Domestic abuse can affect men and women of all ages and backgrounds and last year, the number of recorded crimes rose by 6% in England and Wales (ONS).
Researchers estimate that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and tragically, two women on average are murdered each week and 30 men per year. Fleeing domestic abuse is also the single most quoted reason for becoming homeless.
Though these figures are bleak, it’s likely that the current statistics on domestic abuse are only a snapshot of the number of people who’re affected. Reluctance or an inability to report abuse may make these stats much higher – and until recently, over 74s weren’t included in this data.
But thanks to campaigning from Age UK, the Office for National Statistics will now start collecting information about those aged 75+, which means that they’ll finally be included in conversations about domestic abuse.
If you currently are or have been a victim of domestic abuse – whether that be physical, emotional/psychological, financial, sexual, or online – then it’s first important to remember that you’re not alone and it’s not your fault. There’s also help and support out there for you, and you don’t need to wait until you’re in an emergency situation to reach out.
Acknowledging that you’re a victim of abuse is often an important first step in seeking help and breaking free. Being abused can leave you feeling frightened, confused, and isolated. You may find it difficult to see your partner’s actions for what they really are, or to explain to someone else what you’re going through.
In many relationships, abusive behaviour doesn’t surface for many months or years, which can make it easier to make believable excuses for your abuser (such as having a bad day at work), or to even blame yourself.
But it’s important to remember that domestic abuse in all its forms is a crime, that responsibility always lies with the perpetrator, and that there’s always a way out – even if you feel trapped.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of domestic abuse and where you can turn for support.
What is domestic abuse?
According to Women’s Aid, domestic abuse is…
“An incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading, and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.”
This can include, but isn’t limited to, the following types of abuse…
Physical violence is the most obvious form of physical abuse and may include behaviours such as slapping, punching, grabbing, kicking, pushing, choking, burning, hair pulling, damaging personal property, withholding/refusing medical treatment, controlling medication, using weapons, and/or coercing the victim into substance abuse.
Emotional abuse can happen alongside physical violence and other forms of abuse, or it may occur in isolation. It can be more difficult for emotional abuse to be recognised by those looking into a relationship from the outside in – or by victims themselves – because it’s subtle and doesn’t leave physical marks in the same way that physical violence can.
Emotional abuse may include name-calling, being constantly criticised or checked up on, gaslighting or other mind games, shaming/humiliating, extreme jealousy, repeated blaming, being isolated from friends/family/work, and threatening or controlling behaviour.
Victims of emotional abuse are often left feeling low, intimidated, controlled, and/or scared.
You can read more about emotional abuse in Verywell Mind’s article; What is emotional abuse? Or to hear a personal account of emotional abuse from one of our brave members, you might want to check out her story, entitled The anatomy of an emotionally abusive relationship.
Stalking is a form of extreme emotional or psychological abuse. Women’s Aid defines it as “a pattern of persistent and unwanted attention that makes you feel pestered, scared, anxious or harassed.”
This could include unwanted phone calls, gifts, visits to your home, damaging property, threats, or persistently following or spying on you.
Stalking can happen during a relationship, for example, if your partner is intensely jealous and wants to keep tabs on you. But it can also happen when a relationship ends – usually when an ex-partner can’t accept that the relationship is over.
Victims of stalking can be left feeling terrified and fearing for their safety.
If you’re being stalked, it’s important to let someone know. Stalking is now considered a criminal offence, so the police should take reports seriously.
Sexual abuse is often about power. It’s when you’re forced into having sex with your partner or someone else without your consent (rape), and/or when your partner or someone else forces you to watch pornography, physically hurts or humiliates you during sex, coerces you into having unprotected sex, or sabotages your birth control.
Other kinds of sexual abuse can include forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and trafficking.
On their website, Rape Crisis reminds us that just because you don’t scream, shout, or run away during sexual abuse, this doesn’t mean that you didn’t experience sexual violence. It’s common for people to feel so shocked or scared during a sexual assault that they become unable to speak or move.
Financial abuse is a form of coercive control and may refer to the perpetrator preventing you from having, earning, or accessing your own money. They may steal or restrict your money (effectively putting you on an allowance), prevent you from working, damage your credit score, and/or coerce you into debt.
A financial abuser may also restrict or limit access to other resources such as transportation, food, clothing, and a place to live so that you become dependent on them for your basic needs. If you’re separated from your abuser, they may also withhold child maintenance payments.
Our article, Are you a victim of financial abuse? has plenty more information on what it is, what your rights are, and where to turn for support. There’s also help available in our article; Six charities that help women in need.
Online abuse involves the abuser using technology to stalk, monitor, harass, or blackmail you.
This may include hacking into your personal online accounts (such as your email account); monitoring your text messages, calls, and social media interactions; using GPS tracking devices to monitor your location; demanding to know your passwords; and/or posting private information about you online (such as nude photos).
Women’s Aid has a helpful page on online and digital abuse, which includes information about how you can protect yourself.
Leaving an abusive relationship
Women’s Aid says that one of the questions they get asked time and again is why someone doesn’t just leave an abusive relationship – almost as though they’re to blame for staying.
In response to this, Women’s Aid has emphasised that we need to stop blaming victims of domestic abuse for not leaving a perpetrator. Instead, we should aim to better understand the hurdles that many victims face when considering leaving an abusive relationship so that we can support and enable them to break free.
Some of the most common reasons that people stay in an abusive relationship are…
Danger and fear
For some people, leaving an abusive relationship can be incredibly dangerous and may increase the likelihood of violence. Research from 2018 shows that 41% of women killed by a male partner in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland had left or taken steps to leave them.
Wanting to help the person be better
Some people believe the perpetrator is abusive because they’re going through a tough time, so they may endeavour to help them overcome these issues and be better. With this often comes the belief that if they stay with their abuser and stick it out, things might change.
Situations are usually much more complicated when there are children involved. Some victims may believe that if their partner isn’t abusive towards the children, they’re better off staying within the family unit.
They may also stay because they’re worried about any legal problems that could come with taking the children away and don’t want to leave without them.
If a person has become financially dependent on their abuser, leaving can be difficult, as they may worry about how they’ll support themselves and/or their children.
People in abusive relationships can often become isolated from friends and family and end up with no life of their own outside of their home – and no one they can rely on.
Some people may have friends or family to turn to for financial support and somewhere to stay, but often this is only temporary. Some victims may also worry about what will happen if their partner comes after them and their loved ones get involved in the altercation.
Trauma and low confidence
Being beaten, controlled, and/or told you’re worthless and will never manage on your own can, of course, have an incredibly damaging effect on your self-esteem. Victims of domestic abuse are often so traumatised that they may feel stuck – they’re terrified to stay but they’re also terrified to leave.
Trauma bonding can also make victims feel confused or overwhelmed when they think about leaving. It describes the cycle of abuse and positive reinforcement. Following each abusive event, the abuser may take steps to make the victim feel safe again by professing their love, giving them gifts, and apologising profusely. This can make it harder for the victim to leave and the cycle continues.
Shame or denial
Abusers are often completely different people outside of the home. They’re charming and manipulative, so can end up being very popular and well-respected in their communities. This makes it harder for victims to speak out about what’s happening, as they may worry that they won’t be believed.
In addition, abusers may try to convince victims that the abuse is their fault or that it’s all in their head (gaslighting). Victims may feel ashamed and try to cover up, deny, or make excuses for the abuse.
Where to turn for help and support if you’re in an abusive relationship or know someone who is
If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone – and that you don’t have to wait until you’re in an emergency situation or at your wits end to ask for help.
You might want to start by telling a trusted friend or family member. You can also call, email, or web chat with one of the following help services…
- England – The Freephone National Abuse Helpline run by Refuge charity. Call 0808 2000 247 or join a live chat online. You can also send a message by filling out a webform.
- Northern Ireland – Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline. Call 0808 802 1414 or join a live chat online. You can also email [email protected].
- Scotland – Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline. Call 0800 802 1414 or join a live chat online. You can also email [email protected].
- Wales – Live Fear Free. Call 0800 8010 800 or join a live chat online. You can also email [email protected].
Other sources of support include…
- Your GP, who can steer you in the direction of places and people who can help you.
- Ask for ANI. If you’re in need of immediate help, then you can go into a participating pharmacy and ask for ‘ANI’ – which stands for Action Needed Immediately.
You’ll know if a pharmacy is participating in the ANI scheme as they’ll have an ANI logo displayed on a poster somewhere.
They’ll take you to a private consultation room, where you’ll have access to a phone. If you’re in immediate danger, they’ll ask you whether you want the police to be called (they can do this on your behalf). They’ll also direct you to the relevant domestic abuse support services and helplines.
- Safe Spaces. The Safe Space scheme is very similar to the Ask ANI scheme in that you can go into participating Boots, Morrisons, Superdrug and Well pharmacies, TSB, and independent pharmacies across the UK and ask for domestic abuse support information. Many Safe Space participants are also aware of the ASK ANI codeword and will be prepared to help you call the police or support services discreetly.
- Bright Sky app. This is a safe, easy-to-use app that provides practical information and support on how to respond to domestic abuse – as well as how to spot the signs. The app can be used by people experiencing domestic abuse or those who’re worried about someone else.
- Women’s Aid local support services directory. Whether you’re looking for a refuge, peer support, information about domestic abuse, or to want to talk to a trained professional support worker, you’ll find that here. You can also use the Women’s Aid live chat service 7 days a week, 10am to 6pm to get advice and support. Or you can send an email to [email protected].
- Specialised domestic abuse support services, such as those for black, Asian, and ethnic minority people, forced marriage and honour-based violence, LGBTIQ+ people, men, or women.
- Emergency services. Call 999 if you’re in danger, or dial 55 if you’re unable to speak. If it’s not an emergency but you’d like support or advice from the police, then you can call 101.
Getting a court order to protect you or your child
Another thing you can do to protect yourself or your child(ren) from an abusive partner (or former partner) is to apply for a court order, known as a non-molestation or occupation order. This is a kind of injunction that can protect you from violence or harassment.
Where to turn for help and support after the domestic abuse has ended
Even if you’re no longer a victim of domestic abuse, the effects can last long after it’s ended. Just as there’s support out there for people experiencing domestic abuse, there are also some additional tools that can help survivors cope with the aftermath and start to heal.
Resources that you might find helpful include…
- My Support Space (provided by Victim Support). Here, you can sign up for free to gain access to a range of tools to help you cope and move forwards after abuse.
- Surviving after abuse – a guide from Women’s Aid on how to deal with the emotions you might experience after escaping an abuser.
- Ginny NiCarthy’s domestic abuse handbook, Getting Free: You Can End Abuse and Take Back Your Life, which has advice on how to rebuild your life after abuse, including how to meet new people and reactivate your dreams.
- Accounts from people who’ve survived domestic abuse and are now free from their abuser. You can find several of these on the Living Without Abuse website. We also have two written accounts from one of our brave members; The anatomy of an emotionally abusive relationship and Behind the mask: a world of isolation and loneliness. Reading stories like these may help you to feel less alone.
A final thought…
Whether you’re a victim of domestic abuse or you have been in the past and are still coming to terms with what’s happened, it’s important to remember that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel – even if you can’t always see it.
Remember that domestic abuse is wrong, is never your fault, and you’re never alone. And by reaching out for help and allowing yourself time to heal, it’s possible to start feeling safe and secure again, and living life on your terms.