Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling and aggressive behaviours from one adult, usually a man, towards another, usually a woman, within the context of an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can be sexual - but it is not about sex, it is about power. Abuse can be physical, psychological and emotional. A disabled woman can experience abuse in ways that non-disabled women do not. For instance, an abuser may touch someone inappropriately while apparently `assisting` her. If an abuser is providing a caring role, they may withhold or make her beg for the assistance she needs. They can also withhold medication, or use it to distort her sense of reality.
It can be physical, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse. Financial abuse and social isolation are also common features. All forms of abuse come from the abuser`s desire for power and control.
The violence and abuse can be actual or threatened and can happen once every so often or on a regular basis.
It can happen to anyone, and in all kinds of relationships - heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). People suffer domestic violence regardless of their social group, class, age, race, disability, sexuality or lifestyle.
The abuse can begin at any time - in new relationships or after many years spent together. However, domestic violence both in the short and the long term affect children.
Less frequently but still wholly unacceptable, men are also abused by their partners, both male and female.
It`s widely believed that woman`s `nagging` or other `unreasonable` provocations push the man to breaking point. Research suggests that it is a decision to be violent and as such has more to do with the man`s behaviour than the woman`s. In fact, most victims of domestic violence do everything they can to pacify their partners to avoid further violence. Violence is never an acceptable method of solving conflict in relationships, nor do partners have a legal right to assault each other, whatever they may claim to have been the `provocation`. Nobody asks for, or deserves to be, abused. Responsibility for the violence rests entirely with the perpetrator.
It can be difficult for people to understand why women in abusive relationships don`t `just leave`. But, there are many practical, social and emotional factors that can make leaving extremely difficult. Amongst others, these include:
Fear of further violence: Leaving may end the relationship but it does not always end the violence and abuse. Many women are tracked down and further abused when they leave, often for weeks and months afterwards. Research suggests that about half of all women murdered by their partners have left or were in the process of leaving when they were killed.
Lack of knowledge and access to help: Despite increased awareness about domestic violence, many women don`t know how to take advantage of their legal and housing rights. Even if they are aware of these services, some women may experience problems due to language difficulties, inappropriate responses from service providers, living in isolated areas or a lack of funds.
Staying because of the children: Many abused women think they should stay in their relationship for the sake of their children.
Social isolation: Most women experiencing domestic violence are extremely isolated either because their partners have deliberately tried to isolate them from sources of support including family and friends or because women are too ashamed or afraid to tell anyone. Or if they have, the responses have been unhelpful and judgmental.
Emotional dependence: Conflicting feelings of fear, shame, bewilderment, care for the abuser, hope that things will improve, a commitment to the relationship but not the violence, often contribute to a woman staying in an abusive situation.
Lack of confidence: After living with an abusive partner, the self-esteem of most women has been eroded to the point where they no longer have confidence in themselves, including their ability to survive alone, and may believe that there are no other options.
Cultural reasons: Many women have been brought up to believe that real fulfillment comes from being a wife and mother or that divorce is wrong and may even be encouraged to stay in the violent relationship by family members or religious leaders.
Because of these reasons, it may take some time and several temporary separations before women are able to permanently escape the domestic violence.