Domestic violence or domestic abuse refers to a pattern of abusive or controlling behaviour by one or both people in a relationship. It can be any form of close relationship, such as family, friends, cohabitants or a marriage and can affect anyone, regardless of sexuality, gender, disability, class, race, ethnic or religious group.
There are many different types of domestic violence yet whatever form it takes it is rarely a one-off incident. It can begin at any point in a relationship and tends to get worse and more frequent over time. Generally abusive and controlling behaviour stems from the abuser's need to assert excessive and unnecessary control over a victim, although there are many different reasons why domestic violence may occur. The most common victims of domestic violence are women and children, although there are cases of women being violent towards men.
This page will explore domestic violence in more detail, looking at causes and common signs of domestic violence, as well as the domestic violence help that is available for victims who want to escape and recover from abuse.
On this page
- What is domestic violence?
- Domestic violence statistics
- Types of domestic violence
- Domestic violence against men
- Signs of domestic violence
- Cycle of domestic violence
What is domestic violence?
The government defines domestic violence as: "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:
This refers to a range of acts used to make a victim submit to the power of the abuser - isolating them from sources of support and chipping away at their means of independence and resistance. The abuser regulates every aspect of a victim's behaviour.
This is when victims are subjected to a pattern of acts of threats, assault, humiliation, intimidation or other forms of abuse that are designed to punish, harm or frighten them. Coercive behaviour also refers to 'honour' based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, which typically occur in Eastern cultural groups.
Domestic violence statistics
- One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.
- 44% of victims of domestic violence will be involved in more than one incident during their lifetime.
- Domestic violence accounts for between 16-25% of all recorded violent offences and 10% of emergency calls.
- On average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner.
- At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence.
- Children who live with domestic violence are at increased risk of behavioural problems or mental health difficulties in adult life.
- The total cost of domestic violence to services (criminal justice, health, social services, housing and civil legal) amounts to £3.1 billion per year.
- It is estimated around only two thirds of domestic violence cases in the UK are actually reported.
Types of domestic violence
Although the term 'domestic violence' automatically implies physical abuse in the home or family environment, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the abusive behaviour it can entail. Ultimately, domestic violence can take many forms, and below is a list of some of the types of domestic violence that can occur:
- Physical - kicking, punching, pushing, burning, slapping etc.
- Criticism and verbal abuse - this includes shouting, verbal threats, name calling, mocking and criticising.
- Emotional/psychological - chipping away at someone's feelings of self-worth and independence.
- Harassment - following, stalking and the constant checking of where the victim is and who they are with.
- Pressure - the removal of the victim's communication devices, taking the children without notice, making threats and lying to others.
- Threats - intimidating the victim, making violent threats, brandishing a weapon, being violent towards inanimate objects.
- Sexual - using force, rape and making degrading remarks about sexuality.
- Breaking trust - lying, withholding information, breaking promises and lying to others.
Domestic violence against men
Another common misconception of domestic violence is that only women are victims. This is not the case - anyone can be affected and domestic violence against men is very real. Government statistics suggest that one in six men will be victims of domestic violence at some stage in their life, yet this figure could be much higher.
Domestic violence against men is a hidden issue, and many victims feel too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help - fearing they may not be believed or will face criticism. Despite this, male victims are increasingly speaking out and looking for domestic violence help, but the services and resources available to them are still considerably fewer than those available to women. If you are concerned that a male friend or loved one may be a victim, don't be afraid to talk to them and offer your support. They may need it more than you realise.
Signs of domestic violence
For friends and family of domestic violence victims, it can be hard to spot the signs unless there are visibly obvious ones such as cuts and bruises. Despite this, a strong indication of domestic violence is when a victim is forced to change his or her behaviour because they are frightened of their partner. If you are worried about your relationship or the relationship of someone close to you, look out for the following warning signs of domestic violence (in addition to physical signs of abuse):
- A partner who is bad tempered, jealous and possessive.
- A partner who is overly critical - name-calling, issuing verbal threats and accusations.
- Disrespect - Constant put-downs in front of others, not being listened to, having your telephone calls interrupted and money taken from you without being asked.
- Pressure tactics - Sulking and threats such as taking the children away or disconnecting the telephone as a means of control.
- Breaking trust - Lying, breaking promises and shared agreements, withholding information, and telling you where you can or cannot go.
- Harassment - Constantly checking up on you, reading your messages and accessing your private accounts.
- Denial - Refusing to admit to any abuse, blaming violence on you, and being publicly well-mannered and gentle.
- Victims tend to have inconsistent attendance at work, school or social activities.
- Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem and self-worth are common.
- Limited access to friends, family, money or transportation.
- Excessive clothing or accessories to hide injuries.
Cycle of domestic violence
In order to better understand how an abuser controls their victim and what signs of domestic violence to look out for, it can be helpful to know about the cycle of domestic violence. Typically domestic violence will fall into a pattern that involves the following repetitive elements:
- Abuse - An abuser will lash out, using violence and aggressive behaviour to assert power and control over a victim.
- Guilt - Afterwards an abuser may feel very guilty and ashamed. These emotions are rarely to do with what he/she has done and down to fear of getting caught or facing consequences for their behaviour.
- Excuses - An abuser will typically come up with a number of excuses to rationalise their behaviour - blaming the victim for triggering their rage and avoiding taking any responsibility.
- Back to normal - To regain control of the victim and the relationship, the abuser may act like nothing has happened and will turn on the charm. Their loving gestures are often what makes the victim hope the abuse will stop.
- Fantasising - The abuser is likely to begin fantasising about how and when they can be abusive again. They will spend a lot of time thinking about the victim and how they can catch he or she out.
- Set-up - The abuser sets up the victim to put the plan in motion - creating a situation where they can justify the abuse.
If you recognise the pattern or signs of domestic violence, in your daily life or that of someone close to you, please remember seeking help is the only way to end the abuse. Domestic violence help is available in the form of your GP, domestic violence charities and counsellors - all of whom offer confidential services and support to help victims get away from abuse and recover.
Causes of domestic violence
Domestic violence in all forms occurs for many different reasons, but a leading factor in all cases is an abuser wanting to have complete power and control over someone close to them. Although ultimately every case is unique, it is believed there are several other common causes of domestic violence. These include:
- A continuation of a generation cycle of abuse - many abusers will have witnessed or experienced domestic violence in their childhood.
- Being brought up in an environment where abuse - both verbal and physical - is acceptable.
- Drug or alcohol addiction, which can lead to loss of control and unpredictable behaviour.
- Circumstances such as poor health, job loss, trauma can lead to violence.
- Psychological issues - Many abusers will display particular personality traits such as sudden bursts of anger, low self-esteem and poor impulse control.
- Mental illness - Some psychiatric disorders such as borderline personality disorder and bipolar are associated with domestic violence.
When is the right time to get help?
If you are suffering from any kind of emotional or physical abuse, and have someone in your life who displays a number of the signs of domestic violence, then you should really consider getting help as soon as possible. If you do not report your concerns or tell someone about what is happening, then the abuse could escalate, and the health and well-being of you and your family could be at risk.
Although domestic violence itself is not a crime, many types of domestic violence - including assault, sexual abuse and harassment - are against the law, so you have every right to report your abuser to the police. Unfortunately, domestic violence is widely unreported, and there are several reasons for this. Victims of domestic violence live in fear, isolated from friends and family and are dependent on their abuser. In these circumstances it can be hard to see a way out, and often the perfectly normal behaviour displayed by the abuser to the outside world can lead to conflicting and confusing emotions. Victims may start to blame themselves for the abuse, or may start to believe that the insults and criticisms are true. In many cases they ignore it - hoping the abuser will change and things will get better.
For those who do find the courage and opportunity to escape and get help, aftercare and support can be found in a number of domestic violence charities and professionals. For many, escaping domestic violence is just the beginning; recovering from the effects of domestic violence tends to be the most difficult hurdle, and some domestic violence survivors will require dedicated support to help them rebuild their lives free from fear and abuse.
Domestic violence help
The effects of domestic violence can be long-term, and many victims will go on to develop psychological issues such as depression, low self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and heightened stress and anxiety. They are also likely to find it difficult trusting others, and may be scared about meeting new people and forming new relationships. Depending on the nature and severity of the abuse, some victims may also need to recover from physical injuries.
Counselling provides a safe and confidential space for domestic violence survivors to talk about their fears, start to rebuild their confidence and address any psychological difficulties. Counselling can also help them to build upon their strengths and overcome any negative beliefs they have about themselves. Group therapy is considered particularly useful for this, as survivors can share their feelings with others who understand completely what they have been through. It can also provide them with a network of support. Alternatively, art therapy and music therapy can also be of benefit. These therapeutic approaches offer an outlet for those who may find it difficult to express their feelings simply by talking.
It is also worthwhile noting that counselling can be helpful for abusers. If someone recognises that their behaviour is unacceptable, counselling can help them to better understand the reasons for their need to be abusive towards others, and ultimately helps them to start changing their behaviour.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
Currently there are no official rules or regulations in place that stipulate what level of training a counsellor dealing with domestic violence needs. However, it is recommended that you check to see if your therapist is experienced in this area.
A Diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in domestic violence counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills.
Another way to assure they have undergone this type of specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation representing counsellors dealing with domestic violence.
This is where you can submit feedback about the content of this page.
We review feedback on a monthly basis.
Please note we are unable to provide any personal advice via this feedback form. If you do require further information or advice, please visit the homepage & use the search function to contact a professional directly.