When we think of domestic abuse, often the societal stereotype that most immediately comes to mind is of some form of sporadic or sustained ongoing physical attack/assault on a female by her male partner.
However abuse in the home can take many forms and is much more nuanced and varied in its nature that solely taking the form of physical attack/assault by a partner.
The instigator of that abuse may not be a partner (partner abuse), it could be a parent, sibling or even your child (family abuse). What’s more the instigator may well be a female, and the recipient of the abuse a male.
According to the Living With Abuse website:
- Domestic abuse will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime.
- Leads to, on average, two women being murdered each week and 30 men per year.
- Has more repeat victims than any other crime (on average there will have been 35 assaults before a victim calls the police).
‘”Abused by My Girlfriend” on the BBC iPlayer tells one man’s personal and impactful experience of being the recipient of domestic partner abuse.
Prevalence and Trends in Domestic Abuse
The Office for National Statistics website reported that in England and Wales for the year 2019-2020, an estimated 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year (1.6million women and 757,000 men). When looking at trends in domestic abuse overtime, from March 2005 to March 2020, overall there has been an overall decline in levels.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) annual bulletin on domestic abuse trends published in November 2020 reports that there were 31,817 domestic abuse incidents recorded in Northern Ireland during 2019-2020, the highest level recorded since the data series began in 2004-2005. Associated to this there were 18,640 domestic abuse crimes recorded in 2019-2020 which is also the highest level recorded since the series began in 2004-2005. During 2019-2020 in Northern Ireland, 69% of all domestic abuse crime victims were female and 30 per cent were male, compared with 75 per cent female and 25 per cent male in 2004-2005.
THE BBC News website notes that reported cases of domestic abuse rose by 10% in 2020, the British Medical Journal website reports there has been a surge in domestic child abuse during the coronavirus pandemic and the Office For National Statistics website reports there has generally been an increase in demand for domestic abuse victim services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Instigators of Domestic Abuse
The Office for National Statistics website reported that in England and Wales for the year 2019-2020 reported that partner abuse tended to be more prevalent that family abuse, however some victims were the recipients of both sets of abuse
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) annual bulletin on domestic abuse trends published in November 2020 reports that of all offenders dealt with by PSNI during 2019-2020 in connection with domestic abuse crimes that resulted in a sanction outcome, 86% were male and 12% female. It also reports that during 2019-2020 almost three in five relationships between the domestic abuse victim and offender were categorised as current or ex spouse/ partner/ girlfriend/boyfriend etc. Just under a quarter were parent and child relationships.
Although according to above, the most likely instigator of abuse is a male ‘partner’ is it important to not lose sight of what the statistics also show, namely that a significant proportion of recipients (victims) of domestic abuse are males, and that women too can be instigators (perpetrators).
What is Domestic Abuse?
The Department for Health’s “Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland” strategy defines domestic violence and abuse as: “Threatening, controlling, coercive behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, virtual, physical, verbal, sexual, financial or emotional) inflicted on anyone (irrespective of age, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any form of disability) by a current or former intimate partner or family member.”
This can take the form of:
Financial/Economic Abuse: Where someone is limiting or controlling your access to money or to access basic resources you need to purchase to live in ways that limit your freedom and choice.
Psychological/Emotional Abuse: Where someone is engaging with you in a way that you mental and/or emotional distress and turmoil, including attacking and undermining your self-concept and self-esteem.
Physical Abuse: Some form of physical attack or action that can lead to physical injury and damage to you. This could be under the instigator’s own force (e.g. punching, kicking, slapping etc.) or by use of a weapon/implement.
Sexual Abuse: Any form of sexual interaction with you, including performing certain sexual practices where you are not in a position to give informed and free consent and are also not able to refuse or withdraw consent if you wish to do so.
Gaslighting: Any form of interaction with another designed to get you to doubt your own memories, perceptions or even your sanity.
Coercive Control: Bering manipulated, controlled or undermined by someone (often supported by use of threats or intimidation, isolating you, or acts of humiliation) to gain some form of control over you.
How to Recognise if You Are A Recipient of Domestic Abuse
You would think it would be easy to recognise if someone was abusing you but it is not always simple and straightforward to be able to identify and label abuse you are experiencing especially in a domestic (home) setting.
If you were sitting in the pub and someone came over and punched you in the face, you could instantly recognise that was a form of physical abuse/assault. If your boss tried to withhold part of your wages or make you work extra hours for no pay, you also might be able to quite quickly identify that as financial/economic abuse. If you were walking down the street and some total stranger started shouting obscenities or derogatory terms at you, you might also quickly spot that to be a form of psychological/emotional attack. If you were on a first date and the other person sexually forced themselves on you, that could be clearly seen as a form of sexual abuse.
The situation becomes more complex and harder to distinguish when the person who may be perpetrating one or more forms of abuse on us is someone known to us and/or someone we have a longstanding relationship with. This is particularly the case with less ‘overt’ forms of abuse such as gaslighting or coercive control.
If a parent gives their child a mild slap for bring cheeky is that physical abuse? If a child borrows £20 of their parent and never pays it back is that financial abuse? If a person tells their sibling they are ‘stupid’ is that psychological/emotional abuse? And if your partner cajoles you into wearing some sexy underwear for them is that sexual abuse?
Afterall, if you grow up in family or are with our partner for a long time, any way of life and patterns of behaviour can become our ‘domestic norm’ and it can be harder to see clearly what is acceptable and unacceptable and when behaviours of that family member or partner move from being ‘just the way they always are’ over into being abuse.
That is why many times, it is so, so important to reach out and share your concerns about how you are being treated at home and that you may be the recipient of one or more forms of abuse with someone you trust and who’s opinion we value (a trusted friend or family member, or a GP, counsellor etc.), to help start to evaluate if what you are having to live with is far removed from ‘normal’.
To help you start to reflect if you may be the recipient of some form of domestic abuse ask yourself the following questions:
- Is what I am having to live with objectively ‘normal’?
It may be that within your household slapping is ‘normal’ for example or that one partner controls all the finances, but is that the way it tends to happen in most other households or in most other domestic relationships? Compare how you are living and what you are experiencing to what you can find out about and you perceive other household setups to be. Or if you can, share your experience with someone you trust to get their take on it. This might help you start to reappraise your current domestic circumstances more objectively and start to identify what is objectively reasonable and what might be a form of abuse.
- Is what I am having to live with persistent and severe?
If you partner calls you names once in a ‘blue moon’ in the heat of an argument that may be understandable (even if not acceptable). However if you living day in and day out with someone being extremely verbally aggressive, or the language they use is highly degrading and demeaning to you then you could be on the receiving end of abuse. Do a considered self-reflection of your relationship with that person, has their unwanted or damaging behaviour directed at you been going on for a long time, is it getting more and more frequent, have you noticed their actions becoming more controlling or damaging as time goes on?
- Do you genuinely have choice and control?
Many relationships can be seen to be about give and take and compromises at times, and it can be sometimes difficult to have true equality in all aspects of a relationship (for example, a child is not likely to have financial equality with their parent). You may want to or feel you need to go along with a partner or family member’s wishes to keep them happy or keep the peace. However, you should never have to do something you genuinely do not want to do or which does not feel right to you. A real mutually beneficial relationship for both parties should respect the choices, wishes and boundaries of both sides. It should be about bringing fulfilment, enjoyment and love to both parties, it should never be about one side of the relationship getting those things at the expensive of, or to the detriment of the other party. Reflect on how your choices, wishes and boundaries are respected and considered in the relationship. Also reflect on the levels of control and autonomy you have over your own existence. No human being (even a child) is the property of another, you are entitled to have control over your own body, your own money and your own mental and emotional wellbeing.
- What is the impact on you?
In a domestic relational setting, the instigator/abuser is likely to want to continue the relationship with you over time to maximise the abuse or exploitation of you for their benefit. To help achieve this, the likes of gaslighting is often a tactic employed to deflect from the adverse impacts on you. You may hear phrases such as “you are being too sensitive” or “this is what it is like in every family” as means to play down the impact of their abusive behaviour in your mind. To what extent you are hurt or damaged by the actions of another is not their decision to make it is yours. You can be so mentally confused by an instigator/abuser that it can be hard to think clearly. Take some time though to reflect not just mentally but emotionally too on what the impact is on you of their behaviour. Don’t always listen to their words, listen to your own feelings and your own gut instinct.
How to Recognise if You Are An Instigator of Domestic Abuse
The statistics show that although men can be recipients/victims of domestic abuse, they can also often be the instigators/perpetrators too. Is that you?
Look at the four questions above and ask yourself, in your domestic relationships do you:
- Behave in a way in those relationships that could be considered objectively ‘normal’?
- Avoid engaging in any form of conduct/behaviour towards others that is persistently and severely damaging to them on a physical, financial, psychological, emotional or sexual level?
- Always respect the choices, wishes and boundaries of others and as much as is practicable, and empower them to have control over their lives and their destiny?
- Avoid as much as is possible, doing anything that will have a significant or lasting long-term impact on others, including on their self-concept and self-esteem?
If you start to notice from above that you may be engaging in abusive behaviour, maybe out of fear, insecurity or another reason, start to stop now and seek help to do so.
There are few people who intentionally set out to consciously become an abuser, and there are likely to be a complex set of circumstances that have brought you to this point in your life. Indeed you may no longer feel like you are totally in control of yourself and your conduct and things have gotten beyond your own self-management.
People can change though. Behaviours can be learned from, reduced and stopped. Any relationship that you build based on fear, exploitation or manipulation will most likely ultimately fail and being an abusive person will not do anything to build your self-concept and self-esteem. Be honest with yourself, seek out help and start to change.
What To Do: Survival and First Steps
If you are starting to recognise or have already recognised that you are in an abusive domestic relationship, it is time to take the first steps towards changing that, you deserve better. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, compassion and consideration.
If you can at all, try to bring some form of support into your life to help you cope with what is going on and to start to plan for your future. That might be a trusted family member or friend, a counsellor, a teacher, a work colleague or a specialist agency that is experienced in supporting people living with domestic abuse.
You also need to honestly assess the threat level to you and/or others in the home. If there is a very real risk of life-threatening harm to you or another, you cannot remain there with the abuser and risk your own or another’s life. Either you need to get the likes of the police and the courts to help you remove that person from your home and keep them away, or maybe you need to plan for your own immediate escape to a place of safety.
If the situation is not immediately life-threatening, you may have some short window of time to make a more considered evaluation of your options for moving forward. Start to give yourself back the choice and control someone else may have tried to take from you.
It may be that some intervention in the relationship could ‘fix it’ meaning you can stay connected to that person and in your relationship together (e.g. couples counselling or anger management classes for them). However, be honest here, nobody can be made to change, any intervention of this sort will only truly work if that person accepts they have an issue and honestly and fully commits to trying to change. You cannot change them and you should not feel any responsibility to do it for them.
For others the answer will be to bring that relationship to an end and move onto a new chapter in your life without that constant abuse. This type of major change can be a scary prospect and for some brings in issues of financial affordability to part etc. However much of a challenge it may seem, you can change things, you can move on and away from that abuse. There are many good people, agencies and bodies out there who want to, are willing to and will help you to break free and start your new life. You do not have to do it all alone.
What To Do: Recovery
Once free from a domestically abusive relationship, it may be that you will need to do some additional work to heal the damage it has caused to you, to recover your objectivity, to be able to trust again and to rebuild your self-concept/self-esteem and to regain a pattern of making choices and taking control of your own life.
Think of it like a soldier coming home from a war. The battle is over, but often the affects of conflict can linger and/or resurface. Don’t let the abuse continue to influence your life when you have escaped it, do the work to rid yourself of its impact to free up your future.
Counselling can be a means to give you the time, space and support to recover from domestic abuse and to start to move on.