What is domestic violence?
The Government defines domestic violence as "Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality." This can include forced marriage and so called 'honour killings'.
Domestic violence may, and often does, include a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which are, in themselves, inherently 'violent'.
Whilst both men and women may be victims of domestic violence, women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of violence, including sexual violence. It is also very common, affecting one in four women in their lifetimes. Domestic violence can also take place in lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender relationships, and can involve other family members, including children.
How can I recognise domestic violence?
Although every situation is unique, there are common factors that link the experience of an abusive relationship. This list can help you to recognise if you, or someone you know, is in an abusive relationship.
- Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: eg. shouting, mocking, accusing, name calling, verbally threatening.
- Pressure tactics: sulking, threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children, lying to your friends and family about you, telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
- Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people, not listening or responding when you talk, interrupting your telephone calls, taking money from your purse without asking, refusing to help with childcare or housework.
- Breaking trust: lying to you, withholding information from you, being jealous, having other relationships, breaking promises and shared agreements.
- Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls, telling you where you can and cannot go, preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
- Harassment: following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public.
- Threats: making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you or the children.
- Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, having sex with you when you don't want to have sex, any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
- Physical violence: punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, burning, strangling.
- Denial: saying the abuse doesn't happen, saying you caused the abusive behaviour, being publicly gentle and patient, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again.
Since abusers typically display different kinds of behaviours in public than they do in their private relationships, most people are not usually aware of domestic violence when it is happening in their community. Sometimes it is difficult to believe that a person who behaves so respectably in public can behave so appallingly with their family. This can sometimes make it even more difficult for women who are trying to reach out for support, as they may feel that they will not be believed when they speak out about the violence.
Who is responsible for the violence?
The abuser is. Always. There is no excuse for domestic violence. The abuser has a choice to use violence for which he is responsible and for which he should be held accountable. They do not have to use violence. They can choose, instead, to behave non-violently and foster a relationship built on trust, honesty, fairness and respect.
The victim is never responsible for the abuser's behaviour. Blaming the victim is something that abusers will often do to make excuses for their behaviour. This is part of the pattern and is in itself abusive. Sometimes abusers manage to convince their victims that they are to blame for the abuser's behaviour. Blaming their behaviour on someone else, the relationship, their childhood, their ill health, or their alcohol or drug addiction is an abuser's way of avoiding personal responsibility for their behaviour.
Similarly, children will often feel responsible for the violence and it is important to let them know that the violence is not their fault.
Is domestic violence a crime?
There is no single criminal offence of 'domestic violence'. Instead there are several categories of crime that may also be defined as domestic violence. These include: assault, threat to kill, wounding, attempting to choke, harassment, putting people in fear of violence, rape, sexual assault and exposure.
Not all forms of domestic violence are illegal eg. some forms of emotional violence. However, whether or not a crime has been committed, the Police can help by offering advice and information, and referral to support agencies if required.
Where can I go for help?
- In an emergency call the Police on 999
- To report a crime or incident of domestic violence call the Police switchboard on 0300 333 3000
- For free, confidential support or refuge if necessary, you can call West Mercia Women's Aid 24 hour helpline on 0800 783 1359 (calls are free)
- For a confidential and informal chat with the Police, call 01432 347393
Organisations in Herefordshire
West Mercia Women's Aid (WMWA) is the lead agency in Herefordshire working with women and children affected by domestic violence. They can usually access an interpreter if you need one.
Their services include:
- 24-hour helpline - free, confidential support, advice and access to safe accommodation. The number is 0800 783 1359.
- Refuge - women and their children (if any) can be admitted into the refuge in Hereford city at any time of day or night, 365 days a year. The ground floor of the refuge is fully accessible to wheelchair users and women/children with restricted mobility. The facilities include a ground floor bedroom and adapted bathroom.
- Alternative safe accommodation is always found at another refuge in the national network if the Hereford refuge is full or if the woman needs to leave the area for her own safety. Any woman asking for refuge will be found safe accommodation.
- Information, support and advocacy is offered to all women and children and, with consent and within the bounds of confidentiality, the organisation liaises closely with agencies such as Housing, Social Services, Police, solicitors etc., to enable families to benefit from the expertise and co-operation of all relevant agencies.
- Children - the refuge has play facilities and dedicated Child Support staff who will help mothers/carers to meet the needs of their children.
- Outreach and Floating Support - appointments can be made by or for women who need face-to-face support, either for a short period, or longer term for up to two years, in order to minimise the effects of domestic abuse and successfully establish independent living.
- Social Inclusion - group courses and activities for women recovering from domestic violence aiming to build up confidence and self-esteem, and to have fun.
- Opportunities for volunteers - women interested in training to do voluntary work with WMWA can phone on the office number during office hours for an informal chat.
- WMWA delivers a range of domestic violence awareness and good practice training programmes primarily in Herefordshire but also nationally and internationally. They also play a major role in national domestic violence initiatives through its membership of the Women's Aid Federation of England.