Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour used to establish and maintain power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence.
Some signs of an abusive relationship include:
- One partner exerting strict control over another, including over their finances, social life, or appearance
- A partner needing constant contact, including excessive texts and calls
- Verbal and emotional abuse, including one partner insulting another in front of other people
- A partner showing extreme jealousy
- A person showing fear around their partner
- A person being isolated from family and friends by their partner
- A person frequently cancelling plans at the last minute
- A person having unexplained or frequent injuries
What does Domestic Abuse Look Like?
A common misconception is that domestic abuse always or only includes physical violence. Domestic abuse also includes:
- Making you engage in sexual behaviour without your consent
- Forcing you into prostitution
- Forcing you to have sex with other people besides your partner
- Stopping you from using contraception
- Forcing you to have an abortion (or preventing you from having one)
- Criticizing you for your sexual performance
- Accusing you of having sex with other people
- Making threats to harm or kill you, your children or other family members, friends or pets – or themselves
- Name-calling, insults, continual criticism, using words to isolate and control
- Humiliating or embarrassing you purposely in public
- Starting destructive rumours about you, or threatening to expose secrets or confidential information about you
- Manipulating you so that you start to question your own sanity, memory, perception, or judgement (this is called “gaslighting”)
- Attacking you with a weapon
- Choking or strangling you, burning you with cigarettes, (or an iron, oven or fire), pushing, kicking, biting, pinching, slapping, or hitting or punching you with hands or objects
- Holding down, shaking, or tying you up
- Smashing or breaking your belongings or furniture
- Depriving you of food/warmth/sleep/medication/other aids
- Humiliating you and/or calling you names
- Constantly making you feel guilty
- Belittling or mocking your gender identity or expression
- Telling you that nobody will believe you if you report the abuse. Emotional abuse overlaps with verbal abuse, and can also include criticizing, undermining or interrogating you, using your immigration status to control you, preventing you from learning English or any other language necessary for social interaction, or telling you that no one else will ever want you in order to undermine your confidence.
- Preventing you from getting a job or harassing you at work (in person, by phone or by other electronic means)
- Denying your access to money or monitoring your spending activity
- Making major financial decisions without your agreement, running up debts in your name, taking out benefits in your name
- Withholding money from you, and making you ask for money
The phrase ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘domestic violence’ are often used to describe the same issue. We tend to use the phrase ‘domestic abuse’ as it covers forms of abuse in addition to physical violence. We use the phrasing interchangeably.
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, social background, gender, religion, sexual identity, race, culture, economic empowerment, ethnicity, or ability.
Domestic abuse happens in every kind of relationship: heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Anyone could be a perpetrator, a victim, or a survivor of domestic abuse. It doesn’t just happen to women—men can be victims too, whether their partner is a man or a woman. However it must be noted that domestic abuse is a gendered issue and happens to millions more women than men. It also has an impact on friends and family of the person who is affected by domestic violence. The effects of domestic abuse are significant for everyone impacted by it.
Domestic abuse starts when one partner feels the need to control and dominate the other. It’s important to remember that the responsibility for domestic violence always lies with the person who is the perpetrator. No one deserves to experience abuse or violence for any reason. It is often very difficult for a person experiencing abuse to fully embrace this point.
People who abuse seek to control their partners for many reasons:
- Low self-esteem
- Difficulties in dealing with anger and other emotions
- Extreme jealousy
- Strict religious or patriarchal beliefs
- Personality or psychological disorders
- Feeling inferior to their partner
A partner’s domination may take the form of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, along with financial abuse. Although women are most often the victims, men can and do experience domestic violence. However domestic abuse is a gendered issue with women predominantly being the victims. Alcohol and drugs may exacerbate violent behaviour.
No cause of domestic violence justifies the actions of the abuser, nor should it be used as an excuse for their behaviour.
In many parts of the world, domestic violence is a crime, and we all have a role to play in ending it.
‘Some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are the smallest.’ (UNICEF 2006)
Violence in the home is one of the most pervasive human rights challenges of our time. It remains a largely hidden problem that few countries, communities or families openly confront. Violence in the home is not limited by geography, ethnicity or status; it is a global phenomenon. As long as violence in the home is shrouded in silence, that violence will continue.
Worldwide, 176 million children under the age of 5 live with a mother who is a victim of intimate partner violence (UNICEF 2017a). Children who witness family violence tend not to perform as well as their peers in school, at sports and in social interactions, and have a greater chance of having behavioural problems. They may blame themselves, have sleep problems, nightmares and headaches. Girls may become withdrawn and passive and boys aggressive and bullying.
Children may be co-opted into the violence, be forced to watch or take part in assaults. They may be blamed for the violence or used as a weapon. These children may be confused seeing a parent change from being loving to being abusive. They might have to organise emergency treatment for their mother in such situations.
Child maltreatment and domestic abuse frequently co-exist. Since the 1970s, studies have consistently found that among 65–77 percent of households where women are subject to domestic abuse, children are also physically maltreated. (Early Intervention in Domestic Violence & Abuse 2014 ).
‘Although the long-term impacts of exposure to abusive behaviour may vary significantly from one child to another, the varying results do indicate that children in these environments will have a greater tendency to unhealthy responses to violence. The NSPCC (2011) has observed that experiencing or witnessing physical violence by a parent or guardian can be associated with higher levels of delinquent behaviour’ (Hestia 2015).
When mothers seek help for abuse, their children must not be forgotten. They, too, need a support plan to recover from the violence they have witnessed and for problems they may be experiencing, which can reveal themselves in many ways.
No relationship is perfect, but healthy intimate partner relationships make both people feel respected, supported, and safe. Healthy relationships involve mutual respect, trust, equality and honesty. Look below to see some of the characteristics of a healthy relationship.
A relationship is healthy if both partners:
- Practice open and honest communication
- Understand that it’s okay to disagree and hold different opinions
- Understand that it’s okay to argue, but never to feel afraid during an argument
- Celebrate each other’s individuality
- Try to bring out each other’s best qualities
- Celebrate each other’s achievements
- Have financial independence
- Share decision making
- Welcome affection and closeness
- Have a sexual relationship that is safe, and neither partner feels forced, coerced or unduly influenced into engaging in sexual activities
- Are not forced, coerced or unduly influenced into using illegal substances, alcohol, or criminal behaviour
- Acknowledge their own behaviour and any hurt it may cause
- Do not check each other’s mobile phones, messages or emails out of jealousy
- Encourage relationships with family members and friends
- Encourage hobbies and other activities outside of the relationship
- Do not discourage each other’s freedom of choice (i.e. telling a partner that they cannot wear certain clothes, makeup, etc.)
- Do not cheat on each other or have multiple partners
- Do not play mind games (i.e. deny each other’s experiences or emotions)
It is important to understand the characteristics and behaviours of perpetrators to appreciate the plight of the victim. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are those who exert power and control over the victim. Their behaviour is intentional, repetitive and often escalates over a period of time. The person who perpetrates uses physical violence, sexual violence and abuse, emotional and coercive control, obsessive and stalking behaviour, financial control, isolation from family, friends and neighbours and other behaviours to control the victim.
Unfortunately, there is not a single profile of domestic violence perpetrators. They come from all races, cultures, ethnicities, and encompass all education levels and religious affiliations, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is noted that men are predominately the perpetrators of violence against women. However, men are also victims of domestic abuse. As such, it is difficult to accurately depict who will and who will not engage in violent behavior against a victim. There are, however, common characteristics nearly all domestic violence perpetrators portray. Collective traits of perpetrators may include:
- may suffer from low self-esteem
- may lash out if they feel they are losing the victim ( break-up, divorce, separation, or pregnancy)
- fanatical need to maintain power and domination over the victim
- controlling and manipulative behavior
- are not out of control, crazy
People who perpetrate often know what they are doing. They are responsible for the abuse and violence.
There are cases when perpetrators begin to think about their behaviour and seek change. In order for any long term change to take place, the person must accept personal responsibility and not think others must change for them. It may be that the perpetrator is worried that their behaviour towards their partner might be abusive. Or that their children are witnessing abusive behaviour and are living in fear. It may be that the perpetrator is seeing that their relationship is difficult or tense because of their actions.
It takes real strength for anyone to admit that they are abusive.
People who perpetrate domestic abuse choose to control, hurt, or force someone to do things they don’t want to. Look through the list below to see if you recognize this behaviour:
- Do you constantly need to know where your partner is?
- Are you angry when your partner wants to spend time with friends or family?
- Do you tell your partner what to wear?
- Do you call your partner names and put them down?
- Do you threaten to hurt yourself (or your partner/children) if they want to leave the relationship?
- Do you monitor your partner’s telephone calls, texts, emails or social media and internet use?
- Do you control all financial decisions and access to money?
- Do you use physical force against your partner (punching, kicking, slapping etc)?
There are things that you can do to help you stop. You need to:
- Accept that you are responsible for the abuse. You cannot blame your actions on anything else. It is not the fault of your partner, or drink, drugs, stress, or work
- Accept that the abuse comes from your desire to control your partner
- Realise that you have a choice – you choose to be abusive, and you can choose not to be
- Accept that you are hurting your partner, who has a right to live without being dominated and controlled
- Stop using anger, violence, and other abusive behaviours to control your partner
- There are support mechanisms that may be available in your area. Please seek out these programmes to support you