Definitions of Domestic Abuse

The formal definition of domestic abuse is physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or financial abuse that takes place within a family-type relationship.

Within an intimate or family-type relationship, domestic abuse forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.

undefinedA woman holding door closed against dark outline of someone on the other sideThis can include stalking and harrassment, forced marriage, so-called 'honour' crimes and female genital mutilation. Domestic abuse may include a range of abusive behaviours not all of which are, in themselves, inherently violent.

Definitions of domestic abuse

Physical abuse – this is self explanatory and what usually comes to mind when thinking of domestic abuse – the image of the ‘battered’ wife and the angry, out of control husband. The reality is harsh - nationally two women every week are killed by a partner or former partner,  and a women is at most risk of death or serious injury at the point of leaving or up to a year after. Domestic abuse accounts for between 16% and a quarter of all violent crime.

Sexual abuse  - shockingly, 54% of rapes are committed by a woman’s partner or former partner and a third of teenage girls suffer unwanted sexual acts in a relationship.

Psychological abuse - domestic violence and other abuse is the most prevalent cause of depression and other mental health difficulties in women.

Emotional abuse - what would happen if you could never do or say anything right? Emotional abuse can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as repeated disapproval or even the refusal to ever be pleased. Continual insults, accusations and insinuations erode away at a person until they lose all sense of self-esteem and confidence . Our service users consistently report that the emotional abuse was worse than any physical harm.

Psychological and emotional abuse is sometimes called ‘intimate terrorism’.

Financial abuse - when you are not in control of your finances this can leave you dependent and powerless. Financial abuse not only includes being kept short of money but also stopping you from getting a job or keeping your job.  Imagine having to account for every penny spent, or every phone call made on an itemised bill? 

Who does domestic abuse happen to?

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone regardless of social background, age, gender, religion, sexuality or ethnicity.  

Domestic abuse is rarely a one off incident. It is a complex pattern of power and control. While both men and women experience single incidents of inter-personal violence, women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of violence.

Women constitute 89% of those who experience four or more incidents of domestic violence in their lifetime (Walby and Allen, 2004). These women are likely to have experienced all types of intimate violence (partner abuse, family abuse, sexual assault and stalking). Furthermore, nearly half the women who have experienced intimate violence of any kind, are likely to have been victims of more than one kind of intimate abuse.

Men can be victims of domestic violence. While, statistics show that domestic violence is a predominantly male on female crime, this does not deny the problems faced by men experiencing domestic violence. The perpetrator may be a partner or a relative and the abuse may not always be physical.

We provide advice, initial assessment and signposting to men via our community worker at A&E, our weekly Domestic Abuse Surgery and our Helpline.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T*) people

LGB&T* people experience domestic violence regardless of age, class, disability, gender identity, caring responsibility, immigration status, race or religion. LGB&T*people can find it hard to talk about domestic violence.

Acknowledging that any current or ex-partner or family member is an 'abuser' is hard, and this can be made harder by threats of 'outing' or because of fear of further isolation, but there are agencies and people who can help and support you and the 'abusive' person. 

In the majority of families where there is abuse the children will be aware of this and will often see or hear it going on. At least 750,000 children a year will be the same or the next room when domestic abuse occurs.

Children are completely dependent on the adults around them, and if they don’t feel safe at home it can have many negative physical and emotional effects.  All children witnessing domestic violence are being emotionally abused and this is now recognised as ‘significant harm’ in recent legislation.

Most children will be affected in some way by the abuse around them – they might feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused.    The symptoms of this may include: anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, bed-wetting, tummy aches, temper tantrums, problems at school and /or withdrawal – older children may start to use alcohol or drugs or self-harm.

Not all men who abuse women abuse their children but some of them do. Research has consistently shown that a high proportion of children living with domestic violence are themselves being abused - either physically or sexually - by the same perpetrator.

Estimates vary from 30% to 66% depending upon the study. Nearly three-quarters of children on the 'at risk' register live in households where domestic violence is occurring. Children who live with domestic abuse are at increased risk of behavioural problems, emotional trauma, and mental health difficulties in adult life so the earlier the intervention the more chance they have of living a stable and productive life.