What is domestic abuse?

Domestic 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
  • financial
  • emotional

This definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called 'honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage. Domestic abuse occurs across society, regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth, and geography.

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.

Whatever form it takes, domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, and should instead be seen as a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour through which the abuser seeks power over their victim. Typically the abuse involves a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour, which tends to get worse over time. The abuse can begin at any time, in the first year, or after many years of life together. It may begin, continue, or escalate after a couple have separated and may take place not only in the home but also in a public place.

Asking for support and advice is often a very difficult thing to do if you are feeling isolated or low in yourself. You may not even feel that you deserve to have support.

It is important to know that there are services out there that can provide advice at the right level for you, your children, family and friends.

Often the first step to breaking the cycle of domestic abuse is sharing your problem with another person whether that is through the helpline, outreach worker or a support group.

Clare's Law (Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme)

In 2009, Clare Wood was killed by George Appleton,  a man with a known history of violence towards women. Clare's bereaved father Michael Brown's  grim determination contributed towards a law that could have saved his daughter’s life. His aim was to help to prevent a repeat of what happened to Clare.

Since 2014, Clare’s Law gives any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them. Under Clare’s Law, a member of the public can also make enquiries into the partner of a close friend or family member- this is the Right to Ask. Professionals who have concerns for a client or indeed a police officer themselves can apply under the Right to Know. The aim of this scheme is to give members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with or who is in a relationship with someone they know, and there is a concern that the individual may be abusive towards their partner.

If police checks show that the individual has a record of abusive offences, or there is other information to indicate the person you know is at risk, the police will consider sharing this information with the person(s) best placed to protect the potential victim. Your local police force will discuss your concerns with you and decide whether it is appropriate for you to be given more information to help protect the person who is in the relationship with the individual you are concerned about. The scheme aims to enable potential victims to make an informed choice on whether to continue the relationship, and provides help and support to assist the potential victim when making that informed choice.

Many police forces have advice on their websites such as: Thames Valley Police; the Metropolitan Police and Devon & Cornwall Police to name a few. The Devon & Cornwall Police do also publish an easy to read guide to the process.

You can contact your local police by phoning 101 and they can advise you further.

Further Reading

Tactics of Coercive Control Used by Men Against Intimate Female Partners by Dr Clare Murphy

Office of National Statistics on Domestic Abuse, 2018