Domestic Violence Overview

Domestic violence is a form of abuse that takes place within the context of a relationship. While domestic violence comes under the banner heading of domestic abuse, it is a term that is specific to the type of abuse that is physical and involves force and actual bodily harm or pain. Sexual abuse between couples is also domestic violence.It is sometimes known as ‘spousal violence’, but it is not confined to married couples. It is most commonly perpetrated by a man on his female partner, but this is far from an exclusive situation. Domestic violence can take place between same sex couples. It can also involve violence from a woman towards her male partner.

Domestic violence is always dangerous and never acceptable. There are no circumstances in which it is justified, no matter what the victim has done, not done  or been accused of doing. Contrary to popular belief, domestic violence is also not confined to any particular groups of society. It does not take place only in trailer parks, council estates or among ethnic minorities. Intelligence, education, profession or class…none are guarantors of safety.

Why does domestic violence happen?

If you have been a victim of domestic violence, you are likely to have asked yourself ‘Why?’ It’s a very legitimate question.

The first thing you have to know is that domestic violence is never deserved by the victim. Unfortunately, many abusive and violent men try to pass the blame off onto their partners. They do this for various reasons. They may feel guilty for what they have done, particularly in the days immediately after an assault has taken place, so they try to shift the guilt to make themselves feel better. Or, they use blame and guilt to exert control over their partner to prevent them from leaving and reporting the abuse. After all, a woman who has been convinced that she is to blame for her own misfortunes is far less likely to go to the authorities to report it. But, it doesn’t matter what you may have done, or what your partner accuses you of. You are never to blame, and you never deserve violence.

Domestic violence is a control issue

Domestic violence is not about revenge or punishment. It is not a loss of control on behalf of the abuser. A person who is violent towards their partner is rarely violent outside the domestic setting. He is not violent towards his friends in social contexts, nor is he violent towards his colleagues at work. He doesn’t beat up on the other men in his football team. He doesn’t even attack the traffic warden who gives him a parking ticket. So, he is actually perfectly in control. In fact, domestic violence is all about control. It takes place when one partner wishes to gain power and control over the other.

Who is likely to become a perpetrator of domestic violence? 

Just as anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, anyone can be an abuser. You can’t tell by looking at someone, and you certainly can’t tell by their situation in life. Just as an unemployed person can be abusive and violent, so can a doctor or a politician. It is difficult to tell, in the early stages of a relationship, as the signs may not become apparent until later. Many men who are habitually violent in relationships are the most charming in the ‘wooing’ stages. This is actually a sign of a man’s controlling tendencies, as he tries to captivate the woman in an attempt to make her fall so deeply in love that she will do whatever he wants. So, although there may be warning signs they are rarely evident except with hindsight.

However, some types of people are more likely to become violent in their relationships than others. Those who have come from violent backgrounds where they have been abused themselves, or where their father beat up their mother (or vice versa) have a greater tendency to become abusive in their adult relationships. Sometimes, this is the only expression of ‘love’ they have been brought up to know.  Obsessively attentive partners may later turn into obsessively jealous partners who then turn to violence to control and keep their partner. Certain mental illnesses may also predispose someone to become violent. Domestic violence is also more likely to occur when there is an unequal partnership. This may mean unequal financially, where one partner has a lot more money than the other, professionally (where one is in a high powered job) in addition to other inequalities. It doesn’t always follow, of course, but inequality can be a factor.

What constitutes domestic violence?

Domestic violence is any physical violence that takes place between a couple where physical force, attack or actual harm takes place. It may or may not result in injury. Sexual abuse is another form of domestic violence. Sexual abuse may be rape, even within a marriage, or any form of sexual contact that is forced upon one partner by the other.

Where does domestic violence take place?

Domestic violence can take place anywhere, technically, between any couple. However, most typically it takes place in the home, away from prying eyes and out of public view. This is another example of the abuser’s desire to control events and to control his partner. It is also a sign that he is very much aware of and in control of his actions and intentions.

If you are being abused by a violent partner

If you are being abused by your partner the simple answer is to leave the relationship. In fact, although this is the advice frequently given by friends and family, it is not always so easy to do. An abused partner can still feel that she is in love with the abusive partner, and not wish to end the relationship, clinging to the hope that he will change and that the abuse will come to an end. She may feel responsible for the abuse, and undeserving of help. She may also feel that she has nowhere to go, and no financial resources with which to begin a new life. Or, she may stay because she is afraid of the consequences should the abusive partner find her after she has left. If children are involved it can become even more difficult. However, whatever the situation, there are things that you can do to escape. Everyone has the right to live a life without abuse or fear of abuse.  If the problem is containable, i.e.; if you are sure that your abusive partner will not pursue you and you have some financial resources of your own, you can of course, simply tell him to leave. But if things are rather more complicated,there are people that you can turn to. You could try speaking with your doctor or social worker.  Help and advice can be found through Domestic Violence programs in your locality. There are domestic violence shelters where you can go, taking your children with you. These programs and shelters will help equip you to move on to an abuse free life by providing temporary shelter, employment or education programs, counselling, legal help, financial assistance and support groups.

What can you do to protect yourself from domestic violence?

If you are not yet ready to leave a partner who is violent and abusive, there are steps that you can take to keep yourself safe while in this situation.

  • If possible, confide in a friend who can offer you support and a place of safety should you need to escape quickly.
  • Cover your footseteps in terms of phone calls and internet use. If you are trying to contact an organisation to report domestic violence, use a public call box rather than  a home telephone. The same goes for computers. Try to use a computer at a friend’s house or in an internet café if possible.
  • Try to avoid your partner’s anger triggers. If you sense he is becoming abusive, have a safe room to go to, ideally one from which you can escape through a window or another door.
  • Keep your car primed and ready to go. Make sure you have plenty of petrol and that your partner is unable to block your exit by parking behind you.
  • If you have children, make sure that they know exactly what to do in the event of having to make a fast escape. Practice if possible so they don’t panic when the time comes to leave.
  • Keep a spare mobile phone that your partner doesn’t know about.

If you decide to leave a violent partner, what should you do?

Take the advice of the professionals. Contact any of the appropriate organisations given below and follow their instructions. They will have plenty of experience to help you get away and to a place of safety. Leaving a violent partner is difficult and dangerous, so if possible don’t try to do it without the right support.

Go to our How to Leave an Abuser Plan of Attack Guide.

If you suspect domestic violence is taking place, what can you do?

It can be difficult to decide when to speak up, if you know or suspect that someone you know is being abused. If the abuse appears to be low level you may feel it is better left to the abuser and abused themselves to sort out. You may feel that you don’t want to ‘interfere’ in someone else’s business. You may assume that the abused person is capable of speaking up for themselves to request help if help is needed. It can seem like a fine line to walk.

If the person being abused is a friend or family member, you can, of course, try speaking to them first to offer help. However, many abused people are not able or are unwilling to admit what is happening to them.  In cases of spousal abuse, do not assume that the abused is capable of self help. They may be so frightened or emotionally confused that they are unable to accept what is happening to them, let alone able to help themselves or seek help.

If you suspect abuse you can follow the same steps as outlined above for people who are being abused. You can speak to a health professional or teacher, or contact the national or local help lines as given under resources, choosing the one that is most appropriate.

Contact numbers and websites for help, support and advice

Go to our domestic abuse resources for this.