alcohol or drugs (for example, by forcing your intake or by withholding substances)?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, this indicates that you may be experiencing domestic abuse.
You may want to call the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) to discuss this further in confidence, or chat about it anonymously on the Survivors’ forum.
Back to The Survivor’s Handbook

What is domestic abuse?

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