Domestic abuse means any threats, violence, controlling or coercive behaviour that takes place between family members or people aged over 16 who are in a relationship with each other (or have been in the past).
Family members are defined as mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents; whether directly related, in-laws or step family.
Domestic abuse can happen regardless of social group, class, age, race, disability or sexuality of the individuals involved.
Domestic abuse can affect men, women and those who identify as non-binary. It can occur in any relationship – heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual; young or old
It is a pattern of behaviour used by abusers designed to establish and maintain power and control over another person.
Phone 999 and ask for the Police if you are in immediate danger
Domestic abuse is not always physical violence and can take different forms. This can include but is not limited to the following types of abuse:
See the Power and Control Wheel for more examples of behaviour that is defined as 'abuse.' It also includes:
Controlling behaviour: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape, and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour: an act – or a pattern of acts – of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation, or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.
There is no single criminal offence of ‘domestic abuse’ but many forms of domestic abuse are crimes, such as harassment, assault, criminal damage, attempted murder, rape and keeping you locked up in the house. Being assaulted, sexually abused, threatened or harassed by a partner or family member is a crime just as it would be if committed by a stranger.
A new domestic violence law came into effect on 29 December 2015, which recognises that abuse is often a complex and sustained pattern of behaviour intended to create fear. The coercive control offence, which carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a fine, can be invoked if on at least two occasions a victim suffers serious alarm or distress that impacts on their day-to-day activities, or they are frightened of physical violence. Read GOV.UK’s information about Controlling or coercive behaviour for more information.
It’s not always easy to know if you’re being abused. Abusers may try to persuade you that what they’re doing is normal, is a sign of love or that they’re really sorry. Here are some possible signs:
If you’re not sure whether something that has happened to you is abuse or not, it can help to imagine if you would be worried if it happened to a friend or a close relative.
The Power and Control Wheel may also help you to decide if you are in an abusive relationship.
You may also want to have a look at this Respect leaflet, How to tell if your abusive partner is changing.
(Taken from an article by Pamela Jacobs, Huffington Post, 20 October 2014)
Remember that domestic abuse is not your fault, it is the fault of the person who chooses to abuse.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse.
Although both men and women can be affected, more than three quarters of those who experience domestic abuse are women. Of those who experience domestic abuse, 38 per cent are subject to more than one incident in a year.
In Norfolk, there are more than 17,000 police-recorded domestic abuse incidents every year, but domestic abuse is often not reported and the British Crime Survey tells us that the actual number of incidents is likely to be five to six times higher.
Caitlin*, from Norfolk,was 18 when she started a relationship with a 30-year-old man whom she described as ‘everything I wanted’.
Within a few months the couple got married and she took on the role of stepmother to his two children.
Caitlin became increasingly concerned about his aggression towards the children, then towards her.
“Soon after we got married it was a slippery slope,” she said. “It started with name calling and belittling. The emotional and verbal sides were the worst, they cut deeper than anything else.
“He had told me that everyone in his life had left him, so I felt sorry for him and didn’t want to be the same as them.
“I never stood up to him. He was a lot bigger than me physically and mentally. He would say things that would take the wind out of me. I would make excuses for him, like he was tired or he’d had a bad day.”
Her husband’s intimidatory behaviour included her not being able to make a phone call without him or having her own money, and the aggression escalated to sexual and physical abuse.
“He would hit me, he would strip my clothes off, he would spit on me. He made me feel worthless and empty. I started doubting myself about things he said I’d said, which would make me think I was going crazy. Once you start doubting yourself you don’t trust other people either, but you believe that what he is saying must be the truth.”
Caitlin endured the abuse for six years until it almost reached a tragic end.
“He strangled me in front of the children. I thought I was going to die that night. All I remember was waking up on the floor and deciding that was enough.”
She took a rare opportunity to take her husband’s phone and call her family to come and take her away. “It was hard. Leaving the children was hard. Even to this day I feel extremely guilty.”
Caitlin said no one ever asked her directly whether she was being abused, although some people had said things indirectly. “If I had been asked the question, I don’t know what I would have said, but if you don’t ask, you’re never going to know. By keeping quiet it went on for longer.
“I deceived my family quite badly - I felt ashamed because I didn’t want to admit that the person who I had begged my mum and dad to accept as the person I had married was abusing me.”
Caitlin has since moved on with her life and is now in a stable, happy relationship, but it has taken years for her to come to terms with her experiences.
To anyone who worries that someone they know may be suffering abuse, she says: “If there’s violence you have to call 999. For someone to leave, it has to be in their own time when they have the strength. Leave that doorway open for when they are ready to talk, be patient. They have to leave when they are ready and when it is safe.”
Her advice to anyone enduring abuse is clear: “You need to believe it’s not your fault. When it’s safe to do so, phone a helpline or speak to a friend or family member you can trust. I didn’t think I was strong enough to seek help or speak up but actually I was. Once we are being held and supported by people it’s an open road.”
Caitlin has written a book about her experiences called ‘Love Didn’t Hurt You – Know the Signs of Domestic Abuse’, available as an ebook or paperback via her website www.caitlinrivers.com.
*Not her real name