Abusive relationships

Woman looking out of window

What is domestic violence and abuse?

It is never easy to define what constitutes being in an abusive relationship and for some, the signs that your relationship is abusive can be difficult to spot. The Government definition of 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 or emotional.

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.

This definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.”

Is your relationship abusive?

If you are reading this advice article, you may already be questioning whether your relationship is healthy or abusive. You can ask yourself some questions to determine this:

  • Does your partner constantly criticise your appearance, your behaviour or how you act?
  • Do you feel your partner makes fun of you in public and humiliates you regularly?
  • Does your partner call you horrible names and is verbally abusive towards you?
  • Are you freely able to spend time and communicate with friends and family members?
  • Are you anxious about going out without your partner because they will get upset with you?
  • Do you find yourself making excuses for your partner’s behaviour to others?
  • If you have children, have you ever told them not to talk to others about what happens at home?
  • Has your partner ever threatened suicide or made threats if you leave?
  • Has your partner told you that if you leave you cannot take the children?
  • Has your partner forced to you have sex, watch porn or do other acts that you have not consented to?
  • Are you afraid to say no to sex?
  • Do you regularly get accused of flirting with others or accused of having relationships with others?
  • Do you feel able to work or does your partner object to you working?
  • Has your partner ever hurt you physically or thrown things?
  • Do you feel nervous or afraid for your or your children's safety when your partner becomes angry?
  • Does your partner text you non-stop when you are not with them?
  • Do you feel able to challenge your partner without feeling scared or anxious?
  • Does the term 'walking on egg shells' relate to you within your relationship?

If you have answered yes to the any of these questions above, then it may be time to start seeking help and further support to get yourself safe and away from an abusive relationship.

Types of abuse

There are many types of abusive behaviour and often what some may describe as a difficult trait in their partners is in actual fact domestic abuse. The following types of abuse are not exhaustive and can contain a lot more examples.

Physical - Punching, pushing, kicking, slapping, biting, scratching, burns, restraining, head butting, choking and other forms of abuse that cause physical harm.

Psychological - Emotional blackmail including threats of suicide if partner leaves, exercising control over a partner, possessive behaviour, constant criticism, making partner feel degraded, told they are ugly, negative comments on appearance, continually criticising partner's parenting skills, demands for things that are not achievable so to use this as an excuse to be abusive and using fear and scare tactics to get what they want from you.

Emotional - Not allowing partner to socialise or go out without them including appointments, screening contacts via phone or face to face, putting friends and family off from visiting, withdrawing access to phones, locking partner in home, refusing to help with chores around the home, causing partner to have disturbed sleep, refusing to help with children, telling partner they are constantly useless, taking away self-esteem and confidence, sharing partner's private and personal information with others, calling a partner weak, putting you down in front of others and making promises not to hurt you again but still continues to do so.

Financial - Controls incoming wages or benefits, asks for receipts for all purchases to keep check on partner, stopping partner from working, controlling bank accounts, giving partner limited funds as a way of controlling them, asking partner to prove their love by buying gifts beyond means, taking out loans and putting partner in debt, not paying bills and threats to stop money if partner leaves them.

Sexual- Taking inappropriate images without consent,  humiliation through sexual acts, forcing partner to do sexual acts, demanding sex and gets upset or angry when refused, being aggressive in a sexual manner, recording inappropriate videos or audio without consent, forcing a partner to sleep with others, controlling behaviour on how partner dresses, forced to watch porn, forced into prostitution, rape and sexual assault and not allowed to use any contraception. 

Harassment and stalking - Following you and checking up on you, gives you no privacy, taking control of your phone, social media and computer, not allowing you to go anywhere alone or talking to anyone, reading your messages or pretending to be you on your online accounts and/or forcing you to engage in online sexual activity.

Use of children - Making threats to take the children away from partner, turning them against the abused partner, threats of harm or actual harm of children, stopping children from going to school, blaming partner for social services intervention, controlling behaviour in supervised contact, over friendly with professionals at appointments, forcing children to keep secrets, criticising partner's parenting skills, criticising children’s behaviour, asking children to choose favourite parent, forced pregnancy through rape, emotional blackmail or no contraception, pretending to be pregnant, blaming children or the stress of parenting for domestic abuse. They could be telling malicious lies to social services to cause abused partner to look as they are unable to cope or causing harm to the children.

The effect on children and young people

If you are in an abusive relationship, you may do your utmost to hide the abuse, arguments, behaviour from your children. You may even go on to show a very happy and positive exterior to keep your children not suspecting anything. However, children can pick up on unseen and unheard emotions and atmosphere within family life. They may feel and sense that something is wrong and their behaviour may be affected as a result. Sometimes you may not see this as they may exhibit this behaviour outside of family life so not to contribute to the abuse of a parent within the home.  It may be helpful to confidentially reach out to their school teacher who can give you an insight into their school life. Is their school work affected, are they getting anxious about going to school or acting out at school? These are some behaviours a teacher may notice within a young person.

A child may discuss what is going on or show others how they feel outside of the family to other friends, their parents or extended relatives. It is worth finding out if they have noticed a change within your child. A child who is experiencing domestic abuse within their family life will have emotional health and wellbeing issues such as: 

  • They may start to self-harm, get anxious or have depression
  • They may have difficulty sleeping, have nightmares or wet their bed
  • They may start feeling ill more often and wanting to stay off school
  • Your child may start showing their distress through aggressive or violent behaviour
  • They may withdraw from other people and not be social anymore, or even go out all the time and never come home
  • They may have a lowered sense of self-worth, self-esteem and no confidence
  • Older children may start to use alcohol or drugs or develop an eating disorder

If you are concerned about your child, it could help to get some support for them and they can use the Hideout website or speak to an adviser at Get Connected to help them get through this.

What do the statistics show?

There are many different ways that someone can be abusive towards you and some people often say they never realised that their relationship was abusive until it either escalated or until they left and looked back. According to the British Crime Survey (2004) they say that 1 in 4 will experience domestic abuse in their relationship. Every 60 seconds the police receive a complaint about domestic violence and in the UK every 3 days someone is a killed as a result of domestic violence.

Each year around 2.1m people suffer some form of domestic abuse - 1.4 million women (8.5% of the population) and 700,000 men (4.5% of the population).  Each year more than 100,000 people in the UK are at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic abuse. 130,000 children live in homes where there is high-risk domestic abuse and 62% of children living with domestic abuse are directly harmed by the perpetrator of the abuse, in addition to the harm caused by witnessing the abuse of others

Support for you and getting help

If you feel your relationship is showing signs of abuse and you need to get some help, there are plenty of organisations that work locally or nationally to get you the help you need. Some may be able to offer you a refuge place if you need to get yourself and your children to safety as soon as possible or you might just want to talk things through with someone without committing to making a plan. Women’s Aid have a Survivors Handbook which contains a wealth of information, advice, tips and support that would be very helpful.

Women’s Aid – You can call them on 0808 2000 247 but when you do call them, make sure your abuser is not around or call them from a safe place. School runs, going shopping or whenever you are able to make a private call without your partner present is best and safer for you.

Police - The police can help you too and take action too. They take domestic abuse very seriously and will take all necessary action. So if you feel in danger or are concerned for your children’s immediate safety, please call 999.

Refuge – You can call them too on 0808 2000 247 and they provide support to partners and their children if you are in an abusive relationship.

Men’s advice line – If you are male and in an abusive relationship, you can call for support and advice on 0808 801 0327 or email them info@mensadviceline.org.uk.

Mankind Initiative – You can call them on 01823 334244 if you are male and suffering from domestic violence or domestic abuse.

Respect Phoneline – A confidential and anonymous helpline for anyone concerned about their violence and/or abuse towards a partner or ex-partner. Please call 0808 802 4040.

If you speak to a service via your child’s school or a children’s centre, they may allocate you a family support worker and they can meet you in confidence within school grounds to give you face to face support. This is something to consider too. You may be given the option to make a safety plan for your child and a safety plan for you too. This will have a series of options and plans prepared if you feel in danger for you and your children’s safety.

It is important to remember that the support you access is determined at your pace and how you want to take things. At no point should you feel under pressure to do something you are not happy or comfortable with. It can take time to remove yourself from an abusive relationship and a lot of strength so when you do speak to someone for help and support, at the initial stage, you might just want to talk things through. This is your choice and you have the right to remain confidential. You also have a right to not feel judged or to feel like you have made bad choices.

For many people who have remained in negative, abusive relationships, it is often because they have been stripped of their basic human rights, their confidence and their voice to be heard. Someone may feel so low they may not have the strength to face up to this and make the choice to start the process of getting safe and away from the abusive relationship. We are here too to support you and you can call us on 0808 800 2222 whenever you want to talk things through.

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