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What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial, or sexual which takes place within close relationship, usually by partners, ex-partners or family members.

As well as physical violence, domestic abuse can involve a wide range of abusive and controlling behaviour, including threats, harassment, financial control and emotional abuse.

Physical violence is only one aspect of domestic abuse and an abuser’s behaviour can vary, from being very brutal and degrading to small actions that leave you humiliated. Those living with domestic abuse are often left feeling isolated and exhausted. Domestic abuse also includes cultural issues such as honour based violence.

What are the signs?

Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: 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/her 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.

What can I do?

  • Talk to someone: Try to talk to someone whom you trust and who will support you to get the right help at the right time.
  • Do not blame yourself: Often victims will feel they are to blame, as this is how the perpetrator will make them feel.
  • Contact us at COMPASS, the Essex Domestic Abuse Helpline: Call 0330 3337444 for emotional and practical support.
  • Get professional help: You can seek support direct from a domestic violence service in your area or we at COMPASS can put you in touch with the service for your area.
  • Report to Police: If you are in immediate danger it is important that you call 999. There is no single crime of ‘domestic abuse’, however there are a number of different types of abuse which take place which can be an offence. These may include: threats, harassment, stalking, criminal damage and coercive control to name just a few.

How can I support a friend or family member?

Knowing or thinking that someone you care about is in an abusive relationship can be very hard. You may fear for their safety — and maybe for good reason. You may want to rescue them or insist they leave, but every adult must make their own decisions.

Each situation is different, and the people involved are all different too. Here are some ways to help a loved one who is being abused:

  • Be supportive. Listen to your loved one. Keep in mind that it may be very hard for them to talk about the abuse. Tell them that they are not alone and that people want to help. If they want help, ask them what you can do.
  • Offer specific help. You might say you are willing to just listen, to help them with child care, or to provide transportation, for example.
  • Don’t place shame, blame, or guilt on them. Don’t say, “You just need to leave.” Instead, say something like, “I get scared thinking about what might happen to you.” Tell them you understand that their situation is very difficult.
  • Help them make a safety plan. Safety planning might include packing important items and helping them find a “safe” word. This is a code word they can use to let you know they are in danger without an abuser knowing. It might also include agreeing on a place to meet them if they have to leave in a hurry.
  • Encourage them to talk to someone to see what their options are. Offer to help them make contact with us at COMPASS on 0330 3337444 or directly with the domestic abuse support service for their area.
  • If they decide to stay, continue to be supportive. They may decide to stay in the relationship, or they may leave and then go back. It may be hard for you to understand, but people stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Be supportive, no matter what they decide to do.
  • Encourage them to maintain contact with friends and family. It’s important for them to see people outside of the relationship. Accept the response if they say they cannot.
  • If they decide to leave, continue to offer help.  Even though the relationship may be over, the abuse may not be. They may feel sad and lonely, rejoicing in a separation is not going to help. Separation is a dangerous time in an abusive relationship, support them to continue to engage with a domestic abuse support service.
  • Let them know that you will always be there no matter what. It can be very frustrating to see a friend or loved one stay in an abusive relationship. But if you end your relationship, they have one less safe place to go in the future. You cannot force a person to leave a relationship, but you can let them know you’ll help, whatever they decide to do.