The legal definition of 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.”
There are many types of domestic abuse and often a victim will experience more than one at the same time. It is important to acknowledge that one type of abuse isn’t worse than another, with the impact and harm ranging from one individual to another.
‘Honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage are classed under the definition of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can be, but isn’t limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and emotional abuse.
20% of females are estimated to have been a victim of sexual assault since the age of 16. And it is estimated that 15% of sexual assault victims reported their experiences to the police and just 5.7% of reported rape cases result in a conviction.
Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual act or activity. It includes child and adult sexual exploitation, rape, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, and revenge porn, among others.
The changes since the Sexual Offences Act 1956 saw rape within marriage recognised in 1991 and legislation was changed to recognise male victims of rape in 1994. From 2003 onwards, oral rape was added to the definition too.
Other types of domestic abuse
- Coercive control: this can include gaslighting, which is manipulating a person to doubt experiences they know to be true. Coercive control can mean a person is isolated from their family, friends, and wider support network and/or is increasingly controlled in the way they live.
- Physical: any physical harm inflicted on someone, which can include physical assault, with or without weapons, withholding medication, controlling food intake, or FGM.
- Financial: this is controlling the victim’s money and resources, which could include taking out loans using identity theft, forcing a partner to take on debt and not allowing the victim to work – all making them financially dependent on the perpetrator.
- Emotional and psychological: this can be name-calling, threats, manipulation, or consistently undermining self-esteem.
Risk factors and assessment
The DASH Risk Assessment (Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour Based Violence) is a tool used by practitioners to assess victims of domestic abuse, stalking and honour-based violence. The assessment includes 24 questions which gives a score identifying if the victim is at standard, medium or high risk.
Factors that would immediately increase risk levels include a recent serious incident of violence or sexual abuse, threats to kill, indication of a repeat offender, or pregnancy. The tool is used as a means of prioritising response rates, and ensuring victims are given support to match immediate, varying needs.
Impacts on the victim
The impacts on victims of domestic and sexual abuse can cause different outcomes, physically emotionally, and financially. Tragically, we also know that two women die every week as a result of domestic abuse. Examples of how victims can be affected by domestic and sexual abuse include mental health issues, substance misuse, physical injuries, isolation, self-harm/suicidal thoughts, difficulties sleeping, unemployment, and STIs or unwanted pregnancies.
The impact on victims can be long term. This is particularly evident when we look at the statistics for homeless: 61% of homeless females have experienced domestic abuse.
Barriers to support
Due to widespread misunderstandings, many people still ask why domestic violence victims do not walk away from the situation they are in. On average, victims experience 50 incidents of domestic violence before getting effective help. The reasons are varied and complicated.
Victims often live in fear of what the abuser would do to them if they tried to leave and were caught, whether it’s fear of physical repercussions or fear of having no one to turn to. Self-blame for repeated incidences can stop someone from reporting such abuse, doubting that authorities or support networks will believe them.
A person might not recognise that they have been a victim – they may feel that “it’s not that bad” or have a lack of understanding of what a healthy relationship should be. The victim can have hope or love attached to the relationship and believe that things can improve, or the perpetrator might apologise, and this can become a long-term cycle.
Other barriers can include financial dependence on the perpetrator, lack of support and not knowing support is available, especially for male and LGBTQ+ victims.
Finally, although certainly not a complete list, immigration status can impact a victim’s decision to seek help. If someone fears being deported if they speak with authorities, then the risk of breaking up a family may not feel worth it.
Supporting domestic abuse and sexual violence victims
Supporting domestic and sexual abuse victims can be difficult. But accessible, inclusive, and compassionate victim services can be a lifeline for those involved in domestic violence. We are always looking for advice to improve services but for now, here’s some tips from Case Workers at our Victim First service:
- Always check whether it’s safe to speak through texts
- Create a safe space – where possible, always have appointments alone
- Avoid victim blaming and reassure victims
- Be aware that victims may not want to leave the relationship
- Always call 999 in an emergency – press 55 when you cannot talk.
Last year, we launched the XenZone to help support the mental health of victims of crime as a direct response to COVID-19 when emotional abuse was reportedly up to 59% and physical abuse was up 49% among children and young adults.
Hertfordshire Beacon Victim Care recently launched its Beacon Family Hub. The Hub will include group parent programmes, one-to-one support for children and parents, and restorative interventions for the whole family. This service is designed to target both child-on-parent violence, as well as other forms of domestic violence.
Outside of Catch22, there are a number of national services that offer support to domestic and sexual victims, including Refuge (for women and children), NCDV (for legal advice), Respect (for men), Galop (for LGBT+ support), and Karma Nirvana (for specialist help regarding honour-based violence and/or forced marriage).