a range of different people: for example, students, researchers, survivors, and the
We hope that this new factsheet format will show how complex and inter-related the
realities of domestic violence are. Often there is not a simple answer to the questions
we are asked and this new factsheet tries to offer information in a way that reflects this.
You will see in various sections links to other areas of the factsheet. For example,
under “can alcohol or drugs cause domestic violence?” there is a reference to the
section “what is the cause of domestic violence”. We have tried to provide you with as
much information as possible whilst not losing sight of the fact that domestic violence is
a complex issue.
This factsheet addresses the issue of domestic violence. However, Women’s Aid
supports the position taken within the Women’s National Committee report (Kelly &
Lovett, 2005) that violence against women requires a coordinated and gendered
approach. This view is based on the overlap between different forms of gendered
violence for example, between domestic and sexual 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 includes issues of concern to black and minority ethnic (BME)
communities such as so called ‘honour killings’.
Domestic violence can also take place in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
relationships, and can involve other family members, including children.
Domestic violence is very common. Research shows that it can affect one in four
women in their lifetimes, regardless of age, social class, race, disability or lifestyle.
Domestic violence accounts for between 16% and one quarter of all recorded violent
crime. In any one year, there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or
threats of violence against women from partners or former partners. (Home Office,
2004; Dodd et al., 2004; Dobash and Dobash, 1980; Walby and Allen, 2004)
All forms of domestic violence – psychological, economic, emotional and physical –
come from the abuser’s desire for power and control over other family members or
Although every situation is unique, there are common factors that link the experience of
an abusive relationship. Acknowledging these factors is an important step in preventing
and stopping the abuse. This list can help you to recognise if you, or someone you
know, are in an abusive relationship.
• Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name
• 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 and 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; shoving; 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.
lifetime and between 1 in 8 to 1 in 10 women experiencing it annually. An analysis of
data from the Intimate Personal Violence (IPV) module British Crime Survey 2001
showed that 26% of women have experienced at least one incident of non-sexual
domestic abuse since they were 16. Note that these figures do not include sexual
abuse (which in many cases is perpetrated by a partner, former partner or other family
member). If sexual assault and stalking are included, then 45% of women have
experienced at least one incident of inter-personal abuse in their lifetimes *1. (Walby and
*1 Because of the way these figures have been collected, it is impossible to calculate the true extent of domestic violence, using Women’s Aid’s definition.
Though only a minority of incidents of domestic violence are reported to the police2, the
police still receive one call about domestic violence for every minute in the UK, an
estimated 1,300 calls each day or over 570,000 each year. (Stanko, 2000). Of these,
89% were calls by women being assaulted by men.
• An analysis of 10 separate domestic violence prevalence studies found consistent
findings: 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence over their lifetimes and
between 6-10% of women suffer domestic violence in a given year (Council of
• The British Crime Survey found that there were an estimated 12.9 million incidents of
domestic violence acts (that constituted non-sexual threats or force) against women
and 2.5 million against men in England and Wales in the year preceding interview
(Walby & Allen, 2004).
• 45% women and 26% men had experienced at least one incident of inter-personal
violence in their lifetimes. (Walby and Allen, 2004) – however when there were more
than 4 incidents (i.e. ongoing domestic or sexual abuse) 89% of victims were women.
• Nearly 1 in 5 counselling sessions held in Relate Centres in England on 28
September 2000 mentioned domestic violence as an issue in the marriage. (Stanko,
• Every minute in the UK, the Police receive a call from the public for assistance for
domestic violence. This leads to police receiving an estimated 1,300 calls each day
or over 570,000 each year. (Stanko, 2000). Of these, 89% were calls by women
being assaulted by men. However, according to the government National Delivery
Plan, less than 24% of domestic violence crime is reported to the police (Walby and
• Repeat victimisation is common. 44% of victims of domestic violence are involved in
more than one incident. No other type of crime has a rate of repeat victimisation as
high (Dodd et al, July 2004).
• On average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner. This
constitutes nearly 40% of all female homicide victims. (Povey, (ed.), 2005; Home
Office, 1999; Department of Health, 2005.)
• The self-completion module of the 2001 British Crime Survey found that women are
most commonly sexually assaulted by men they know. When the researchers asked
women about rape experienced since the age of 16, they found that 45% were raped
by current husbands or partners, 9% by former partners, and a further 29% of
perpetrators were otherwise known to the victim. Only 17% were raped by
strangers. (Walby and Allen, 2004)
• Of women who had experienced domestic violence, 25% had never lived with the
partner who had committed the worst act of violence against them. (Walby & Allen,
• In a study of 200 women’s experiences of domestic violence it was found that 60% of
the women had left because they feared that they or their children would be killed by
the perpetrator. (Humphreys & Thiara, 2002).
“How does domestic violence affect children?” gives further statistics in relation to
children and domestic violence.
* 2 Varying between 23% (Walby and Allen, 2004) and 35% (Home Office, 2002; see also British Crime Survey, 1998; Dodd, et al., 2004).
women are also considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of
violence, and sexual abuse. Women may experience domestic violence regardless of
ethnicity, religion, class, age, sexuality, disability or lifestyle. Domestic violence can also
occur in a range of relationships including heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender relationships, and also within extended families.
While both men and women may experience incidents of inter-personal violence,
women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of
violence. 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or
five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever
experienced domestic violence; and women constituted 89% of all those who had
experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence. (Walby and Allen, 2004) These
points are not always evident in statistical summaries (for example those produced by
the Home Office) as they focus on single incidents, rather than on the complex pattern
of overlapping and repeated abuse perpetrated within a context of power and control.
Women are also more likely to experience sexual violence, and the abuse they
experience is also more likely to have a sustained psychological/emotional impact or
result in injury or death. Nearly half the woman who had experienced intimate violence
of any kind, were likely to have been victims of more than one kind of intimate abuse.
(Coleman et al., 2007)
Findings from an analysis of the self-completion Intimate Personal Violence (IPV)
module of the British Crime Survey include the following:
• Gender is described as a “significant risk factor” as women are more likely than men
to experience interpersonal violence, especially sexual violence, and to experience
severe and/or repeated incidents of violence and abuse:
“Women are the overwhelming majority of the most heavily abused group. Among
people subject to four or more incident of domestic violence from the perpetrator of the
worst incident (since age 16) 89 per cent were women” (p vii).
“…of those women who have been subject to domestic force half (48%) have also been
subject to frightening threats and nearly half (41%) to emotional or financial abuse.
However, men’s experiences are much less nested, that is, of those subject to domestic
force, only 9 per cent had also experienced frightening threats and 28 per cent emotional or financial abuse” (p18).
“11% of women compared to 1% of men reported frightening threats (since 16 years of
age). The researchers commented that “the context of fear is an important element in
the understanding of domestic violence as a pattern of coercive control” (p19). (Walby &
• There was little variation in the experience of inter-personal violence by ethnicity.
• Factors associated with increased risk of domestic violence include poverty3 (though
not social class) and youth: women under the age of 30 are at considerably greater
risk than those over the age of 40 years.
• The prevalence of domestic violence, found by using self-completion methodology is
five times higher than the figure usually produced by interviews or other methods.|
3 This includes low or no personal earnings, and lack of access to emergency money.
Research in Scotland gives a similar picture: research conducted with male respondents
to the Scottish Crime Survey 2000 found that men were less likely to have been repeat
victims of domestic assault, less likely to be seriously injured and less likely to report
feeling fearful in their own homes. (Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, 2002)
Intimate violence is one of the principle factors resulting in health inequalities across
gender specifically, and forms a significant barrier to women receiving effective and
equal health care, as acknowledged in national and international documents throughout
the world (World Health Organisation, 2000).
Also see research evidence under “What are the effects of domestic violence on
Women’s Aid information and support services exist to respond to the needs of women
and children. However, Women’s Aid recognises that controlling and abusive behaviour
can also occur in male gay relationships and by women against men.
Research in Scotland, re-tracing men who were counted as victims in the Scottish Crime
Survey, found that a majority of the men who said that they were victims of domestic
violence, were also perpetrators of violence (13 of 22). A significant number of the men
re-interviewed (13 out of 46) later said they had actually never experienced any form of
domestic abuse (Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, 2002). Other evidence also
confirms that men who report that they are victims of domestic violence have mostly had different experiences from women victims/survivors and require a different response.
(Coulter 2007; Robinson and Rowland, 2007).
Every person has the right to live a life free from violence. For information about who to
contact if you or a man you know is experiencing domestic violence, see our section
entitled “What help is available”.
Also see “Who are the victims?”.
The majority of abusers are men, but in other respects, they vary: abusers come from all
walks of life, from any ethnic group, religion, class or neighbourhood, and of any age.
See Respect: www.respect.uk.net
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
The Day to Count census research on 28 September 2000 found that 81% of reported
domestic violence cases, were of female victims attacked by male perpetrators; 8%
were male victims attacked by female perpetrators; 4% were female victims attacked by
female perpetrators and 7% were male victims attacked by male perpetrators (Stanko,
A study carried out by the Home Office found that in more than a third (41%) of cases
brought to the courts under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the suspect had
previously had an intimate relationship with the complainant. 33% of the suspects were
ex-partners, 4% were relatives, 1% a current partner and 4% were friends. In situations
where the suspect previously or currently had an intimate relationship with the victim,
94% of the suspects were men (Harris, 2000).
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. Abusers do not have to use violence. They can choose, instead, to
behave non-violently and foster a relationship built on trust, honesty, fairness and
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 his behaviour on someone or something else – the relationship, his childhood, ill health, alcohol or drug addiction – is an abuser’s way of avoiding personal responsibility for his behaviour.
Children, similar to adult victims, will often feel responsible for the violence, and it is
important to let them know that the violence is not their fault.
It is important that any intervention to address domestic violence prioritises the safety of survivors and holds the perpetrators accountable.
Couple counselling or mediation may sometimes be seen as a way of addressing the
issue. However, there are some significant problems with this type of approach. Firstly,
there is a risk to the woman’s safety: asking her to discuss the violence with the
perpetrator present may lead to later reprisal. Secondly, the approach itself assumes
that the woman is in some way responsible or capable of altering the perpetrator’s
behaviour. Thirdly, it is unlikely to be successful, since the victim will feel unable to
disclose her real feelings. Women’s Aid therefore does not support the use of couple
counselling or mediation in situations where domestic violence has occurred.
Instead, we suggest that abusers who want to try to change their behaviour attend a
perpetrator programme that meets Respect service standards.
For more information about perpetrator programmes, visit the Respect website:
www. respect.uk.net. (Respect is a registered charity and national membership
organisation promoting best practice for domestic violence perpetrator programmes and
associated support services in the UK).
Also see “Effects of domestic violence on children”
Also see “What is the cause of domestic violence?”.
Domestic violence against women by men is “caused” by the misuse of power and
control within a context of male privilege. Male privilege operates on an individual and
societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over
women and children. Perpetrators of domestic violence choose to behave abusively to
get what they want and gain control. Their behaviour often originates from a sense of
entitlement which is often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other
discriminatory attitudes. In this way, domestic violence by men against women can be
seen as a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in
patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and
control over their partners.
Whilst responsibility for the actual violence is the perpetrator’s alone, there are belief
systems in our society that perpetuate abusive attitudes and make it difficult for women
and children to get help. These include:
– blaming the victim for the violence;
– putting the ‘family’ before the safety of women and children;
– tolerating the use of violence;
– privileging men over women and children’s needs;
– treating domestic violence as a private matter.
Similarly, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes are also reflected in the
nature of the violence against lesbians, gay men, disabled people and women and men
from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities.
However, ultimately, responsibility for the violence must lie with the perpetrator of that
violence, despite any societal influences that encourage a sense of entitlement to
privilege and provide the context for the behaviour.
Domestic violence is learned intentional behaviour rather than directly a consequence of
stress, individual pathology, substance use or a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship.
Perpetrators of domestic violence frequently avoid taking responsibility for their
behaviour, by blaming their violence on someone or something else, denying it took
place at all or minimising their behaviour.
Research shows that violent men are most likely to perpetrate violence in response to
their own sexual jealousy and possessiveness; their demands for domestic services;
and in order to demonstrate male authority. Some men also believe that sex is another
type of domestic service that they can demand. Violent men will also typically justify or
ignore their behaviour by:
– minimising the violence, e.g. saying it was “just a slap” or “isn’t that bad”;
– justifying the behaviour to themselves and blaming the victim;
– denying the violence happened, or refusing to talk about it and expecting the
victim to just “move on”.
(Dobash et al., 2000).
The use (or misuse) of substances is not the underlying cause of domestic violence.
Many people who drink too much or take drugs do not abuse their partners or family
members. Likewise, abusers may be violent without the use of alcohol or other drugs.
Abusers who use alcohol or drugs may use this as an excuse for their behaviour saying
“I was drunk” or “I don’t remember”. Even if they genuinely do not remember what they
did, it does not remove responsibility for their behaviour.
There is never an excuse for domestic violence and the causes of domestic violence are far more deep rooted than simply being an effect of intoxication or alcohol/drug dependency. If an abuser is alcohol/drug dependent, it is important that this is treated in tandem with addressing the violent behaviour. Addressing only one without the other is unlikely to prove successful.
Women experiencing domestic violence may also turn to alcohol or drugs as a form of
escape from the violence. Sometimes abusers will use their partner’s addiction as an
excuse for violent behaviour, saying they have been provoked into using violence.
Excuses such as these are used by the perpetrator to deflect responsibility from
themselves and put the focus or blame for the violence onto the victim. In these
situations it is vitally important not only for women to receive the support they need, but
also for perpetrators to be held accountable for their actions. They should never be
excused on account of the woman’s alleged behaviour.
A study of 336 convicted offenders of domestic violence, found that alcohol was a
feature in 62% of offences and 48% of offenders were alcohol dependent (Gilchrist et al,
One study of 60 women using crack cocaine in London found that 40% reported regular
physical assaults from current partner – rising to 70% if past partners were included.
(Bury et al, 1999).
Also see “What is the cause of domestic violence?”
about when, where and to whom they are abusive to, then they are showing sufficient
awareness and knowledge about their actions to indicate they are not “out of control”.
Abusers use violence and tactics of coercion as a way of exercising control and getting
what they want.
Also see “What is the cause of domestic violence?”
The vast majority of people with mental health problems do not abuse other people.
However, there are a small number of people who are in mental distress who may
behave abusively, though this may not necessarily be caused by the mental health
problem itself. If an abuser is careful about when, where and to whom they are abusive
then they are showing sufficient awareness and knowledge about their actions to
indicate they are making choices about their behaviour.
If an abuser is random and unpredictable, being abusive to strangers as well as people they know (e.g. in public
and in the workplace), then mental illness may be a possibility. Even if this is the case, it still doesn’t mean anyone must put up with abusive behaviour. In these situations, it is important that the safety of survivors is prioritised and that the person experiencing mental distress obtains the professional care they need.
Also see “What is the cause of domestic violence?”.
Mental health issues are more likely to result from domestic violence than to cause it.
Women who have experienced domestic violence have higher rates of mental illness:
64% experience post-traumatic stress disorder, 48% have depression, and 18% attempt
or commit suicide4.
Women do not seek out relationships with violent men. Frequently, men who will
become violent do not reveal this aspect of their behaviour until the relationship has
become well established – and often not until their first pregnancy. The first incident of
domestic violence occurred after one year or more for 51% of the women surveyed;
between three months and one year for 30%; and between one and three months for
13%. It occurred in less than one month for only 6% of women (Walby & Allen, 2004).
Also see “What is the cause of domestic violence”.
understanding of domestic violence. It is a psychological theory that initially arose from
animal behaviour research and was popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
Women living with and leaving violent men say that they want the violence to stop and
are often actively engaged in trying to protect themselves and their children from it.
They may also try a number of ways to cope with or get the violence to stop, including
changing their own behaviour, e.g. avoiding certain situations or appeasing the abuser
by complying with his demands.
Women may also reach out to friends or family for help. When they do so, they can
experience a variety of responses, ranging from the helpful to the utterly dangerous.
However well-intended their help, friends or family may simply not know how to deal
with the situation and may not be aware of the professional support and the legislative
When women do reach out for help from a helpline or a specialist domestic violence
service, it is often an enormous relief to know that they are not alone and that there are
many other women who have gone through very similar experiences.
From a Department of Health meta-analysis emerging from the VVAPP programme: Itzin, C. (2006).
In one study the women who participated were:
“found to be actively engaged in trying to deal with violence and seeking outside
assistance with these efforts. These women were neither helpless or hopeless.
While they did speak of the negative effects of living with violence, most had
considerable strengths and held many positive views about themselves despite
the harm and denigration they had suffered”. (Dobash et al., 2000).
Women may be affected by domestic violence in a number of ways. They may
experience any or all of the following:
• isolation from family/friends;
• loss of income or work;
• emotional/psychological effects such as experiences of anxiety, depression or
lowered sense of self-worth;
• poor health;
• physical injury or ongoing impairment;
• if they are pregnant, they may miscarry or the baby may be stillborn;
• time off work or study, and long-term impact on financial security and career;
• death: two women a week are killed by their partners or former partners.
Research on homelessness for Shelter has found that domestic violence is “the single
most quoted reason for becoming homeless”. This study found that 40% of all
homeless women stated domestic violence as contributor to their homelessness
(Cramer and Carter, 2002).
Findings from the self-completion module of the 2001 British Crime Survey (Walby and
Allen, 2004) show:
• Injuries were often sustained as a result of domestic violence, especially among
women. During the worst incident of domestic violence experienced in the last year,
46 per cent of women sustained a minor physical injury, 20 per cent a moderate
physical injury, and six per cent severe injuries, while for 31 per cent it resulted in
mental or emotional problems.
• Domestic violence has a detrimental impact on employment. Among employed
women who suffered domestic violence in the last year, 21 per cent took time off
work and two per cent lost their jobs.
Violence against women has serious consequences for their physical and mental health.
Abused women are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, psychosomatic
systems, eating problems and sexual dysfunction. Violence may also affect their
reproductive health. (World Health Organisation, 2000).
46% of all female homicide victims compared with 5% of male homicide victims, were
killed by current or former partners in 2001/02. In total there were 116 women who were
killed by current or former partners in 2001/02, and the figures have been similar in
This equates to an average of over 2 women each week who are
killed by a current or former partner (Flood-Page et al, 2003). Women are at greatest
risk of homicide at the point of separation or after leaving a violent partner. (Lees, 2000).
Whilst the risk of staying may be very high, simply leaving the relationship, does not
guarantee that the violence will stop. In fact, the period during which a woman is
planning or making her exit, is often the most dangerous time for her and her children.
Many women are frightened of the abuser, and with good reason, as it is not uncommon
for perpetrators to threaten to harm or even kill their partners or children if she leaves.
However, there may also be other reasons why a woman may not be ready to leave:
• She may still care for her partner and hope that they will change (many women do
not necessarily want to leave the relationship, they just want the violence to stop).
• She may feel ashamed about what has happened or believe that it is her fault.
• She may be scared of the future (where she will go, what she will do for money,
whether she will have to hide forever and what will happen to the children).
• She may worry about money, and about supporting herself and her children.
• She may feel too exhausted or unsure to make any decisions.
• She may not know where to go.
• She may be isolated from family or friends or be prevented from leaving the home or
reaching out for help.
• She may have low self-esteem as a result of the abuse.
• She may believe that it is better to stay for the sake of the children (e.g. wanting her
children to have a father or wishing to prevent the stigma associated with being a
Women and children need to know that they will be taken seriously and that their rights
will be enforced. They need to have accessible options and be supported to make safe
changes for themselves and their children. Resources and support they will need to
leave safely include: money, housing, help with moving, transport, ongoing protection
from the police, legal support to protect her and the children, a guaranteed income and
emotional support. If a woman is not sure that these will be available to her, this may
also prevent her from leaving.
Women may also seek support from family or friends and the quality of the support they
receive is likely to have a significant influence on their decision-making. Sometimes
women will make several attempts to leave before they actually leave permanently and
safely. Regardless of her decision, it is important that the support a woman receives
enables her to increase her and her children’s safety regardless of the choices she
makes about her relationship to the abuser. It is vitally important that women are
supported while living with their abusers. If a woman feels that she will not be given
ongoing support while she stays with her abusive partner, she is unlikely to seek help
from the same person or organisation again.
Access to culturally specific or specialised support may also be an important
consideration for women from BME communities, lesbians, disabled women, asylum
seekers and women with insecure immigration status. These women often face
additional barriers to seeking help in the first place – such as physical barriers, language,
poverty and discrimination. Specialised help and a range of mechanisms to make
contact and receive support are available via Women’s Aid and throughout the England wide
network of domestic violence services.
Perhaps what we really should be asking is “why do we let the violence continue?” For
example, many agencies providing services for men do not screen for domestic
violence. Workers across agencies have a role in challenging men with the nature and
consequences of their violence, their attitudes to women, and the fact that they chose to
use violence, instead of excusing, condoning or minimising the violence.
A recent survey revealed that whilst 20 per cent of women admit they have lived, or do
currently live in fear of violence, more than half (52 per cent) told researchers they’d be
too embarrassed and ashamed to tell their friends, and 59 per cent said they would not
tell their families. (YouGov, 2004).
Leaving does not stop the violence: these are some findings from recent studies:
• Women are at greatest risk of homicide at the point of separation or after leaving
a violent partner. (Lees, 2000).
• 60% of the women in one study left the abuser because they feared that they
would be killed if they stayed. A further 54% of women left the abuser because
they said that they could see that the abuse was affecting their children and 25%
of the women said that they feared for their children’s lives. (Humphreys &
• The British Crime Survey found that, while for the majority of women leaving the
violent partner stopped the violence, 37% said it did not. 18% of those who had
left their partner were further victimised by stalking and other forms of
harassment. 7% of those who left said that the worst incident of domestic
violence took place after they had stopped living with their partner. (Walby &
• 76% of separated women reported suffering post-separation violence.
(Humphreys & Thiara, 2002). Of these women:
– 76% were subjected to continued verbal and emotional abuse;
– 41% were subjected to serious threats towards themselves or their
– 23% were subjected to physical violence;
– 6% were subjected to sexual violence;
– 36% stated that this violence was ongoing.
• In addition to this, more than half of those with post-separation child contact
arrangements with an abusive ex-partner continued to have serious, ongoing
problems with this contact. (Humphreys & Thiara, 2002).
• 46% of the women contacted outreach services for the first time when they were
still living with their abuser; 90% of these women had since left the abuser.
(Humphreys & Thiara, 2002).
In 30% of cases of domestic violence, the abuse first started during pregnancy.
(McWilliams and McKiernan, 1993). Amongst a group of pregnant women attending
primary care in East London, 15% reported violence during their pregnancy; just under
40% reported that violence started whilst they were pregnant, whilst 30% who reported
violence during pregnancy also reported they had at sometime suffered a miscarriage
as a result (Coid, 2000). Another study found that between 4 and 9 women in every
100 are abused during their pregnancies and/or after the birth. (Taft, 2002)
Domestic violence has been identified as a prime cause of miscarriage or still-birth
(Mezey, 1997), and of maternal deaths during childbirth (Lewis and Drife, 2001, 2005).
Legally, if a miscarriage is caused by abuse, the assailant can be charged under S.58 of
the Offences against the Person Act, “using an instrument with intent to cause a
miscarriage5. If a baby is born prematurely as a result of an assault, and then dies, the
assailant may be charged with manslaughter6.
12% of the 378 women whose death was reported to the Confidential Enquiry on
Maternal Deaths had voluntarily reported domestic violence to a healthcare professional
during their pregnancy. (Lewis and Drife, 2001) None had routinely been asked about
domestic violence so this is almost certainly an underestimate. Within the six weeks
following birth, 11 new mothers were known to have been murdered by their male
partners during 2000-02, and 14% of all the women who died during or immediately
after pregnancy (43 women) had reported domestic violence to a health professional
during the pregnancy. (Lewis and Drife, 2005)
One study in the USA found a significant relationship between pregnancy, domestic
violence, and suicide: pregnant women who attempt suicide are very likely to have been
abused. (Stark and Flitcraft, 1996)
The majority of children witness the violence that is occurring and in 80% of cases they
are in the same or the next room. In about half of all domestic violence situations, the
children are also being directly abused themselves. Children living in households where
domestic violence is occurring are now identified as “at risk” under the Adoption and
Children Act 2002: from 31 January 2005, Section 120 of this act extended the legal
definition of harming children to include harm suffered by seeing or hearing ill treatment
Children can “witness domestic violence” in many different ways. For example, they
may be in the same room and may even get caught in the middle of an incident in an
effort to make the violence stop; they may be in the room next door and hear the abuse
or see their mother’s physical injuries following an incident of violence; they may be
forced to stay in one room or may not be allowed to play; they may be forced to witness
sexual abuse or they may be forced to take part in verbally abusing the victim. All
children witnessing domestic violence are being emotionally abused.
Children can experience both short and long term cognitive, behavioural and emotional
effects as a result of witnessing domestic abuse. It is important to remember that each
child will respond to the trauma differently and some may be resilient and not exhibit any
negative effects. Children’s responses to the trauma of witnessing domestic violence
5 See Bristol Evening Post 18th December 2004, report on Nycoma Edwards whose assault on
his girlfriend led to miscarrying at 4 and half months.
6 See report from July 2000 of a Carlyle case where assault resulted in birth of baby (born at 8
and a half months by caesarean section).
may vary according to a multitude of factors including, but not limited to, age, race, sex
and stage of development. It is equally important to remember that the common effects
experienced by children can also be caused by something other than witnessing
domestic violence and therefore a thorough assessment of a child’s situation is vital to
ensure appropriate response and support.
These are some of the effects on children of witnessing domestic violence, described in
a briefing by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2004):
• they may become anxious or depressed;
• they may have difficulty sleeping;
• they have nightmares or flashbacks;
• they can be easily startled;
• they may complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches;
• they may start to wet their bed;
• they may have temper tantrums;
• they may behave as though they are much younger than they are;
• they may have problems with school;
• they may become aggressive or they may internalise their distress and
withdraw from other people;
• they may have a lowered sense of self-worth;
• older children may begin to play truant or start to use alcohol or drugs;
• they may begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves;
• they may have an eating disorder.
Children may also feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused.
They may have ambivalent feelings towards both the abuser and the non-abusing
The “cycle of violence” otherwise known as the “intergenerational theory” is often
referred to when considering the effects of domestic violence on children, however this
research is inconsistent. At Women’s Aid we believe that this theory is disempowering
and ineffective when working with children. A boy who has witnessed domestic violence
does not have to grow up to be an abuser, and a girl does not have to become a victim
of domestic violence later in life. Educational programmes focusing on healthy
relationships, and challenging gender inequality, sexual stereotyping, and domestic
violence, should be integrated with work on anti-bullying and conflict resolution as a
mandatory part of the PHSE curriculum in all schools. These would act as important
preventive measures. View our article on the cycle of violence.
It is important that the non-abusive parent and the children are supported to ensure that
they are safe and that the effects and the risk of ongoing violence are not left
unaddressed. Specialist domestic violence services have a crucial role in helping
women and children deal with the effects of domestic violence on children.
Some statistics on domestic violence and its effects on children
• At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. Nearly three quarters of
children on the ‘at risk’ register live in households where domestic violence occurs.
(Department of Health, 2002).
• The link between child physical abuse and domestic violence is high, with estimates
ranging between 30% to 66% depending upon the study. (Hester et al, 2000;
Edleson, 1999; Humphreys & Thiara, 2002; Mullender and Morley,1994; Radford
and Hester, 2007.)
• Children who live with domestic violence are at increased risk of behavioural
problems and emotional trauma, and mental health difficulties in adult life. (Kolbo, et
al., 1996; Morley and Mullender, 1994; Hester et al., 2000, 2007)
• Nearly three quarters of children on the ‘at risk’ register live in households where
domestic violence occurs and 52% of child protection cases involving domestic
violence. (Department of Health, 2002; Farmer and Owen, 1995).
• In 75% to 90% of incidents of domestic violence, children are in the same or the
next room. (Hughes, 1992).
• 70% of children living in UK refuges have been abused by their father. (Bowker et
Domestic violence and Child Contact
Unfortunately, even after separating from their abusers, many mothers find it extremely
difficult to protect their children from ongoing abuse as a result of the requirement to
comply with contact orders made by the family courts. Women’s Aid supports a child’s
right to safe contact, but recognises that contact with an abusing parent may not always
be in the children’s best interests.
• In 1999, a survey of 130 abused parents it was found that 76% of the 148 children
ordered by the courts to have contact with their estranged parent were said to have
been abused in the following ways during visits: 10% were sexually abused; 15%
were physically assaulted; 26% were abducted or involved in an abduction attempt;
36% were neglected during contact; and 62% suffered emotional harm. Most of
these children were under the age of 5. (Radford, Sayer & AMICA, 1999).
• In their response to the consultation paper on “Contact between Children and Violent
Parents”, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation stated that information
received from local Family Court Welfare Services suggests that domestic violence
is present in almost 50% of cases, where a welfare report is ordered. (Association of
Chief Officers of Probation, 1999).
• In a survey of refuge services, Women’s Aid found that in reported cases since April
2001, a total of 18 children were ordered to have contact with parents who had
committed offences against children and a total of 64 children were ordered to have
contact with parents whose behaviour previously caused children to be placed on the
Child Protection Register. 21 of these children were ordered to have unsupervised
contact with the abusive parent (Saunders & Barron, 2004).
• Only 3% of service providers surveyed by Women’s Aid think that appropriate
measures are being taken to ensure the safety of the child and resident parent in
most contact cases involving domestic violence (Saunders & Barron, 2004).
• The number of contact orders refused has dropped drastically over the last 4 years.
In 2002, there were 61,356 applications for contact orders under the Children Act
1989, of those, only 518 (0.8%) were refused. (Lord Chancellor’s Department, 2003).
• Women’s Aid has compiled a list of 29 children (in 13 families) who have been killed
as a result of contact or residence arrangements in England and Wales over the last
ten years (however, since there are no national statistics kept on this, the actual
figure may be higher). Ten of these children were killed since 2002. With regard to
five of these families, contact was ordered by the court (letter dated 16.7.2002 to
Women’s Aid Federation of England from Rosie Winterton, Parliamentary Secretary,
Lord Chancellor’s Department). You can access information about this report online.
Domestic violence may comprise a number of different behaviours and consequences,
so there is no single criminal offence of “domestic violence”. However, many forms of
domestic violence are crimes – for example, harassment, assault, criminal damage,
attempted murder, rape and false imprisonment. Being assaulted, sexually abused,
threatened or harassed by a partner or family member is just as much a crime as
violence from a stranger, and often more dangerous.
Successful prosecutions for domestic violence cases rose from 46% (of all cases
brought before the courts) in a December 2003 ‘snapshot’ to 65% during the whole of
2006-07. The latest figures from the CPS are as follows:
Date Convictions % convicted Unsuccessful % unsuccessful Totals
2004-5 19,468 55.1% 15,867 44.9% 35,335
2005-6 30,213 59.8% 20,343 40.2% 35,335
2006-7 37,505 65.2% 20,034 34.8% 57,539
2007-14/1/08 34,034 68.4% 15,698 31.6% 49,732
Percentages are based on the number of cases either charged by police, or accepted
for prosecution by the CPS, and which were identified as allegations involving domestic
violence. (Source: Parliamentary question 22/1/08)
Not all forms of domestic violence are illegal, however; for example, some forms of
emotional abuse are not defied as crimes. Nevertheless, these types of violence can
also have a serious and lasting impact on a woman’s or child’s sense well-being and
Whether or not the abuser is prosecuted, those who experience domestic violence have
rights under the civil law. Injunctions or court orders for protection against further abuse
(a non-molestation order) and/or to keep the abuser away from the home (an occupation
order) may be applied for in either the magistrates’ family proceedings court or in the
county court. The homelessness legislation also enables those who are unable to
return home because of violence to apply for emergency accommodation on grounds of
As well as the individual costs associated with a loss of quality of life and loss of life
itself, domestic violence also costs our society as a whole.
The estimated total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion
per annum. This figure includes an estimated £3.1 billion as the cost to the state and
£1.3 billion as the cost to employers and human suffering cost of £17 billion. (Walby,
2004). This estimated total cost is based on the following:
• The cost to the criminal justice system is £1 billion per annum. (This represents
one quarter of the criminal justice budget for violent crime including the cost of
homicide to adult women annually of £112 million).
• The cost of physical healthcare treatment resulting from domestic violence,
(including hospital, GP, ambulance, prescriptions) is £1,220,247,000, i.e. 3% of
total NHS budget.
• The cost of treating mental illness and distress due to domestic violence is
• The cost to the social services is £0.25 billion.
• Housing costs are estimated at £0.16 billion.
• The cost of civil legal services due to domestic violence is £0.3billion
The statistics collated by Walby above are recognised as an under-estimate because
public services don’t collect information on the extent to which their services are used as
a result of domestic violence. The research doesn’t include costs to those areas for
which it was difficult to collect any baseline information – for example cost to social
services work with vulnerable adults, cost to education services, the human cost to
children, (including moving schools and the impact this has on their education), and it
excludes the cost of therapeutic and other support within the voluntary sector.
The cost of domestic homicide is estimated by the Home Office at over one million
pounds: a total of £1, 097, 330 for each death, or £112 million per year.
Also see “What are the effects of domestic violence on women?” and “What are the
effects of domestic violence on children?”
The total number of women supported by domestic violence services in England (both
residential and non-residential) on one typical day (2nd November 2006) – was 11, 310.
This has increased by 50% since 2003.
On a typical day, 3615 women and 3,580 children are resident in refuge accommodation
in England. This is an increase of 12% over the past 4 years. 50% of these children are
aged under 5 years.
Table 1: Estimated numbers of women and children using refuge accommodation
Survey Period Women Children
2002/03 17,094 21,465
2003/04 18,569 23,084
2004/05 19,836 24,347
2005/06 16, 815 19, 450
Table 2: Estimated numbers of women with no recourse to public funds entering
Survey Period Women given refuge
% of total women given
2002/03 301 1.76%
2003/04 368 1.98%
2004/05 477 2.4%
2005/6 305 1.8%
Women and children provided with floating support, outreach and advocacy
Many domestic violence organisations offer non-refuge-based services such as
outreach, floating support, and advocacy services in addition to, or separate from, the
provision of refuge accommodation. 78% of organisations responding to the 2005-6
Annual Survey offer some of these services, a majority of which also provide refuge
accommodation7. 19% of all those responding offer outreach, advocacy and/or floating
support services only.
Extrapolating8 from the figures provided by those responding to our Annual Survey, we
estimate that 114, 430 women and 7, 660 children were directly supported by
outreach, advocacy and floating support services during 2005-6. A further 68, 850
children were indirectly supported through the support given to their mothers9.
Table 3: Estimated numbers of women and children supported by all domestic
violence services (both refuge-based and non-refuge-based) annually
7 75% of those offering non-refuge-based domestic violence services also provide refuge accommodation.
8 Because the response from outreach-only services was lower (at only 50%) than that from services offering refuge
accommodation, we have made an additional adjustment to the data from this group to take this into account; i.e. using
the overall response rate of 67%.
9 This figure is likely to be considerably under-estimated, given that many services did not keep records of the numbers
of children living with those women they supported in non-refuge services.
Women – total number
supported in all services
Children – total number
supported in all services
2002/03 122, 570 87, 796
2003/04 142, 526 106, 118
2004/05 196, 205 129, 193
2005/6 131, 245 95, 960
A full report of the results of our Annual Surveys 2004-5 and 2005-6 plus our 2006
Census day results are available from our website: www.womensaid.org.uk
Everyone has the right to live free from abuse and fear. If you are experiencing
domestic violence, you may feel humiliated, frightened, ashamed, alone and confused.
Please know that you are not to blame and you are not alone.
You can contact one of the National Domestic Violence Helplines in England, Wales,
Scotland or Northern Ireland, or a local refuge or other domestic abuse support services
(see contact information below) for practical and emotional support, advocacy and
You could also begin to plan how you would respond in a crisis to help keep you and
your children safe. If it is safe and practical for you, you could store emergency clothes,
money, special children’s toys, important documents, addresses and telephone
numbers, duplicate car keys with someone you can trust. Plan how to contact
emergency help at any time. It may even help to agree signals with a neighbour if you
aren’t able to use the telephone. Whether or not you decide to leave your abuser, one
of the National Domestic Violence Helplines or local refuge organisations or domestic
violence support services can help you plan how to leave in an emergency and to find a
place of safety. If you decide to move away by yourself, make sure it’s safe and that
you can’t be traced straightaway.
For more help and information see The Survivor’s Handbook on our website. Below we
give some contact information for organisations that can help.
999 – Emergency services
If you are concerned for your own or some else’s immediate safety ring the Police on
0808 2000 247 – Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline
Run partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid Federation of England.
The Helpline service provides support, information and a listening ear to women and
children experiencing domestic violence and plays a pivotal role in assisting women and
children to access a place of safety in a women’s refuge. The Helpline also offers
support and information to friends, family members and external agencies that are
calling on behalf of a woman.
The Helpline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by fully trained female
Helpline support workers and volunteers. Helpline staff will discuss the available
options for women and children experiencing domestic violence and, if appropriate, refer
callers on to refuges and other sources of help and information. Our aim is to make
women aware of the options so that they can make informed choices.
The Helpline is a member of Language Line and can provide access to an interpreter for
non-English speaking callers. The Helpline can also access the BT Type Talk Service.
The 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline will also refer male callers who
require help to appropriate support groups.
You can also contact the 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline and local
domestic violence services by:
Post: P.O.Box 391, Bristol, BS99 7WS
Other Helplines in the UK
You can also contact:
028 9033 1818 – Northern Ireland Women’s Aid 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline
0800 027 1234 – Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline
0808 80 10 800 – Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline
Self-referrals to Domestic Violence Services
You can also self-refer to most refuge organisation by contacting one of the services
listed in the Domestic Abuse Directory on the Women’s Aid website.
Broken Rainbow Helpline
Broken Rainbow Helpline is a UK-wide specialist confidential service for lesbians, gay
men, bisexual and transgender people experiencing homophobic or transphobic
domestic violence. The helpline can be accessed anonymously. Staff offer information,
support and advice including referrals to other services as necessary.
Helpline Number (Survivors): 08452 604460 Check website for opening hours.
Email address: email@example.com
Men’s Advice Line
If you are a man or you want to call on behalf of a man who is experiencing domestic
violence, you can contact Male (Men’s Advice Line) on 0808 801 0327. The Men’s
Advice Line is managed by Respect: see below.
Respect is the UK association for domestic violence perpetrator programmes and
associated support services. Domestic violence is most often perpetrated by men
against women, but does also occur in same sex relationships and in a small number of
cases from women to men. Because of this, the Respect Phoneline will specialise in
providing services to male perpetrators, but will also be available for female perpetrators
and those in same sex relationships.
Tel: 0845 122 8609 www.respect.uk.net
For information on legal rights for women and children experiencing domestic violence,
see the topic areas for Civil Law and Criminal law.
You could also contact Right of Women (ROW). Rights of Women is a not-for-profit
organisation committed to informing, educating and empowering women on the law and
their legal rights.
ROW Legal advice line: 0207 251 6577. Textphone: 0207 490 2562.
ROW also run a Sexual Violence legal advice line: 020 7251 8887. Textphone: 020
For information on your rights to legal aid, contact
Community Legal Services 0845 345 4345, www.clsdirect.org.uk
The CLS is part of the Legal Services Commission: 020 7759 0317/8/ 0800 085 6643
The Law Society on 020 7242 1222 will provide a list of solicitors in your area.
For further information and briefings about children’s rights and child contact, please
visit the Child Contact topic area of our website.
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