What is domestic abuse and what help is available?
Shelley Workman from Coodes Solicitors’ Family team outlines some of the different forms of domestic abuse and says that help is available for those suffering in silence.
Sadly, domestic abuse is still a significant issue. An estimated two million adults aged 16-59 experienced domestic abuse in 2018, including 1.3 million women and 695,000 men.
Even with the widespread support available, there is still a misconception that domestic abuse refers only to physical violence, but this is not the case. There are many different types of domestic abuse, both physical and psychological.
Domestic abuse is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of violent, threatening or controlling behaviour in an intimate relationship. It is important to know what is considered domestic abuse so you can recognise the behaviours affecting yourself or a loved one.
Physical abuse in a relationship
Acts of violence are the most visible forms of abuse, although many abusers will try to only target areas that are easy to cover up. Physical abuse can include punching, kicking, pushing and choking, as well as using objects such as knives, burning or throwing things.
Often, physical abuse starts small, such as grabbing a partner’s arm in an argument, but instances can become more frequent and more severe. On average, two women are killed every week by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales, as well as 30 men per year.
After an act of violence, the perpetrator may feel remorseful and promise that it will never happen again. Others often blame the victim or alcohol or other substances. More often than not, these behaviours are repeated.
It is also domestic abuse when a perpetrator threatens violence against a partner, loved ones or even themselves.
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Sexual abuse from a partner or spouse
Being pressured or forced into sexual acts is a form of domestic abuse, whether you are in a relationship or not. Sexual abuse can include making unwanted demands, forcing sex after physical assaults and using sexually degrading language.
Domestic abuse is not always physical
Domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence. Abusers often try to take control of their partner’s entire lives using psychological abuse and coercive control.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse can include many different behaviours and can sometimes go unnoticed or ignored if the victim is unsure whether or not it is abuse.
Emotional abuse can include intimidation, blackmail, regularly putting down or humiliating a partner, isolation from friends or family – including only allowing a partner to see loved ones when they are present. Verbal abuse and blaming a partner for arguments, as well as threatening to hurt people they care about, are also examples of emotionally abusive behaviour.
As a way of controlling their partner, some abusers resort to taking control of the household income. Often, victims don’t have free reign over their own money and get told when and what they can buy.
Financial abuse also includes spending the victim’s money without their knowledge, leaving them in debt and possibly owing money.
Taking control over finances makes it much harder for victims to leave their abusive partner. In many cases, victims do not have access to the funds they need to escape the relationship or their transactions are monitored.
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Harassment and stalking
Harassment and stalking, including online stalking, are also forms of domestic abuse. Being followed, receiving regular unwanted gifts and being trolled are just some examples of this type of abuse. According to data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, 700,000 women are stalked each year.
This behaviour is often used to restrict the victim’s freedom and constantly reminding them of their abuser’s presence. This can distress victims, making them feel trapped and constantly vulnerable.
Stalking is a criminal offence and should be reported to the police. Research shows that victims do not tend to report cases of stalking until the 100th incident. Statistics also found that 40% of victims of domestic homicides had also been stalked, according to the Metropolitan Police Service.
Where can I get help?
You do not have to suffer in silence. With the right help and support, safety plans can be put in place to help take back control of your life and be free from risk of harm.
If you are being treated in this way please make contact with anyone in our Family team. We can offer legal advice and support on what action you can take and help secure protection orders. We can also point you in the right direction for additional emotional support.
There are a number of national and regional charities that are dedicated to supporting those who are experiencing any form of domestic abuse, including:
- First Light
- Women’s Aid
- CRASAC: Cornwall Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre
- SPLITZ, Devon Domestic Abuse Support Services
- The SUsie Project
For more information about the protection available to domestic abuse victims, see our previous blog.