What is domestic abuse?

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:

  • Emotional abuse: persistently putting you down, isolating you from friends and family, name calling, sulking and checking up on you
  • Psychological abuse: verbal abuse, blaming, mind games, criticisms, accusations, emotional abuse, jealous and obsessive behaviour, humiliation, comparisons, manipulation, complete control of a person's life, threats to kill the person or the children, imposed social isolation, sleep deprivation
  • Sexual abuse: forcing you to have sex against your will, sexual assault, forced prostitution, degradation, forced anal or vaginal penetration, using objects, humiliation, forced to watch or act in pornography
  • Financial abuse: preventing a person from getting or keeping a job, taking money, not permitting access to or withholding family income
  • Physical abuse: assault, punches, kicks, hitting, forced imprisonment, biting, strangulation, burning, dragging, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, using weapons, throwing objects
  • This includes so-called honour-based abusefemale genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.

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:

  • You are scared of them
  • They have hurt, or threatened to hurt, you or people you care about
  • They force you to do things you don't want to do, including sexually
  • They stop you from seeing your friends, family or people who you may go to for advice such as a GP or social worker
  • They have threatened to take your children away or hurt them
  • They prevent you from continuing or starting school, college or from going to work
  • They constantly check up on you or follow you - they may also track you via your mobile phone
  • They wrongly accuse you of flirting or of having affairs on a regular basis
  • They get extremely jealous and possessive
  • They constantly humiliate you or criticise or insult you, often in front of other people
  • You change your behaviour because you're afraid of what they might do or say to you
  • They deliberately destroy things that belong to you
  • They control how much money you have
  • They blame you for the abuse
  • They control your daily routine

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)

  1. They will buy you flowers and gifts.  They will likely be the most romantic person you have ever met.  They need you to trust and develop feelings for them, because it is much easier to control someone who loves you.  They will make you feel like you are their entire world, because they want your world to revolve around them.
  2. They will want to commit - quickly.  They will say that it's love at first sight, that you are made for each other, and that they can't imagine life without you.  They will insist on being exclusive right away, and will likely want to move in together, or even get married, very quickly.  They need you to love them, and to belong to them.
  3. They will want you all to themselves.  They will glare at other people for looking at you and question you about your friends.  They'll make you feel guilty for spending time with friends or family.  They will call or text you several times a day, and may accuse you of flirting or cheating.  They will say they love you so much, they can't stand the thought of anyone else being near you.  And soon, no one else will be. This is the beginning of isolation.
  4. They will be very concerned about you.  They may get upset if you don't call them back right away or if you come home late.  They will say it's because they worry about you.  They will start to question who you saw, where you went, and what you were doing.  They will start to make decisions for you and claim to know what's best for you.  Soon, you'll be asking their approval for every decision.  Your control over your own life will slip away, as their power and control grows.
  5. They will be sweet and caring - sometimes.  They will be the sweet, loving person who everyone else sees, and who you fell in love with.  But sometimes they will become the person who puts you down, makes you feel guilty, and isolates you.  They will make you believe that if you just did something differently, loved them more, or treated them better, they would be that sweet, loving person all the time.
  6. They will play the victim.  If they get in trouble at work, it's someone else's fault.  If they have a bad day, someone is out to get them.  And if they are upset, they will blame you for their feelings and actions.  They will expect you to make them happy and fulfilled - and when they’re not, they will blame you.  They may apologise for yelling, putting you down, or hurting you, but will always find a way to make it your fault.  Eventually, they will blame you for making them hit you.

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.

  • One in four women will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime
  • Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner
  • One man is killed by a current or former partner every two weeks
  • In over half of reported incidents of domestic abuse in Norfolk there are children present or living within the home (if not physically present)
  • At least one third of domestic abuse starts or escalates during pregnancy
  • Alcohol is a factor in around 60 per cent of incidents of domestic abuse
  • Victims of domestic abuse are more likely to be repeat victims than victims of another crime
  • Young women aged 16-19 are at the greatest risk of abuse
  • An estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year, according to the year ending March 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales (1.2 million women, 713,000 men)
  • A domestic abuse incident is reported to the police every 30 seconds in the UK
  • One in six men will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime, they can experience violence from their female partners or within same sex relationships

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


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