What is Domestic Abuse?

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Domestic abuse is the physical, emotional / psychological, sexual and / or financial abuse of one person by another, with whom they have or have had an intimate or familial type relationship. Abuse is often perpetrated to gain control and power over the other person. Domestic abuse is most commonly committed by men against women. Statistics have indicated that women make up 85% of the victims of domestic abuse (Kershaw et al 2008) which means that domestic abuse is generally seen as both a cause and consequence of gender inequalities in society. However, it is important to recognise that anyone can experience domestic abuse regardless of their gender, age, race, ethnic or religious group, class,sexuality, disability or lifestyle. The government’s definition of domestic abuse has also recently been extended to include anyone over the age of 16. In the past it covered people aged 18+. Domestic abuse is different for each victim and many will experience many different types of abuse, including physical, emotional/psychological, sexual and financial abuse. Research has indicated that domestic abuse often overlaps with animal cruelty and child abuse (Welsh Women’s Aid 2002).There is no specific crime of domestic violence, however perpetrators can be charged with any one of a number of offences depending on the nature of abuse. These can include; criminal charges of actual bodily harm, common assault, harassment, criminal damage and rape. Break the Silence aims to tackle Domestic Abuse directly by engaging both partners or individuals and reeducating them both on what is commonly acceptable behaviour and what boundaries should be in place. This includes allowing the other freedom and safety to go about there daily life free from fear of abuse or harassment. Rebuilding trust and tackling common issues in abusive situation's such as the ability of each individual to practice self care and actively participate in community actives without being isolated. It is very important to be completely open to what goes on in these types of partnerships, the abusers most effective weapon is silence. Do not keep things behind closed doors. The following goes into more details on the types of abuse and theories on why abuse happens in the first place. Always remember the first sign of being abused you will notice is researching abuse.

Why do people abuse?

There have been many theories that attempt to explain why and how people become perpetrators of domestic abuse. Various factors proposed include mental health problems such as depression and anxiety or the more serious cluster B personality disorders including the 'dark triad' traits of narcissism, machiavellianism and psychopathy. They are called 'dark' because of there malevolent qualities and often the individuals who are effected cannot be helped and will be serial abusers with an incredible ability to manipulate others. It is worthy to note that all personality traits are measured on a scale, for instance self care is important and a quality encouraged by Break the Silence, but in narcissism self care is an extreme and the sufferer puts there own needs above anyone else to the extent of the victim 'feeding', 'draining' or you are there 'supply' of self esteem.  A ‘loss of control’ is often blamed upon perpetrators excessive alcohol or drug use. These explanations have been heavily contested. What’s the evidence? Evidence has demonstrated that the majority of perpetrators are not mentally ill in the traditional sense and are in fact capable of enacting highly sophisticated patterns of dominating behaviour that are carefully planned, targeted, and controlled often leaving no visible evidence of abuse (Anderson & Umberson 2001). It is now more generally accepted that domestic abuse is caused by the perpetrators desire for power and control over their victim. Women’s Aid Federation suggests that the individual need for power and control ‘originates from a sense of entitlement, which is often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes’ perpetuated from a social acceptance of the domination of women by men. Recent research with young people would seem to show that there is some social acceptance of physical violence against women. For example 1 in 5 young men and 1 in 10 young women reported that various forms of abuse against woman were acceptable. 1 in 8 young men believed that it would be okay to hit a woman if she was nagging and 81% of young men and 68% of young women believed that women could provoke violence by ‘flirting’ (Burtonet al 1998). In a more recent survey of young people’s relationships 12% of young people reported incidents of domestic abuse in their personal relationships: 9% of young women reported being hit, bit or kicked by their boyfriend and 10% reported that their partner had forced them into having sex (Burman & Cartmel 2005).

Physical Abuse.

Physical abuse can include hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, strangling, burning, physically restraining, pushing, pulling hair and using weapons. Physical assaults can increase in severity over time and medical studies have identified domestic abuse as a factor in serious brain injury (Corrigan et al2003), gynaecological symptoms (Johnson et al 2004), and physical injuries such as broken bones and bruising (Campbell 2002). Perpetrators of abuse may also demonstrate their physical dominance by punching walls and furniture, assaulting pets and other family members, breaking or destroying personal belongings such as phones or clothing and behaving in a hostile, or “in your face”, aggressive manner.

Emotional & Physiological Abuse.

In contrast to physical violence, emotional abuse tends to be a more subtle,hidden, and sophisticated form of domestic abuse which is harder to recognise and take legal action against. The intentions are the same as other types of domestic abuse in terms of the perpetrator seeking to control, degrade,humiliate and punish the victim.Tactics of emotional abuse commonly include the use of threats; for instance a perpetrator may threaten to ‘disappear’ with the children, say that they will report the victim to Social Services as an unfit parent, threaten to harm a family member if the victim leaves or say that they will kill themselves if the relationship ends.The perpetrator often isolates the victim from friends and family by discouraging her / him from going out or contacting family members and friends. This is sometimes done by attacking the integrity and character of friends and family. Independent activities like work, classes and activities are often discouraged and the victims’ sense of choice and control can be undermined because they are often excluded from making important decisions e.g. where to live, how to furnish the home, what type of car to drive. The perpetrator may also be highly critical of the victim, for instance insulting the victim’s weight, looks and the way they dress.The relationship between an abuser and the victim is complex partly because the perpetrator becomes not only the source of pain and abuse, but also the protector, as he/she is not only the person being abusive, but also the person who can prevent the threatened action.Living with everyday threats of violence and emotional abuse can have the most devastating and debilitating effects on victims. It has been found that victims of domestic abuse “report that ongoing psychological violence –emotional torture and living under terror – is often more unbearable than the physical brutality” (UNICEF 2000, p. 4).In 2015 a new offence was created to deal with repeated acts of coercive control. Victims of coercive control can report this to the police or apply for protection through the family courts.

What is coercive control?

Coercive control is when a person repeatedly behaves in a way which makes their partner, ex-partner or family member feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared.

• The following types of behaviour are common examples of coercive control:

• Isolating the victim from friends and family and not allowing you time on your personal interests and if you do pursue them, this person gets jealous or calls you selfish and causes an argument,

• You are unable to talk sense or gain accountability from them, they will throw a tantrum or enter a 'narcissistic rage'. This is commonly referred to as 'gaslighting' and they will point out your faults within you that they exhibit themselves and are never remorseful.

• Controlling someone’s money,

• The abuser goes from treating you with kindness and love to cruelty and disdain so quickly it makes your head spin,

• Monitoring a persons’ movements and activities including preventing you from performing actions of self care and your health, happiness and well being has suffered significantly as a result,

• You are belittled, criticized, called names and told repeatedly told your worthless,

• Threatening to harm someone or their children or pets, Threatening to publish private information about someone,

• Falsely reporting someone to the police, social services, work or anyone else they can think of,

• Damaging goods or property that is personal to you,

• Forcing someone to take part in criminal activity or child abuse.

Some of these behaviours can be other offences as well as coercive control, so a perpetrator can be arrested for more than one offence for the same behaviour. For example, if a perpetrator broke a phone as part of their coercive control then they could be arrested and charged for coercive control and also the offence of criminal damage.An abuser will only be guilty of the offence of coercive control if their behaviour has had a serious effect on the person and that he / she knew or ought to have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on you.Sexual Abuse.Sexual abuse including rape and sexual assault is a common form of abuse and can have enduring physical and emotional effects.Victims are often reluctant to discuss or report sexual abuse. However, the British Crime Survey indicates that in cases of serious sexual assault, the rapist is actually more likely to be a current or ex-partner and be known to the victim (89% of female and 83% of male victims), with only a minority of rapes being committed by strangers (see Walby & Allen 2004; Coleman et al 2007).Sexual abuse can include the use of force, threats or intimidation to make another person perform sexual acts on them and coerce them into having sex when they do not want to. It may include forcing the victim to use pornography or have sex with other people. Sexual abuse also includes behaviour which degrades a person’s sexuality. One report has found that 53%of homophobic abuse reported to the police happens in the home in contrast to17% on the street (Home Office 2001a).

Financial Abuse.

Financial abuse refers to a person taking control of all issues concerning finance in order to assert their control over the victim. This can include denying the victim access to money, stealing and frivolously spending the victim’s money, refusing to contribute financially and denying the victim opportunities to work therefore sabotaging any chance of the victim becoming financially independent.The extent of abuse.Domestic abuse is common: it can happen to anyone, regardless of age, social class, race, disability or lifestyle. It happens in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Research has indicated that abuse within lesbian,gay and bisexual relationships is just as common, in terms of prevalence, types of abuse and relationship dynamics, as it is in heterosexual relationships(Burke & Follingstad 1999; McClennen 2005).The relationship between domestic abuse and poverty is complex, however there is no evidence to suggest that those who are unemployed or on benefits are more likely to suffer domestic abuse: domestic abuse occurs within all socio-economic classes and is actually more likely to be a key cause of unemployment and homelessness for the victim (Staggs et al 2007; Bell 2003;Walby & Allen 2004) than take place as a result of unemployment.Abuse by partners and ex-partners is the most commonly experienced type of violence for both men and women. Approximately a quarter (28%) of women and 1 in 6 (17%) men reported having experienced such abuse since the age of 16 (Coleman et al 2007). Between 6-10% of women suffer domestic violence in a given year (Council of Europe 2002).Women are much more likely than men to be the victim of multiple incidents of abuse: 32% of women who have ever experienced domestic violence experienced five or more incidents, compared with 11% of men who have ever experienced domestic abuse.Domestic abuse accounts for 42% of all female homicides, compared with 4%of male homicides. Over 100 women are killed by current or former partners in England and Wales each year (Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2016).This means that, on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current partner or former partner.In the UK, the police recorded over 1,000,000 million incidents of domestic abuse in 2017 (Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2017) and studies have estimated that the police receive one call about domestic abuse every minute(Stanko 2000). In Yorkshire, there were around 95,000 incidents reported to the police during 2016. However, only a minority of physical incidents of domestic abuse are actually reported to the police, varying between 23%(Walby and Allen, 2004) and 35% (Home Office 2002).It can also take a long time for victims to report incidents and some studies have shown that a woman will typically experience up to 35 incidents of domestic abuse over 7 years before reporting this to the police.

Risk Factors.

There are several factors that can increase risk for victims of domestic abuse.These include:

• Pregnancy. Contrary to the common belief that having a child can bring a couple ‘closer together’ evidence has suggested that physical abuse often starts during pregnancy. For example, research has estimated that 30%of domestic abuse starts in pregnancy and that between 4 and 9 women in every 100 are abused during their pregnancies and/or after the birth(British Medical Association 1998; Taft, 2002; Lewis & Drife, 2001,2005).

• Alcohol misuse. Although high levels of alcohol consumption don’t cause domestic abuse, alcohol use by the perpetrator can increase the severity and frequency of abuse and alcohol use by the victim/survivor can increase their vulnerability to abuse and increase their risk of injury(Galvani 2005).• Leaving the relationship. Women are more at risk of serious physical harm in the months after they have left the relationship as perpetrators may use more extreme methods of re-gaining control of the victim during this time.

• Age. Younger people are more at risk of all forms of interpersonal physical violence than older people (Walby & Allen 2004).• Gender. Gender plays a crucial role in violence and abuse in society;‘gender still matters in criminal harm – for men as well as for women. By and large men hurt other men and are often the perpetrators of women’sand children’s abuse. Women – when they are the perpetrators – also hurt women, children, and men, but at rates significantly different to those of men.’ (Stanko 2006, p. 552) Therefore women are significantly more at risk of domestic abuse than men, especially of sexual abuse(Walby & Allen 2004).

• Immigration status. Women whose immigration status is dependent on their marriage face much higher risks of domestic abuse than women who have secure citizenship (Narayan 1995; Raj & Silverman 2002).

Reactive Abuse

Now you have read most of this, you will be staying to yourself 'am I the abuser?' this is very common due to a term called gaslighting or crazymaking where the abuser accuses you of doing the very things they do or are thinking of doing. Unfortunately this is very common and abusers will push and push until you eventually snap and react. This can be in any manor of the above 'abusive' definitions from physical to a need to get revenge for there behaviour. Please understand this is a very grey area where the law is concerned, if you can do not react and seek help immediately. 

The real difference between the abuser and the victim of abuse, is intent. The abuser 'intends' to cause suffering in order to control and gain a power base. The victim will always have a choice.