This column was first published in the Wigan Observer on the 25th February 2014
Q: I have been with my girlfriend for 6 months and I have recently noticed her behaviour changing. She has become possessive and gets angry easily; after she has calmed down she blames her bad mood on stress from work. I’m worried she may become violent.
A: There is a danger of presuming that when reference is made to domestic abuse or violence cases, it is limited to violent men perpetrating a variety of assaults or other abusive behaviour solely against women. Sadly that is not the case and domestic abuse has no gender boundaries with relationships and can include incidents of violence or abuse against men by women and within same sex relationships.
Only last week the taboo subject of male rape was highlighted by the government allocating £500,000 to a special fund to help support male victims of sexual assault. This grant will encourage victims to report their cases and receive counselling through a number of domestic abuse help organisations both nationally and locally.
The prevalence of domestic abuse within society at large was made clear by recent figures released within the last week or so which suggests that female perpetrated abuse is more common than people think. In 2013, the Office of National Statistics reported that 4.4% of men have been a victim of domestic violence, equating to over 700,000 people across the UK within a year, as opposed to the 7.1% or 1.2 million women who have experienced abuse at the hands of their partner.
Perhaps even more shocking is the statistic that overall approximately 30% of women and 16.3% of men had experienced some domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.9 million female victims and 2.7 million male victims.
Domestic abuse is a recurring abusive behaviour that is used to gain control over the other partner. Abuse in relationships isn’t always physical; it can also include insolating a partner from their friends and family, embarrassing a partner in public, controlling how much they spend, destroying their property and verbal threats in private or in public. Although physical violence may be the most noticeable danger, emotional abusive relationships can destroy your self esteem and lead to mental health issues such as depression and self harm.
Abusers and survivors of domestic abuse often hide the violence. It is said that incidents of domestic abuse have declined in the 10 years since 2004 but have remained stable in recent years as a fairly large proportion of all violent crime, although it is recognised that there is a particular risk of under reporting of incidents involving domestic abuse because of its nature between partners in a relationship.
Signs that there has been a small but significant reductions in domestic abuse over the last 10 years are welcome but much more needs to be done to ensure that society is rid of such destructive behaviour which results in injury or death on a more than weekly basis.
Unfortunately behind the statistics is the reality that government cuts in funding are leading to closures of much needed organisations throughout the country leaving victims of abuse vulnerable and without support to turn. Further, although victims of domestic abuse still have recourse to Legal Aid to obtain protective orders and deal with child or financial issues, a recent Welsh Women’s Aid report indicated that a large proportion of individuals were prevented from obtaining Legal Aid because of the stringent need for obtaining documentary evidence to support an application. This should not stop an individual seeking legal advice as to whether they may qualify for such assistance.
It is important for those who have experience abuse at the hands of their partner, whether male or female, to understand that the abuse cannot be excused by stress, illness, or drug and alcohol abuse. Being able to recognise the signs of domestic abuse is a first step to being able to seek help. Many may deny that they have been a victim of domestic abuse and may not report cases due to embarrassment. This may mean the abuse will continue “behind closed doors”.
Domestic abuse can have both a physical and psychological impact on the victim. The first step to stopping the abuse is to speak to someone, whether than is a friend, family member or a charity. It is important to share experiences with someone.
Organisations, such as 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, offer support on all aspects of domestic abuse. A solicitor can also discuss your legal options if you needed to consider further action. Legal Aid could be available to help with this.