Understanding Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is any abuse that happens in a family or personal relationship, where one person bullies or controls the other one*. It is never ok and you don’t have to put up with it.  You can  find out more about domestic abuse, your choices and services available to you on this website. If you are being abused, it is not your fault and you are not alone.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can involve:

  • Physical abuse – violence such as punching, kicking, biting, burning, choking
  • Emotional abuse – constant criticism, threats to you, your children or your family, putting you down in front of others, lying, sulking, cheating.
  • Sexual abuse – sex against your will or in ways that make you feel uncomfortable or degraded
  • Financial abuse – not allowing you to have money, spending food money, running up debts in your name
  • Coercive control – this type of controlling behaviour in an intimate family relationship is now a crime. The cross Government definition of domestic violence and abuse outlines controlling or coercive behaviour as follows:
    • 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:
      A continuing 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. More information can be found here
  • Forced marriage and honour based violence – making you marry someone against your will, bullying you and controlling your behaviour to protect the family’s reputation
  • Harassment – obsessive jealousy, following and checking up on you, embarrassing you in public
  • Isolation – stopping you from seeing family or friends, monitoring or blocking phone calls
  • Denial – saying the abuse doesn’t happen or that you cause it, begging forgiveness and saying it will never happen again

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, you may feel frightened or ashamed, but many people have been in your position. It is not your fault and you are not alone. There is help and support available in North Devon, from people who will believe you and who understand how devastating abuse can be. If you are living with abuse on a daily basis, it is hard to make sense of it, especially if it has got worse over time. Abusive partners are often charming and friendly at other times and might convince you that problems are your fault. The lower you feel, the more likely you are to blame yourself. Recognising that you are being abused is an important first step to understanding your relationship and making changes in your life.

Who experiences domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse happens in all cultures and social groups at similar levels. It is reported mostly by women who are abused by male partners or ex-partners, but men also experience domestic abuse and women can be abusers. Both women and men can suffer domestic abuse in same sex relationships. Children are badly affected by living with and witnessing domestic abuse and teens and young people can be vulnerable to abuse in their own relationships. Young people can be abusive to their parents and carers can be abusive to the people in their care.

When does domestic abuse happen?

Domestic abuse is rarely a one-off event. It can last for years and tends to get worse over time. Abuse often increases at times when an abuser feels they are losing control: during pregnancy, after the birth of a child, and especially at the point of separation or divorce.

Where does domestic abuse happen?

Domestic abuse is usually hidden. It takes place behind closed doors and without witnesses. It is different from having a bad temper, if your partner can control their behaviour outside the home, but is cruel and dominant with you. They may appear loving and sociable in front of others, so you feel that no-one would believe you.

Why do people abuse?

Domestic abuse is about power and control. Your partner (or other family member) belittles you and hurts you to show you who’s boss and to frighten you into behaving how they want. Your partner might blame outside circumstances (such as stress, a bad day, alcohol or your ‘provoking’ behaviour). But outside circumstances don’t cause domestic abuse. If your partner bullies or hurts you to make you do what they want, it is because they choose to behave in this way. People can behave badly in all relationships (especially if the relationship is breaking down) but domestic abuse is different. It is a pattern of bullying and threats, designed to take control of your life away from you.

You may love your partner, or feel sorry for them if they are under pressure in other areas of their life, but domestic abuse is never acceptable. It rarely gets better by itself and only your partner can choose to stop.

There are traditional gender roles in all cultures. As these roles, and attitudes towards women are challenged, tension can occur in some families or relationships. In the past, society and the law have done little to protect victims and stop abusers. But opinions around domestic abuse are changing and support services and legal options have grown and improved. If you are scared of your partner, or anyone else in your family, you can get help.  Specialist workers can help you to make your own choices and support you in changing your situation.

No-one deserves to live with domestic abuse. Get help to get your life back.