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What is domestic abuse and how can someone facing it get help?

Domestic abuse

By Yvonne Hignell, Care & Support Services Director

Domestic abuse can affect anyone, regardless of gender or background, and it can have a big impact on their mental health, self-confidence and physical wellbeing. It can be overlooked or denied, especially if the abuse is psychological rather than physical.

One in four women and one in six men suffer from domestic abuse in their lifetime. For every three victims of domestic abuse, two will be female and one male (Mankind, 2016).

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What is domestic abuse?

The Government’s definition of domestic abuse is:

“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, emotional.”

Domestic abuse can take many different forms, including:

    • Physical abuse: physically hurting someone
    • Sexual abuse: rape, unwanted sexual activity, touching, groping, making someone watch pornography
    • Financial abuse: taking money, controlling finances, not letting someone work
    • Emotional abuse / coercive control: intimidation, threats, repeatedly making someone feel bad or scared, stalking, blackmailing, constantly checking up on someone, playing mind games
    • Digital / online abuse
    • Forced marriage

Domestic abuse can take place at any stage in a relationship, including after a break-up. Incidents are rarely one-off and tend to get more serious and more frequent over time.

It can happen in all types of relationship: heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

How do I know if my partner is abusive?

Domestic abuse often stems from a need to have control over someone else. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may be experiencing domestic abuse:

  • Do you have to change the way you behave because you’re frightened of your partner’s reaction?
  • Do you feel afraid, intimidated or have to walk on eggshells around them?
  • Do they belittle you, regularly criticise you or tell you what to wear/think?
  • Does your partner unjustly accuse you of flirting or having affairs with others?
  • Have they tried to stop you from seeing friends or family?
  • Have they tried to prevent you from going to a doctor or taking medication?
  • Do they constantly check up on you or follow you?
  • Have they ever threated to hurt you or damage your belongings?
  • Have they threatened to hurt your children or prevent you from seeing them?
  • Do they read your texts, emails or letters?
  • Do they try to control your money or prevent you from going to work?
  • Do they hurt you or throw things?
  • Do they pressurise you into sex or make unwanted demands?
  • Do they touch you when you don’t want to be touched?

If you are worried you may be in an abusive relationship, you can call our free, confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat.

Are you abusing your partner?

If you are hurting someone you love and want to stop, you can contact the free Respect phoneline. This organisation works with those who commit domestic abuse to help them recognise patterns in their behaviour, change their ways and improve their relationships. Or, you can contact Ben.

Keeping yourself (and your children) safe

The Women’s Aid Survivors’ Handbook has some practical advice for putting together a plan to help protect yourself and your children from future abuse. It also provides advice on what to do if you decide to leave your partner. Although the charity is aimed at women, the advice is useful regardless of gender. Read their advice on making a safety plan.

Try to avoid retaliating as this may escalate incidents and put you at risk. Additionally, if the police are called, there is a chance you could be seen as the abuser.

Getting help and support

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, it’s really important to talk to someone about it. You don’t have to face it alone.

You can speak to:

  • Friends or family members (If you decide to talk to a friend, it’s best to avoid anyone who is a mutual friend of your partner)
  • Your GP, health visitor or midwife
  • Ben’s free, confidential helpline (open Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm) – 08081 311 333
  • Free, 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (support for women) – 0808 2000 247
  • Free Men’s Advice Line (Mon- Fri, 9am-5pm) – 0808 801 0327
  • Free National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline (click for opening times and trans specific service information) – 0800 999 5428
  • Karma Nirvana (support for forced marriage and honour-based abuse) – 0800 5999247
  • In an emergency, dial 999

Supporting children and young people

If you are experiencing domestic abuse and have children, it can be helpful to talk to them about what’s happening:

  • Talk to your children and listen to them when they speak
  • Try to be honest with them about the situation without frightening them
  • Let them know that the abuse is not their fault and that it’s wrong
  • Encourage them to express their feelings. This could be through a chat or activities such as drawing
  • You could point them in the direction of The Hideout. This site has information aimed at helping children and young people to understand about abuse and what they can do if it’s happening in their home.

Some children won’t want to talk about domestic abuse until they feel safe. Don’t put pressure on them to open up, but let them know you’re there to listen when they’re ready.

Supporting a friend or family member

It can be upsetting to discover or suspect that someone you care about is being hurt. Your first instinct may be to protect them, but intervening can be dangerous for both them and you.

  • Find a time to chat to them that is safe and confidential
  • Try to be direct about your concern e.g. “I’m worried about you because…”
  • Listen to them and let them know you believe them
  • Give them time to talk, but don’t push them if they don’t feel comfortable
  • Reassure them that you care about them, that they don’t deserve to be hurt and that the abuse is not their fault
  • Find ways to support them and help to boost their self-esteem e.g. by acknowledging their strengths and letting them know how well they’re coping
  • Be patient – it can take time for someone to recognise they are being abused and come to a decision about the next steps they can safely take
  • Don’t pressurise them to leave the relationship – it’s their choice and there may be reasons they feel they can’t go, such as:
    • Their partner has threatened their children or family
    • Their partner has taken their money from them
    • They feel as if they have nowhere to go
    • They’re in love with their partner
    • They still hold hope their partner may change
  • If they are physically hurt, offer to go with them to the doctors
  • If they haven’t spoken to anyone else, suggest they get in touch with an organisation that can provide them with more advice, such as Ben.

We’re here for you

Don’t forget, if you feel isolated with no-one to talk to, we’re here to help. You can ring our free, confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat.

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