Domestic violence is a serious threat for many women. Know the signs of an abusive relationship and how to leave a dangerous situation.
Domestic abuse is categorised by any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, by family members regardless of gender or sexuality. Types of abuse:
The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically. However, the one constant element of domestic abuse is the abuser’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the victim.
Domestic abuse can affect anyone regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality or social background.
How to recognize domestic violence
Abusive relationships always involve an imbalance of power and control. An abuser uses intimidating, hurtful words and behaviors to control his or her partner.
It might not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time.
Examples of abuse:
• Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
• Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school or seeing family members or friends
• Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
• Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
• Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
• Tries to control whether you can see a health care provider
• Threatens you with violence or a weapon
• Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
• Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
• Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
• Threatens to tell friends, family, colleagues or community members your sexual orientation or gender identity
Don’t take the blame
You may be feeling frightened, isolated, ashamed or confused. If you have children it may be that they too are suffering, whether they witness abuse or not.
Remember, you are not to blame for what is happening. You are not alone, and above all you do not have to suffer in silence.
Pregnancy, children and abuse
Sometimes domestic violence begins — or increases — during pregnancy, putting your health and the baby’s health at risk. The danger continues after the baby is born.
Even if your child isn’t abused, simply witnessing domestic violence can be harmful. Children who grow up in abusive homes are more likely to be abused and have behavioral problems than are other children. As adults, they’re more likely to become abusers or think abuse is a normal part of relationships.
You might worry that telling the truth will further endanger you, your child or other family members — and that it might break up your family — but seeking help is the best way to protect your children and yourself.
Break the cycle
If you’re in an abusive situation, you might recognize this pattern:
• Your abuser threatens violence.
• Your abuser strikes.
• Your abuser apologizes, promises to change and offers gifts.
• The cycle repeats itself.
Typically the violence becomes more frequent and severe over time.
The longer you stay in an abusive relationship, the greater the physical and emotional toll. You might become depressed and anxious, or begin to doubt your ability to take care of yourself. You might feel helpless or paralyzed.
Unique challenges for immigrants
If you’re an immigrant, you may be hesitant to seek help out of fear that you will be deported. Language barriers, lack of economic dependence and limited social support can increase your isolation and your ability to access resources.
The only way to break the cycle of domestic violence is to take action. Start by telling someone about the abuse, whether it’s a friend, loved one, health care provider or other close contact. You can also report it and ask for help.
Reporting and asking for help
If you are the victim of an abusive relationship, you might want to:
• find somewhere safe to stay
• stay in your home and get the person who is harming you to leave
• report the violence to the police
• get a court order to stop your abusive partner from harming or threatening you
• take legal action
• get help from a charity or another organisation
Whatever you want to do, there are organisations that can give you advice and help.
- Find somewhere safe to stay. Stay at home only if you think it is safe. If not, try to stay with relatives or friends
- Find a refuge
Refuges provide somewhere safe for people and their children to stay and think about what to do next.
Staff at refuges are specialised in dealing with domestic violence, and so can give a lot of emotional and practical support, for example, advice on benefit claims, which solicitors to use and, if necessary, how to contact the police.
Woman can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, (see Domestic violence and abuse – organisations which give information and advice for other ways of contacting them).
- Going to the local authority or Housing Executive
Local authorities have a legal duty to provide help to certain people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. You will qualify for help if you are eligible for assistance, legally homeless or threatened with homelessness and not intentionally homeless. You must also be in priority need. The local authority may also investigate whether you have a local connection with the area.
You will normally be considered to be legally homeless if it is not reasonable for you to occupy your home because of the risk or fear of domestic violence.
- Reporting the violence to the police
Many kinds of domestic abuse are criminal offences and the police can arrest, caution or charge the perpetrator.
You should call 999 in an emergency or 101 in a non-emergency or you can attend a police station in person to report an incident. If you require a translator, the police can provide someone initially by phone and later in person..
Find information on all the UK police websites through the UK Police Service Portal at police.uk.
If the police arrest and charge a perpetrator, they will decide whether to keep them in custody or release them on bail.
There will usually be conditions attached to their bail to protect you from further violence and abuse. Make sure you ask for your crime reference number which you may need if you contact other agencies for help.
The Crown Prosecution Service will make the final decision on whether your abusive partner is prosecuted – you might have to go to court if they are. If you’re worried about going to court, you can get free help and support from the Citizens Advice Witness Service. You can find more information on the criminal prosecution service on the Women’s Aid website.
The police can also give you advice on crime prevention and getting something called a police marker on your address, so an officer can get to your home as quickly as possible.
- Get legal protection
You can ask the court to:
• stop your partner harming or threatening you – this is called a ‘non-molestation order’
• get your partner to leave your home or stop them coming back – this is called an ‘occupation order’
You can start an application for a non-molestation order or an occupation order on the CourtNav website.
You need to give an address where you’re staying – you can choose for your address not to be shared with your partner.
CourtNav will check if you can get legal aid to help with your legal costs. It will either:
• help you find a legal aid solicitor if you can get legal aid.
• help you apply to the court yourself
Taking legal action
If you need further help, you should get advice from an independent domestic violence adviser or a solicitor who is experienced in family law. You might need help to:
• get your property back or make you the legal owner of your home
• decide who your children live with and who can see them
• end your marriage or civil partnership
A local advice agency, such as a law centre or Citizens Advice, should be able to help you find a local solicitor who is experienced in this area of the law.
You may be able to get help with your legal costs – you can check if you qualify for legal aid.
Legal aid helps you with your legal costs including advice and help if you have to go to court.
There are lots of charities and organisations that help both men and women get help with abuse.
Financial abuse happens where a perpetrator uses financial means to control you and may include any of the following:
• stopping the victim working
• controlling the household finances including wages, benefits and bank accounts
• forcing the victim to hand over wages and money
• persuading or forcing the victim to take out loans and credit in her/his name.
If you have been pressurised or bullied to take out loans or credit in your name, the debt may be unenforceable – you should get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice.
The domestic violence charity Refuge has produced a financial guide for women experiencing domestic violence at www.refuge.org.uk.
Your local Citizens Advice can give you advice about debt problems. To search for details of your nearest Citizens Advice, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest Citizens Advice