Domestic violence or abuse is verbal, physical, sexual, financial or psychological violence committed by a partner within an intimate relationship, or within a family, for example by a parent or sibling. It often happens more than once, and will frequently become more serious over time.
What is domestic abuse?
It is not limited to hitting and can involve any of the following:
- Physical abuse such as punching, slapping, strangling, pinching, burning
- Emotional abuse such as repeated criticism, humiliation or belittling
- Sexual abuse such as rape or forced sexual acts.
- Threats of physical or sexual violence
- Preventing someone from seeing friends or family
- Preventing someone from accessing medical care at all, or by themselves
- Financial abuse such as preventing someone from accessing their money
Many of these acts contribute to a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour, which is designed to make a person dependent on the abuser by isolating them from support, depriving them of independence, and regulating everyday behaviour through violence and fear.
What are the effects of domestic abuse?
It is normal to feel very affected by domestic abuse, and for these feelings to persist even if the abuse ends. Effects can include:
- Feeling guilt or shame
- Feeling lonely or isolated
- Low self-esteem
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Ongoing physical or sexual health problems
- Substance abuse
- Self harm
- Children may also be affected by domestic violence, either as witnesses or as survivors themselves
Perpetrators will usually blame survivors for the abuse; often trying to convince them that the abuse is a justified and rational response to problems caused by the survivor. As such many survivors in abusive relationships feel responsible for the abuse they experience, and shame for “allowing” it to happen to them. However, the abuse is always the responsibility of the perpetrator, who can always choose whether or not to use violence or intimidation.
Leaving an abusive relationship
There lots of reasons why people do not always want to leave abusive relationships. Leaving a relationship does not necessarily mean the violence will stop. The period when a survivor is planning or making their exit is often the most dangerous time for them and any children involved. People can also be in love with their abusive partner despite their behaviour. Abusers may violently assault then immediately apologise for their actions; they may buy gifts or promise to never harm them again, or promise to attend counselling. These promises are often broken and often made only to prevent the survivor from leaving. Not leaving a violent situation does not mean the survivor is at fault or ‘being stupid’: violence is always the choice and responsibility of the perpetrator.
If you think you are experiencing domestic abuse, there is more information and signposting on the Reducing the Risk website.