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What is domestic violence?

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is defined as any incident which is controlling, coercive, threatening, violent or abusive. It can affect those between the ages of 16 and over, or those who have been intimate partners or family members unrelated of gender or sexuality. The forms of domestic violence can be physical, sexual, psychological, financial, and emotional.  

Examples of abuse

  • Physical: scratching, slapping, punching, biting, strangling, kicking, throwing things at you, pulling your hair, grabbing you, smacking you, using objects to threaten or hurt you.
  • Sexual: unwanted kissing or touching, rape or attempted rape, unwanted rough or violent sexual activity, restricting your use of birth control, sexual insults, pressure or threats to have sex.
  • Psychological: name calling, yelling or screaming, insults, threats, mocking, swearing, ignoring, isolation, not allowing you to attend important events (eg family events, religious meetings, meeting with friends) or pursue your own interests.
  • Emotional: yelling and screaming at you, intentionally embarrassing you in public, telling you what do and wear, stalking you, threatening to harm you or threatening to have your children taken away.
  • Financial: setting rules for what you can buy and how much you can spend, denying you access to your bank account, keeping you from bank records, not allowing you to work, spending money on themselves but not allowing you to do the same, refusing to give you money for food, rent, medicine or clothing, using the money for your children without your knowledge.
  • Controlling behavior: making the victim dependent or inferior by isolating them from support, using the victim's resources for personal gain, reducing the victim's independence and controlling their everyday behavior.
  • Coercive behavior: bullying, acts of assault, threats, humiliation, intimidation or other abuse used to harm the person, punish them or make them frightened.

Am I being abused?

Most people who have been in a relationship will recognise some of the above. You must decide if your relationship has become an abusive one. Remember that many people who are abused make excuses for their abuser instead of getting away and finding a good partner instead. Contact a helpline (see later in this document) and talk to an expert about your situation. The very fact you are reading this article should ring alarm bells about your relationship. Abusers find it very hard to change their ways, or even to admit that they are being abusive. It will often be you instead of them that feels guilty and apologetic, so get some impartial expert help.

What is the role of the police and emergency services in domestic violence?

The first port of call in an emergency for victims of an incidence of domestic violence is the police. Police officers have the discretion to use their powers to intervene, giving the offender a caution, charging or arresting them. A caution is a formal warning given by the police officer to the wrongdoer. This will be kept in their records.

All Police forces in England and Wales have dedicated units with specifically trained Domestic Violence officers.

The role of the police is to investigate domestic violence cases, which are usually crimes. When the police have been informed, their primary duty and concern is to protect the victim and any children. Protecting the victim and child could include taking them to a refuge or somewhere with other support agencies, and only once they are protected will the police then consider what action should be taken against the offender.

What support agencies I can access?

If you are suffering ongoing domestic violence, rather than a particular incident (such as a physical assault or rape), try one of the following:

National Services

24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline

A 24 hour helpline is available, which is provided by Women’s Aid. They are able to provide you with advice and the support you need. 

0808 2000 247

Men’s Advice Line

A helpline for men experiencing domestic violence, offering emotional support, advice and information.

0808 801 0327

Local Services

Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference’ (MARAC)

These are meetings are held to assess the risk victims are in, as discussed between support services such as the police and social services. As a result of these meetings a safety plan will be produced to suit the needs of your specific case.


‘Independent Domestic Violence Advisers’ (IDVAs).

This is a support service which helps to promote safety for victims of domestic violence, especially those who are at a high risk.


What evidence is needed in order to prosecute?

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) works closely with the police to make sure that all the evidence from all the possible sources are gathered together. Evidence which may be gathered includes phone calls to the police, statements from other witnesses, CCTV footage, forensic evidence and the police observations at the scene.

As a victim of domestic violence, your account or statement in court of what happened is also used as evidence. However, this is not the only evidence that can be used to prosecute.

In some cases medical evidence may be provided, either from local doctors or your hospital, of photographs of the injuries which has been caused as a result of the violence.

Domestic violence often takes place in private and as a result the victim may be the only witness. Unless the defendant pleads guilty or there is strong supporting evidence, it will usually be necessary for the victim to give evidence. As a victim you may find this very distressing and difficult to do, and therefore there are services which can provide you with practical and emotional support.

If an offender is arrested, the police have limited powers as to the length of time they can keep a suspected criminal at the police station. They cannot impose conditions when the offender is released (eg stopping them coming back to your home). Bail conditions may include a ‘condition of residence’ which would mean that the offender is not allowed to go within a specified distance of a person or location, or they may be given a curfew.

The duty of police is to ensure that you and the children are safe. They also must gather evidence on top of gathering a statement from you, and a description of the perpetrator and where they can find them.

If the perpetrator is arrested and charged, then the police will make a decision whether he or she should be kept in custody or to discharged.

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