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What is domestic abuse?

What is domestic abuse?

Definition

The government definition of domestic violence and abuse is:

'Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or 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. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:

  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Economic
  • Emotional

Controlling behaviour is: 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: an 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.

The government definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called 'honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

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Domestic abuse affects each person in different and unique ways, but some of the different ways which people can experience domestic abuse include:

  • Psychological abuse: for example ‘mind games’; humiliation; degradation; being the subject to put downs; isolation from family and friends;  threats of suicide; using your children to ‘inform’ or ‘report’ on you

  • Physical abuse: for example pulling hair; biting; choking; beating; kicking; slapping; punching; burning; strangulation; stabbing; denying sleep; denying or forcing to take medication; throwing things

  • Sexual abuse: for example rape (this includes within a marriage); enforced sex or prostitution; any sexual behaviour or activity which you feel unacceptable; indecent phone calls

  • Financial / economic abuse: for example withholding money; having wages, benefits, pension taken away from you; having to account for all your spending; taking out loans in your name; coercing you into financial commitments or loans

  • Emotional abuse: for example name calling; shouting; yelling; blaming; shaming; isolation; intimidation; humiliation; being ‘outed’ if you are gay

  • Stalking and harassment: for example following; sending unsolicited messages or unwanted gifts; phone calls; turning up at your work or home uninvited

  • Controlling behaviour is a range of acts performed by the abuser and designed to make their victim subordinate and / or dependent. These acts can include isolating the victim from sources of support; exploiting the victim’s resources and capacities for personal gain; depriving the victim of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape; regulating the victim’s everyday behaviour

  • Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used by the abuser to harm, punish, or frighten the victim

The government’s statutory guidance on controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship can be found on the Gov.uk website.

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The concept of ‘honour’ is for some communities deemed to be extremely important. To compromise a family’s ‘honour’ is to bring dishonour and shame and this can have severe consequences. It is not determined by gender and both perpetrators and victims can be male or female. The punishment for bringing dishonour can be emotional abuse, physical abuse, family disownment and in some cases even murder.

In most honour-based abuse cases there are multiple perpetrators from the immediate family, sometimes the extended family and occasionally the community at large. Mothers, sisters, aunties and even grandmothers have been known to be involved in the conspiring of honour crimes.

‘Honour’ crimes are most prevalent within diaspora communities from South Asia, the Middle East, and North and East Africa. Reports come from Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Orthodox Jewish and occasionally traveller communities.

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Forced marriage is where one, or both parties are threatened, bullied or coerced into getting married and do not (or cannot in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities or mental incapacity) consent to the marriage. It is very different to an arranged marriage, where the parties involved have the choice to accept the arrangement or not.

Coercion may include emotional or physical force or threats and / or financial pressure, including forcing someone to go overseas to marry, with potential ‘honour’ based abuse taking place if they do not agree. 

Forced marriage is an offence and victims can be protected through civil or criminal court proceedings.  Information on seeking a Forced Marriage Protection Order can be found on the Gov.uk website.

The Forced Marriage Unit has specialists to support those affected or concerned about being forced into a marriage and can be contacted on 0207 008 0151.

In an emergency call 999, or to contact the police in a non-emergency on 101

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Female genital mutilation is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but there is no medical reason for this to be done. It is also known as female circumcision or cutting, and by other terms, such as sunnah, sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others.

FGM/C (female genital mutilation / cutting) is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts but this is not always the case. It is very painful and can seriously harm the health of women and girls, often causing long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.

FGM is illegal in the UK and is classed as child abuse. 

Visit the NHS website for more information about FGM/C (female genital mutilation / cutting.)

If someone is at threat of FGM, protection can be sought through an FGM Protection Order or if they are in immediate danger, contact the police immediately by calling 999

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Each relationship is unique but if you are experiencing the following from a partner or family member, it could be a sign that you may be in an abusive relationship.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • Your time is monitored
  • Your daily life is controlled, for example where you are able to go, who you can see, what you can wear
  • You are isolated from your family and friends
  • You are accused of being unfaithful
  • You have ‘rules’ imposed on you about what you have to do, or not do
  • You are continually belittled or put down
  • You are blamed for the abuse or arguments
  • You are stopped from going to college or work
  • Your money is controlled, or you are not given enough to buy food or other essential items
  • You feel frightened, scared or like you are treading on eggshells
  • Your possessions are destroyed or there are threats they will be destroyed
  • Your emails, texts or letters are read
  • Threats are made towards you, your children, a family pet, other family members
  • You are physically hurt or made / coerced into doing things you don’t want to
  • Friends or family members notice you have changed

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In a healthy relationship, partners:

  • Have mutual respect, treating each other as equals
  • Are seen as are seen as being their own individual with unique personality, beliefs, self-expression, relationships and interests
  • Can safely express their feelings without worrying about consequences 
  • Encourage each other’s interests and goals
  • Can express feelings openly, honestly and considerably, listening to each other without judgement to understand and respect differences
  • Create a physically and emotionally safe environment where each person feels comfortable, relaxed and unguarded

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