As our understanding of domestic violence has developed, the forms that abuse can take have also expanded.
This happens as we acknowledge the damage different behaviours can have on a person and whilst traditionally domestic violence has been perceived as a physical act, it is now largely accepted to take the forms of but is not limited to; psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and coercive control.
Psychological abuse is centred around the regular and deliberate use of words and non-physical actions that can manipulate, hurt, weaken, frighten, confuse, or otherwise negatively impact an individual and their wellbeing. Psychological abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse found in domestic violence instances and broadly covers the cognitive and emotional elements of abuse.
Psychological abuse may happen in phases, with a study from the organisation Safelives finding that 96% of survivors thought that their partners were initially very charming and affectionate. Only to then experience a ‘change of character’ which included unreasonable jealousy and restrictions.
Physical abuse is seen as the traditional form of abuse that is most commonly associated with Domestic Violence, it involves the intentional physical harm to a partner and does not necessarily have to leave lasting physical damage or impairment. Physical abuse can include anything from being improperly physical restrained to being burned.
It is important to know when you are subject to physical abuse, as often the abuser will repeat the act and claim it as a ‘joke’ or may even escalate their abusive behaviour.
The organisation Refuge refers to sexual abuse/violence as any form of sexual activity (including words and photographs) that takes place without full and informed consent. Sexual violence is most often perpetrated by someone that the survivor knows, and in an intimate relationship this may be seen as sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is rarely an isolated event and often starts alongside other controlling behaviours. it is important to know that no matter what your circumstance is, no matter your relationship status, consent is always needed, and sexual abuse is not acceptable.
Financial abuse rarely occurs in isolation and is often seen alongside other forms of controlling and abusive behaviours. it is used as a method to keep someone dependent on their partner and limit independence within a relationship.
Financial abuse often leaves the victim without control over their own finances and bank accounts, leaving them struggling to afford basic necessities and make day to day purchases without consulting their partner. Citizens Advice conducted a study in 2014 and found that over 9 out of 10 of their advice givers had dealt with a financially abusive situation over the year, which shows that financial abuse is more common than some may think.
In this instance, abusers may put pressure on you not to continue in education or prevent you from going to work, and it is important that you can see the signs.
Coercive control is when an abuser uses the same pattern of behaviour and actions over a long period of time in order to exercise control and power over a victim. It is not always necessarily physically, as other behaviour such as fear and intimidation tactics can also be used.
The abuser effectively isolates the victim from their support networks external to the relationship, which in turn pushes the victim to depend on them completely. It has been compared to being bound by invisible chains and is a common form of domestic abuse, with 24,856 offences reported to the police in the year ending March 2020.
What to do
Many victims are unaware that they are in an abusive relationship until they begin to reflect on the behaviours of their abuser, often believing they are just isolated events. The first step towards taking control of your situation is to acknowledge that your partners’ behaviour is not right.