What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence, or abuse, is when a grown-up threatens, bullies or hurts another adult in the family. It can happen in any family. It can be very hard to deal with but remember that it’s never your fault. Within any relationship, there are ups and downs – people say and do things to each other that are hurtful, however, there’s a difference between a normal argument and abusive, fighting and threatening behaviour, this is domestic violence or abuse.
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’.
It might not always be obvious if what’s happening at home is domestic abuse. But if somebody in your family uses bullying or violence to get another adult to do what they want, that’s domestic abuse.
It can include:
- Physical violence
Like hitting, kicking, punching, pushing, hair-pulling.
This includes threatening to hurt you, another person in your family, or a pet. Or threatening to stop money for food or bills.
- Sexual violence
Making another person do something sexual when they don’t want to, or making someone watch sexual material on the internet or television.
- Controlling someone’s finances
This includes not allowing somebody to spend their own money. Or not giving them money for basic things such as food, nappies for babies, or clothes.
- Controlling someone’s life
This could include stopping someone from going to work or school.
- Cultural or ‘honour’ violence
This includes being hurt or abused as a punishment for something that’s not seen as culturally acceptable by your community or family. It can include being forced to marry someone.
Things you should remember:
- nobody should have to experience domestic abuse in their home
- if it’s happening, it’s not your fault
- domestic abuse doesn’t always involve physical violence – it can also include bullying and threats
- you can always speak to a counsellor about what’s going on
- if you’re in danger call 999.
More often than not men are the abusers and women are the victims, but domestic violence can also happen to men.
When you look at the roles of men and women in history it can help you to understand why it happens more to women. 150 years ago in the UK it was still legal for a man to beat his wife, as long as the stick was no thicker than his thumb. Historically, women had very few legal rights: they couldn’t own property or divorce their husbands; they could only work in certain jobs and were paid much less than men. In many societies, it’s been the role of women to mind the home, cook, clean and care for the children and for their husband. Traditionally, it’s been the man’s role to work and earn the money for the family. Men made the rules and women and children had to follow them. A man had the right to beat his wife and children if he felt they deserved it.
In the UK, a lot has changed since then – things are much better now! In the last century women have fought hard to win more rights, such as the right to vote, the right to study and to work.Women now have careers and men and women share the responsibilities of taking care of the home and children.
Men and women should be treated as equals, but this is still not always the case. Many societies and cultures still believe that men are stronger and more powerful than women and this makes some people think that violence between men and women is okay – but it’s not! Men and women are still working hard today to change this way of thinking and to stop domestic violence from happening.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone – it doesn’t matter what race, ethnicity or religion they are, or how much money they have. It happens to people all over the world.
I’ve heard it happens more to women – is that true?
• 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
• Domestic abuse currently claims the lives of around 2 women per week.
• It accounts for 15% of all violent incidents.
• 89% of those suffering four or more incidents are women.
• There is an incident of domestic abuse reported to the police every minute.
• In the year 2006/07 it is estimated that 17,545 women and 25,451 children were accommodated in Women’s Aid refuges throughout England.
How does domestic violence affect children and young people?
Adults often think that children and young people aren’t really affected by the violence if they don’t see all the fighting. However this isn’t true. Even if a child or young person doesn’t see the shouting or the hitting, they’ve probably heard it or maybe they’ve seen their parent bruised or upset after an argument. Many children and young people are at home, sometimes in the same room when the fighting is happening. In 90% of cases of domestic violence the children or young people are in the same or next room. There is also a higher risk that some children and young people will be abused also.
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” (Dept. of Health, 2002)
Children and young people can ‘witness’ domestic violence in a many different ways. For example, they may 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 and young people witnessing domestic violence are being emotionally abused. Understandably, children and young people who have or are experiencing domestic violence will feel many different emotions. Each child or young person will deal with their emotions differently.
Are there any physical signs?
Children and young people can experience both short and long term cognitive, behavioural and emotional effects. Each child/young person will respond differently to trauma and some may be resilient and not show signs of any negative effects.
These are some of the effects 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 and young people may also feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused. They may have ambivalent feelings towards both the abuser and the non-abusing parent.
It’s important to remember that these signs could also be an indicator that something else is going on in there lives not just domestic violence.
Coping if you feel unsafe at home
If you’re being abused or made to feel unsafe at home your safety is more important than anything.
There are important things you can do when you’re feeling unsafe:
It can be hard to know who to talk to when you’re feeling unsafe at home. But Childline is still here to support you when you need them.
You could try talking to an adult you trust, like someone in your family or a friend’s parents or a youth worker. It can be hard not to talk in person, but it can help to send a message to tell someone you need to talk. You could also talk to your GP if you’re able to.
You can call a Childline counsellor for free on 0800 1111 or speak to a counsellor online using 1-2-1 chat. Counsellors are available from 7:30am-midnight from Monday to Friday and 9am-midnight at weekends.
It can be scary talking when you’re stuck at home. If you don’t need to talk straight away, sometimes it can be safer to send a message from your locker. These are read from 7:30am-midnight from Monday-Friday and 9am-midnight at weekends, and Childline usually reply within a day.
You can also call the NSPCC Children Protection Helpline on 0808 800 5000. for free national 24 hour service providing counselling, information and advice.
Textphone helpline: 0800 056 0566 (English only)
Welsh helpline: 0808 100 2524 – Monday-Friday 10am-6pm.
Asian helplines (All of these lines are open Monday-Friday 11am-7pm):
Bengali: 0800 096 7714
Gujurati: 0800 096 7715
Hindi: 0800 096 7716
Punjabi: 0800 096 7717
Urdu: 0800 096 7718
Asian helpline in English 0800 096 7719
In an emergency, you should always call 999.
A Safety Plan can be useful in an emergency. Write the info out and keep it safe so you can access it when you need to:
My name and age (and names and ages of brothers and sisters if you want):
My phone number:
Someone I trust and can talk to about my worries is:
His/her phone number is:
His/her address is:
Other people I can ring in an emergency (include name and phone numbers):
Safe places for me to go when there’s a row at home:
Why don’t they leave?
Abuse often gets worse over time. By the time somebody decides they no longer want to be in a relationship, it can be very difficult to get out. They might stay because they:
- are too scared to leave
- don’t have money or anywhere else to go
- worry about taking their children out of school and moving them
- no longer have the strength to leave
- hope that the abuse will stop.
Whatever the reason, it’s not your fault and it’s important that you get support.
How it can affect your family?
Even if the abuse at home isn’t aimed at you, it doesn’t mean you don’t get hurt too. If you’re in the same or next room when the abuse is going on, it can be extremely upsetting.
It’s wrong if you’re made to see or hear domestic abuse between adults that look after you.
You might also have been hurt or bullied. And you might be worried about your own safety. Talking about how you feel can really help you to cope.
The most important thing you can do is to keep yourself safe. Domestic abuse isn’t your fault. And it’s not down to you to stop the fighting, violence or abuse. Trying to stop it could put you in danger.
If you feel it’s safe, tell your parents how you feel about what’s happening at home. They may not realise that you know what’s happening or how scary it is.
Talk to a trusted adult about what’s happening. This can really help. If you’re worried for your own safety, it’s important to talk to somebody as soon as you can.
Watch the video covering some of your questions about domestic violence and what we can do now
Below is a list of helpline numbers where you can talk to someone about abuse that might be happening in your home. In an emergency, please ring the police on 999 for immediate help.
Childline – 0800 1111
Free, 24-hour telephone helpline for children and young people anywhere in the UK. Trained counsellors offer comfort, support, advice and protection. Calls to Childline are confidential, and are free even from mobiles. Calls don’t show up on phone bills. If you’re deaf, hard of hearing or have difficulties with speech, you can use their textphone service on 0800 400 222 (not available at night). You can also look at their website: www.childline.org.uk.
Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
This helpline service provides support, information and a listening ear to women and children experiencing domestic abuse. It also helps women and children find a place of safety in a women’s refuge.
Samaritans – 08457 90 90 90 (UK)
Samaritans is available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide.
Muslim Women’s Helpline – 020 8904 8193 or 020 8908 6715
The Muslim Women’s Helpline aims to provide any Muslim girl or woman in a crisis with a free, confidential listening service and referral to Islamic consultants, plus practical help and information where required.
NSPCC Helpline: 0808 800 5000
If you’re worried about a child’s safety or if you need help or advice, ring the NSPCC helpline or email them.
Websites for children and young people
Australian site for young people experiencing abuse.
US site. Aims to empower and educate youth to live a life free from dating and domestic abuse.
Australian site. When Love Hurts is a guide for girls on love, respect and abuse in relationships.
Mentoring site where users can give and receive confidential advice.