domestic abuse no longer just physical

The government has announced it intends to widen the legal definition of domestic abuse so that it covers mental/emotional abuse, and under-18s for the first time.

This is really good news. Previously there was not a lot that could be done if you didn’t have a physical injury; and even then there wasn’t much to be done, hence the fact Britain’s refuges are bursting at the seams. This is only the start though, and without going out and educating women and making facilities more readily available, I sincerely doubt it will do much to curb domestic abuse. 

Until you teach a woman that she doesn’t deserve it, she didn’t cause this behaviour, it’s not normal, everyone else doesn’t have to deal with this, and it’s not just the way men are, she will not stand up and say, Enough.*

According to Home Office figures (in 2007), 112 women in Britain are killed by a male partner or former partner each year. That’s more than one every 3 days. A lady called Pat Craven set up the Freedom Programme to help female victims of domestic abuse, both physical and emotional. It is an invaluable course that helps to show women that the behaviours they have been tolerating and thinking of as normal behaviour they just have to deal with, are wrong and unacceptable.  It also helps women to identify potentially abusive behaviour in any future mates – as we tend to repeat the same patterns in relationships, many women can end up in a string of abusive relationships, reliving the same nightmare. Women often arrive to their first session of this sort of counselling thinking, I’m in the wrong place, he never hit me, I was just over-sensitive. They tend to change their opinions fairly quickly. 

One in five young men, and one in ten young women think that abuse or violence is acceptable. That is a truly horrifying figure, and something we need to change. In the interest of “doing my bit,” here is a list of behaviours used by abusers to try and control women:
  • Glaring, sulking, grinding or gritting teeth, a menacing smile
  • Invades your personal space in order to intimidate
  • Fires questions at you without giving you time to respond
  • Moves to hit you but stops just before making contact
  • Emotionally abusive, calling you names or saying things to make you feel fat or ugly
  • Messes with your head, making you think you’ve lost things when he’s moved them, contradicting you on things you know you’ve said or done differently (this is one of the worst, and so difficult to prove because you genuinely believe you must be going mad)
  • Unfaithful (often blaming it on your behaviour that has driven him to it)
  • Puts you down in front of others, often in the form of a joke (“it was only a joke, what’s your problem!”)
  • May isolate you and sulk when you have visitors to the house
  • Charms your family and friends so they can’t see why you have a problem with him
  • Makes the abuse seem less by playing it down or outright lying about it
  • Either denies abuse or blames you for it (“you drove me to it!”)
  • A million and one excuses as to why he has behaved this way – drink, drugs, work, unemployment, stress, low self-esteem, insecurity, my dog ate it.
  • If there are children an abuser will often use them against you, getting them to join him in arguing against you or telling them lies about you#
  • Tells you you’re a bad mother, often telling others too. In many cases abusers will take this to the extreme, with children eventually being removed from the house because of what has been alleged
  • Denies he is the father of your child
  • Controls all the money
  • Makes all the major decisions in the household
  • Either refuses sex or demands it as and when he wants it (regardless of how you feel)
  • Rape (“current partners” are responsible for 45% of all reported rapes. Approximately one-fifth of all rapes is actually reported)
  • Attempts to keep you pregnant for long periods of time (one child quickly after another)
  • Uses coercion or threats to keep you in your place
  • May threaten suicide or cry to get you to come back if you leave
  • May threaten to hurt pets or children to get you to do as he wants.
Of course, most people will exhibit some of these behaviours at one time or another; but if you are in a situation where your partner is doing several of these things on a regular basis, you may want to consider whether you are  in fact in an abusive situation. On average a woman will be abused 35 times before she will actually seek help.

Many abusers don’t believe their behaviour is abuse if they don’t actually hit you; they see it as normal behaviour, and may well tell you that you’re just being over-sensitive or picky. (People outside the relationship may well say the same.) Even if they do hit you, they can usually excuse themselves because you provoked them, or it was just a tap, you moved in the wrong direction and they didn’t intend to actually hit you.

When a woman falls pregnant and books in with a midwife, she is given a pack with various leaflets about things relating to pregnancy and childbirth. These days they also include a tiny, wallet-sized card depicting “Mr Right” on one side, and “Mr Wrong” on the other. Mr Right lists characteristics such as “Cheerful, consistent, shares financial responsibility, encourages you to be independent.” Mr Wrong’s characteristics include “shouts, sulks, calls you names, never admits he is wrong, uses the children to control you, expects sex on demand.” The cards are deliberately made small so that a woman can quickly hide them away from someone who may be enraged by seeing them. This can often be the first thing that makes a woman think perhaps her situation is less than ideal, and it’s a good job – women are three times more likely to be injured while pregnant, and pregnancy is often when physical violence begins in a relationship. When a woman is pregnant she is more vulnerable and more dependent, so an abuser feels he is more likely to get away with it – and often they do.

This is all done through charity, government grants or lottery funding though. People who run the Freedom Programme and similar programmes have to fill in endless paperwork justifying their existence, and practically beg for funding each time they begin a new course. Meanwhile, women are trapped in abusive relationships, truly horrific circumstances, believing there is no way out, and this is just their lot in life. How many women will hear the law has changed and suddenly think, “oh yes, now I can leave?” I’m guessing not many. More needs to be done.  There is also a valid argument that if they took this sort of work into schools, and taught young women what they don’t have to put up with before they are in the middle of it, they could prevent a lot of abuse from taking place.

If a child is growing up in a home where Daddy hits Mummy, they can be heard arguing all night, Mummy is called all sorts of names and so on, they will not expect life to be any different when they grow up – either becoming an abuser themselves, or ending up in a relationship where they are abused. Nearly three quarters of children live in households where domestic violence occurs. Next time you see a gang of unruly teenagers in the park, look at them and remember that figure. Three quarters of all children. Three out of every four. What are we doing to our children? We need to do more to stop the vicious cycle because it can only get worse, new legislation or not.

It is also worth noting here that while the government is expanding the definition of domestic abuse, they are also still planning to bring in Ian Duncan Smith’s brainchild, Universal Credit. Under this scheme, the majority of benefit payments will be rolled into one monthly payment per household. This will mean that where previously an abused woman may have had benefits coming into her own bank account and a certain amount of freedom, the man of the house will now be back in control, holding the purse strings tightly and putting the women’s lib movement back by about 50 years. How much easier is it to control a woman, when you know she doesn’t even have the money for bus fare to get away from you?

This post is a little long and rambling; sorry about that. It’s highly likely I will make another post about domestic abuse in the near future, as it’s something I feel very strongly about these days.

*: yes, I know that abuse is also perpetrated against men. But the fact is that the majority of violence and abuse, whether against men or women, is perpetrated by men. 
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Vicky is a mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. She writes about life as a single mother, parenting and lifestyle type things.

1 Comment

Smooo · 19/09/2012 at 21:19

1. I remember that card. <br />2. I think while.not AS common, it is important to remember that males can be victims of domestic violence too, even in heterosexual relationships. I would venture to guess that more often than not, it isnt physical.

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