What is 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 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?

It 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.

There are a number of different types of abuse. Here are some of the most common, and the behaviours that are often present with each

Emotional abuse

Nearly all abusive relationships include some emotional abuse. Although insults and threats may seem less serious than violence, the long-term impact can be devastating. Many survivors say the emotional abuse was the hardest part of their relationship and left the longest-lasting scars. Broken confidence can be much harder to make sense of, or prove to others, than broken bones.

Emotional abuse chips away at your self-esteem until you feel you are nothing without your abuser and can’t live without them. It can make you feel worthless and that you are to blame for the problems there may be in your family.

Emotional abuse can include:

  • Insults such as hearing you are useless, ugly, a bad parent or that no-one else would have you can wear away your confidence until you start to believe it.
  • Shouting at you or at your children.
  • Blaming you for everything that goes wrong in their life, your relationship and your family
  • Threatening you with violence, suicide or exposure (telling private things or lies about you to other people or to the authorities).
  • Threatening others to make you cooperate such as your children, pets or family members.
  • Isolation such as preventing you from seeing family or friends, not allowing you to work or go to college, and not allowing you to learn English or other skills that would make you more independent.
  • Jealousy by accusing you of having affairs or punishing you for having previous partners.
  • Shaming or embarrassing you in front of others
  • Rigid gender roles like insisting you should manage the children and housework perfectly without any help, or that you should be out earning more money and not spending time with the children.
  • Punishing you when they feel you have done something wrong, or sulking.
  • Denial saying you cause the abuse, that they had a bad day, and being loving and apologetic after an attack.

All of these behaviours are designed to make you doubt yourself and keep you doing as you’re told. It can be exhausting living in a state of constant anxiety, watchful that nothing you do or say upsets your partner. And it can take a long time to rebuild confidence after the abuse has ended. However, specialist domestic abuse support organisations like North Devon Against Domestic Abuse (NDADA) understand this and can help you recognise the effects and move on.

Financial abuse

If your partner tightly controls your money, or spends it selfishly and recklessly, you may be experiencing financial abuse.

Financial abuse can include:

  • Making you account for every penny you spend
  • Making you ask for money when you need it
  • Limiting you to an allowance
  • Not letting you have a bank account
  • Keeping you in the dark about family finances
  • Denying you and the children basic things you need (like food, clothes, heating or bus fares)
  • Spending money you don’t have on going out, alcohol, drugs, gambling or luxuries
  • Stopping you from getting or keeping a job
  • Making you work long hours to support their spending
  • Stealing from you
  • Taking your money and blaming you for it
  • Running up debts in your name fraudulently (without you knowing)
  • Making you take out loans under duress (against your will)

If you can’t make ends meet, life is a daily struggle. You may lie awake worrying about how to pay bills or how you’ll feed the kids. You may feel unable to leave your partner because they control all the money and you have nothing. Or you may feel crippled by debts and unable to move on with your life.

It is very common for people experiencing domestic abuse to have less control over their finances and to be left with debts when the relationship ends. Specialist services working with domestic abuse survivors find their clients often have rent arrears from previous tenancies and current tenancies, high interest credit lending (from shops and door stop lenders), and less income than they should because they aren’t claiming all the benefits they are entitled to.

Sexual abuse

Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse can include lots of different types of violence, discomfort or deliberate harm to another person.

Physical abuse can include:

  • Pushing or pulling
  • Slapping or hitting
  • Pinching, scratching and biting
  • Cutting or using sharp objects
  • Kicking and kneeing
  • Punching
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Starving or refusing water
  • Drugging or refusing essential medicines
  • Choking, suffocating or strangling
  • Scalding, burning or setting alight
  • Drowning
  • Using objects to hurt by striking or throwing
  • Using weapons
  • Torture
  • Attempted murder
  • Murder

If you are living with physical abuse, you are living with the worry that your partner could hurt you at any time. The shock and pain when it happens will gradually give way to the fear that it will happen again. Violence in relationships tends to get more severe over time and to happen more often.

For women, during pregnancy and after a birth are particular risk times for violence, when abusive partners feel jealous or that they are losing control. Physical abuse may also increase when a person tries to end an abusive relationship.  Physical abuse has a terrible and sometimes life-threatening impact on the health and wellbeing of those affected.

There is no excuse for any of these types of abuse. They all cause hurt, pain and distress. If you need help because you are being abused, here’s how you can get help.

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