Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse
What is domestic violence and abuse?
Domestic violence and abuse is not just about being ‘battered’ but is about being subjected to controlling and coercive behaviour (using force and threats to make someone do things they are unwilling to do). Abusive behaviour involves threats to harm the women or their families if they do not comply with their partner’s demands, as well as physical, financial, sexual and verbal abuse. It can involve having every aspect of a person’s life controlled by a partner or family member, so that they lose all confidence in themselves. The UK definition of domestic violence and abuse has recently been expanded to reflect our growing understanding of ‘coercive control’, which became a criminal offence in 2015 (see below). Anyone can experience domestic violence and abuse but the focus in this section of this section of the website is on women’s experiences.
Domestic violence and abuse:
- Affects around 4.6m women (28.4% of the adult population) in England and Wales in their lifetime, *1 and 13.6% of men.*2.
- Leads to, on average, two women being murdered each week in England and Wales (approximately 135 women per year), and 48 men per year. *2.
- On average the police in England and Wales receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour. (HMIC, 2015)*3
Nicki Norman, Deputy Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, urges women to seek help.
Nicki Norman, Deputy Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, urges women to seek help.
Yes I have been working directly, one way or another with survivors of abuse for about 25 years, and I think if there was one message that I was going to give to women experiencing abuse it’s that it’s not your fault, absolutely it’s not your fault. Women often internalise the abuse they’re experiencing, they often question whether they’re actually experiencing domestic abuse, particularly as the rhetoric is it’s about physical abuse, when often actually the physical abuse won’t necessarily be their day-to-day experience. There might always be the threat of it there but women experience other forms of abuse as well within a relationship so sexual abuse, financial abuse, control of everything they’re doing. So coercive control was recognised as illegal in the law last year, which is a really positive step forward, particularly because many women don’t necessarily seek the help that they need or deserve because they don’t recognise that they’re experiencing domestic abuse.
And there are services available, so Women’s Aid has a network of member services, in most area there is a domestic violence service that might provide refuge for safe accommodation to escape from the abuser. There is, there are outreach services, there are advocacy services and there are helplines and we also run the National Domestic Violence Helpline which is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Women can just ring and get support with anything related to their experiences around domestic abuse. It can be anonymous and we won’t judge them but what we can do with our online database is identify exactly where they can get the help that they need in the country.
OK and what would be your message to say a friend of family member or someone if they were concerned about a woman that they knew?
I think it’s really hard when you see can someone that you care about in an abusive relationship and you feel helpless to be able to make things better for them. My advice to them would be to not to try to pressurise her to leave the relationship or take action that she doesn’t want to do because ultimately you’ll probably just drive a wedge between yourself and her because she’s not able to do that and its very important to recognise what the barriers to her seeking help might be.
Two women a week are killed and often that’s after they left the abuser so it’s a really, really risky time so what I would say to them is to not judge her, to provide information about where she can get support and to let her know that you’re always there for help and support if she needs it.
And I gather family members and friends themselves can actually ring your – the national helpline?
Yes the helpline is available for anybody that’s concerned about domestic abuse whether they’re a professional or a family member or a friend or a woman experiencing abuse themselves.
And if you’re a professional working in the field you might come across through health care professionals or other areas, you might come across women who’ve experienced abuse, what would your be your advice to them do you think?
My advice would be to always, always attempt to see the woman on her own because often if she’s in a controlling relationship the perpetrator will make sure that he’s by her side when she’s seeing professionals, not giving her an opportunity to disclose the abuse. So to see her on her own and actually to question her about whether there’s anybody in her life that she’s worried about or she’s fearful of at the moment. So actually ask the question and give her the opportunity to tell you. And if she does tell you, again not to be judgmental but to listen to what she’s telling you about the risks that she’s facing and what support that she might need and how you can help he, rather than running away with your own agenda and being um, attempting to make her decisions for her. It’s really important that you provide her with the information to enable her to make the decisions that are right for her.
Nicki perhaps you could finish by just actually telling us what the helpline number is and for anyone that is on this website there is a link here but you might just like to tell us what the National Helpline is.
The National Domestic Violence Helpline we run in partnership with ‘Refuge’ is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s staffed by female, trained experts in domestic abuse. Anybody can ring and get support, whether it’s first time disclosing or whether it’s an emergency refuge today and we’ll help them. The number for the national Domestic Violence Helpline is 0808 2000 247.
Professor Gene Feder is a general practitioner who leads the Domestic Violence Research Group in the School of Social and Community Medicine at Bristol University. Dr Alison Gregory is a researcher at Bristol University, specialising in the impact of domestic violence and abuse on family and friends of victims. Definition of Domestic Violence and Abuse (UK Government 2013)
‘Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse’.
Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
Coercive or controlling behaviour offence
A coercive or controlling behaviour offence came into force in the UK in December 2015. It carries a maximum 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. Victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.
Abbreviations and definitions used in text:
IAPT: Improving Access to Psychological Therapies
JSA: Jobseeker's Allowance.
IDVA: Independent Domestic Violence Advocate.
MARAC: Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference.
IRIS: Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS): a general practice training and support programme.
Stockholm Syndrome: a psychological process in which hostages develop feelings of empathy and sympathy for their captors. Temporary lack of abuse can be interpreted as kindness and the person entrapped may become dependent on the person entrapping them. A similar process is thought to occur amongst women experiencing domestic abuse.
*1. These figures are from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) which offers the best data available (Women’s Aid). Also according to these data, in the year ending March 2019, an estimated 7.5% of women (1.6 million) and 3.8% of men (786,000) between the ages of 16 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in the last year.
*2. Data from the Home Office Homicide Index for the year ending March 2016 to the year ending March 2018 show that there were 270 female victims of domestic homicide and 96 male victims of domestic homicide in the same timeframe.
*3. Women’s Aid (2015) ‘How common is domestic abuse?’
(Accessed February 2020).
Last reviewed February 2020.
Last updated February 2020.