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Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Sexual violence and abuse

Sexual abuse is any sort of non-consensual sexual contact, including rape. Sexual abuse can happen to men or women of any age. Sexual abuse by an intimate partner can include derogatory name calling, refusal to use contraception, deliberately causing unwanted physical pain during sex, deliberately passing on sexual diseases or infections and using objects, toys, or other items, without consent and in order to cause pain or humiliation. 

Of all the different types of abuse which may be part of domestic violence, women find this aspect the most difficult to talk about, not helped by the fact that until 1986 rape within marriage wasn’t recognised as a crime in England and Wales. For many victims of abuse it is very difficult to refuse sexual contact since this might lead to negative consequences. 

Women we talked to had experienced rape and other forms of unwanted sexual behaviour, as well as name-calling. Linda’s partner called her ugly and ‘awful’ to have sex with, taunting her with his new lover. Shaina’s partner made her take her contraceptive implant out. In contrast, Charlotte’s partner withdrew all closeness and intimacy including sex and was furious at her for suggesting sex.

Sex: men see it as their ‘right’ and the woman’s ‘duty’

All the women we interviewed described elements of sexual abuse or violence in their relationship. They said their partners demanded sex when they, themselves, did not want it. Sophie realised that she was merely a ‘service provider’ in their relationship. Kate said:

‘He didn’t understand why he couldn’t touch me and handle me in any way he wanted … [but] I had no right to impact on his life.’

Many women, like Sarah, Lolita and Sara talked about being ‘coerced into sex’.
 

Sarah’s partner threatened to have sex with somebody else if she refused to have sex with him.

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Age at interview: 32
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You said things got worse and worse I just wondered if there were any other tactics, any other things that were going on. 

I'd say his jealousy was one of the big parts of the relationship. It was it was relentless and then he would, if we were having an argument, he would get quite physical like I've already said. He was relatively ... well he was sexually abusive in that he would he would coerce me into having sex ... 

Right when you weren't wanting it. 

... when I didn't want it, yeah. 

Okay. 

And he could be quite aggressive then. And using all the, all the tactics of oh you know if you don't somebody else will. You're the woman, you're supposed to, I'm the man I need this. All the rubbish.
Lolita’s partner said that as she was his girlfriend, he should be able to have sex with her if he wanted to. Lolita knew that non-consensual sex was rape but she did not challenge her partner as she held on to the hope that he might one again ‘become the person that [she] fell in love with’.
 

Lolita’s partner would ‘just climb on top and do what he wanted’ and then leave, not caring that she was crying.

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Age at interview: 20
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And you said something about he was breaking you down so you had to do things.

Yeah.

Did he succeed at that? Did you sometimes do things which you didn’t really want to do just to please him?

I had sex with him a couple of times when I didn’t want to. I didn’t really feel like I had a choice. We had, it was usually after a massive argument where he was horrible to me, calling me all the names under the sun, calling me ugly, calling me fat, telling me, phew, nobody would want me, telling me he doesn’t even enjoy having sex with me, and then I’d be in the bedroom doing my own thing and he’d come in and just climb on top of me, do what he wanted and leave. Whether I said no, whether I cried, whether I didn’t want it, he didn’t care, he just did what he wanted and left. And then within an hour he’d try and come and comfort me and act like nothing had happened. And when I’d ask him, “You had sex with me, why did you do that? I told you I didn’t want it.” He’d turn around and say, “Well, you’re my girlfriend and if I want sex I should be able to have sex with you.” So I just kind of, I knew it was wrong, I knew that it was still considered to be rape because it was un-consensual, no matter whether he’s my husband, my boyfriend or the father of my child, I still did not consent to it. But because I felt like he never, he wasn’t always this person, I kind of thought that there was a point where he might become the person that I fell in love with.
Sara felt constantly pressurised in her marriage by her husband’s daily sexual demands, even during pregnancy. She tried to negotiate a compromise, as he became ‘stroppy’ to her and the kids if he didn’t have regular sex, and threatened to leave. She began to feel inadequate when her husband said her lack of interest in sex meant that she did not love him enough.
 

Sara couldn’t cope with her husband’s sexual demands. Sex was sometimes physically painful for her but her husband would not listen to her (read by a professional).

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Age at interview: 40
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I think he thinks that sex is love, my ex, I think he honestly thinks ... because it's like oh you don't really love me because you, you know, we don't ... we haven't had sex this week. Or he would do the, the other thing of like on the Wednesday, Monday to Wednesday, if we hadn’t had sex, he'd say we haven't had sex this week and that was kind of a bit of an alarm bell. I'm thinking no I won't and that was the pressure and then he was wondering why I felt pressure. He was reminding me like we only had sex once last week or we haven't had sex, normally had sex actually each week. [We actually were having sex three times a week and he was still wanting sex].

But... and there was a thing on this thing on the Saturday [on the marriage course] about questions and answers and there was one about what if your husband, you know, wants to have sex and you don't ... this woman was saying my husband wants sex and I have sex, even though I don't actually want it and this woman was saying that's actually wrong because you've both got to want to. Both have to be consenting. If there's a problem you need to sit down and talk about it and that's the thing, is that whole talking, communication. 
When women were not keen on having sex, men verbally abused them, calling them either ‘frigid’ or a ‘slag, a ‘whore’. They often falsely interpreted a lack of interest in sex as evidence that the woman was having an affair. This led them to become even more controlling and violent.

Rape

Some women described being regularly raped, sometimes violently. Several women woke to find their partner penetrating them without their consent. Many women said they complied with their partner’s sexual demands to avoid further abuse. Melanie said, looking back, there had been ‘a lot of raping’. Forceful, aggressive sex became the norm and she ‘learned to go onto auto-pilot’. She said there was no love involved, her partner blatantly telling her ‘it’s not about pleasing you, it’s about you pleasing me’. She believed it was ‘normal’.
 

Melanie’s partner insisted on sex when she was dressed to go out and he left her no time to have a wash afterwards.

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Age at interview: 42
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You mentioned raping.

Yeah, that was.

Do you want to talk a little bit about that or?

I think that was his preference. I think he enjoyed seeing somebody hurt. 

I think for him it wasn’t about having sex with a loving partner, it was about getting what he wanted. 

So a lot of the time it was, if I was dressed to go somewhere for example, he would have to have sex before I left the house. It wasn’t, it was never loving sex. It was almost forceful, aggressive sex.

Hurting me. And then not allowing me to have a wash before I left the house. So that became quite normal, whatever normal is for me. I wasn’t allowed to say no. There was no such thing as no because he would take it. 

So if you did try and say no, what would happen or?

He would take it. He would take it, pinning me down and yeah, just doing what he wanted really. I don’t, I wasn’t really, even though he didn’t say, “You can’t have no expression, it’s not about you pleasing you, it was about you pleasing me”. So I learned to go onto autopilot. I knew what I needed to do. I knew the job that he wanted done, doing. And I was really good at my job [long sigh].

So, yeah, that was my sex life… [tearful] for many years. And I thought that was normal. 
Ella
, like many women, talked about being forced to have sex after clearly saying she did not want it but did not realise it constituted rape. Ella’s image of rape was being attacked ‘in a dark alley by someone you don’t know’.
 

Ella felt ‘weird’ with her partner after he persisted with sex after she said ‘I don’t want to have sex’, but she did not realise it counted as ‘rape’ (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 27
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So, yeah, the one time as well, which I don’t like saying, but I’m just going to tell you, but when we were living in the, in the flat, well I was going over there a lot, it was the first time he’d ever taken drugs and he’d been out all night. Because of his sport he doesn’t do drugs or drink. He used to smoke weed, but he wasn’t really one for, for drinking or taking drugs. So this one time I know he’d been out all night. He was starting to get into this habit of again going out. I was about 21 now at the time. And I know he’d done, he’d done drugs, because he came in, it was early, it was about 5/6 o’clock in the morning. And I said, “Where have you been?” and he said, “Oh, I’ve been over to one of the clubs.” And he said I said, “You look really weird,” and he said, “Oh, I’ve taken drugs.” And I, as far as I’m aware, that was the first time he’d done them.

Right.

And then he got on top of me and he wanted to have sex and I was just it was, it was really weird, I just like froze. And I said like, “I don’t want to have sex,” I said, “you’ve been out all night, I don’t want to.” And he just persisted, he started taking my trousers off. I said, “I don’t, I don’t want to.” I think I had pyjama bottoms on or something. And I just kept saying, “Oh like no.” But he just insisted. So it’s yeah, it’s not I just think back at that, and I always think now, “I wonder if he, I wonder if he ever knew what he did to me that night?” Like, I don’t know, it just plays on my mind sometimes now, I just think [tearful].

What happened to you that night, would you say?

I was raped.

Right.

Yeah hmm.

And what was the impact of that on you after that?

I felt weird. I wouldn’t have said it was rape at the time; I just remember feeling really like, “That was weird. I said no and he still did it.” And I thought it was a bit I thought it was weird. I knew it wasn’t normal but, because he was my boyfriend, I didn’t believe that, rape, you could be raped, your boyfriend couldn’t rape you. You know, rape’s something that happens when you’re walking through a dark alley by someone you don’t know, that’s how I thought.
Women also talked about some professionals who did not believe that ‘rape’ could happen within a marriage, and did not provide appropriate support. Lindsay was anally raped on her wedding night.
 

Lindsay described her contact with doctors who did not acknowledge domestic abuse after she was raped by her husband.

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Age at interview: 35
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Back in 2001 when he first raped me, the police, doctors, appalling, no support, no nothing.

Did you go to them and tell them what was

Yeah.

happening?

I went to me doctor. Got married on Friday, raped me Friday night, went to the doctor’s Monday. The doctor just said, “Everybody goes - it’s a new marriage, everyone goes through a rough patch.” Anyhow, I ended up bleeding from the back passage, had to ring an ambulance. Police escorted me to the hospital and on the way down there the policeman [sighs] he just said to me, “How can you have been raped by, it’s the partner’s, this is the partner’s journey,” or something like that. “How can you be raped by your husband? He’s just had it a little bit too rough.” Until the nurse the nurse’s report came back, the internal came back and there was damage done to, on the inside. Wasn’t offered no support then by the police. No victim support.

What about the hospital when you, just checking it’s coming through here.

No, nothing, like no counselling, no, absolutely no nothing.

So they just sent you away from the hospital?

Yeah.

They just sent you away with a?

Just give me some antibiotics in case I had an infection through the ripping of me back passage.
Sex for favours

Sex was used as a form of control (see ‘Coercive Controlling Behaviour’). Some women had to ‘pay’ for the right to go out of the house, to buy food for their children, or to fill the car with petrol to get to work, by first having sex. Victoria’s ex said her would only give her child maintenance payments if she slept with him, making her feel like ‘a prostitute’. Yasmin and Ella both described having to perform oral sex in a car park before they were allowed to go and buy groceries or pay for petrol to get to work.
 

Yasmin had to adopt a pattern of paying for anything she needed with sex or, as she put it, ‘sleeping with’ her husband.

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Age at interview: 32
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I didn’t have money at all.

Nothing at all?

Nothing.

So he … controlled everything?

Yes. So my son was breastfeeding so he didn’t have to like do lots of … the, on nappies, on milk, or on every other thing I was relying on him, like calling him if you can …

If you can get these things?

These things.

Yeah. Yeah.

And he will get it. But if I say again and again, like if I have like three nappies left …

Uh-huh.

… and I just keep giving him reminder he will get quite annoyed.

Right.

And then if he is annoyed he is not going to buy anything.

So what would happen?

So I was like … more in that pressure. I want that nappies, I want that milk.

Yes.

And, okay, he … he might buy me the take away, but what I will do … like a few baby foods you have to make with the milk.

Yes of course.

This and that.

Yes of course.

But if … then there was a situation I didn’t have any option, not even nappies or milk. Because he will come home when we are sleeping, early morning, and he will not leave home by four o’clock without talking. Anything. But in order to get things, ask him to do … I have to sleep with him.

Right. Yeah. Okay. Mm.

So that’s the thing I adopted, if I need something I have to sleep with him.

Yeah, yeah.

If I want to see my son to have toys, have food, have clothes …

You had to pay for it with sex?

Yeah.

Yes. So that was what your life was like at that time?

Yes.
 

Ella had to wait and ask for money to put petrol in her car to get to work and then was only given some cash if she had oral sex first (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 27
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Can you give me any other examples of how he controlled you?

Taking my money, financially. If I’d – because I had a car, I was working, oh, in [name of city], he would – I would be paying for the shopping, I’d pay half the rent, because he was on the dole at the time, so the half of the house was paid by the dole. And then he’d have his dole money. He was like sell weed as well, so all his incomings were fine. But mine, I was having to work to pay half of the rent and things like that, so I was putting a lot of money into it. And he used to do things like make me give him oral sex for money for petrol, if I couldn’t get to work, I’m going to get upset now... sorry ... [tearful].

That’s fine, that’s absolutely understandable. Have you got a tissue or something?

No [laughs]. 

[pause to get tissues] 

Thanks, so because then I was trying to get to work, sometimes I, you know, I didn’t have money for petrol and things like that. He used to come back from him training for this sport that he did. At the time I’d started [unclear] for work, so sometimes if I didn’t have any money, I had to wait for it, and I’d say, “Oh, can you lend me £5, £10 just so I can put petrol in the car to get to work?” And he’d make me obviously give him oral sex and then he’d give me the money then. Mmm.
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