Whenever I meet with a new client, regardless of gender, one of the first questions I always ask is: was there was any domestic abuse in the relationship? The answer, I most frequently get, is: “he/she/they never hit me”. During my years as a family law solicitor, I have come to realise that many people still have the common misconception that domestic abuse must be physical. In fact, there are different types of domestic abuse: physical, emotional, financial, sexual, and controlling and coercive behaviour.

As a family solicitor I work closely with various domestic abuse agencies and charities helping victims obtain the protection they so desperately need. In this blog, I will explain the various types of domestic abuse which I come across.

  1. Physical abuse

physical abuse Like non-family lawyers, I always think of physical abuse as the easiest type to spot. It sometimes, but not always, results in bruises, scratches or any other physical injuries. Any form of kicking, slapping, punching, pulling, spitting, scratching, strangling – it all falls within the category of physical abuse. Just awful.

But also… if your partner sits on top of you, preventing you from moving or making it difficult to breathe – that is also a form of domestic abuse. If they are depriving you from food or drink – that is also a form of domestic abuse. If your partner is preventing you from seeking medical attention for any injuries sustained as a result of domestic abuse or not – this is also a form of domestic abuse.

Please, therefore, remember: you do not have to have a black eye, broken bones or scratches all over your body, to be classed as a victim of physical abuse.

  1. Emotional abuse

The concept of emotional abuse is very wide. This form of abuse is usually intertwined with controlling and coercive behaviour, and in some cases, it is connected with physical, financial and sexual abuse.

Name-calling is a very common form of emotional abuse. Each time that I think that I have heard all the possible insults and derogatory terms, I am then taken by surprise by some new unpleasant words, many new to me.

emotional abuse But also… if your partner tells you that you are ‘nothing’ or ‘nothing without them’ or that ‘nobody else will ever want or love you’ or that ‘everyone will be better off without you’ – then this is also a form of emotional abuse. If they taunt you about your appearance, characteristic, features or any disabilities, then this is also a form of domestic abuse.

Sometimes, emotional abuse takes the form of verbal threats of violence or threats to kill. Sometimes such threats are aimed directly at the victims, but sometimes threats are targeted at the people closest to them, for example, their children. Over the years, I have dealt with the cases where a perpetrator threatened to put a bomb through a victim’s letterbox or to drive their car through the living room window. I have represented clients where one party threatened to set their house on fire. I recall another case where a victim was threatened with an acid attack, because the perpetrator knew that she was very scared of acid being thrown in her face.

Sadly, I have frequently dealt with cases where the perpetrator threatened to bury the victim alive. In another one, the victim was threatened to have her body chopped into pieces and hidden in a barrel. In another, the perpetrator threatened to cause the car to crash by speeding and removing their hands from the steering wheel only to slow down at the last second. Although, luckily, many of these threats were not carried out, they left the victims visibly shaken and distressed.

But also… sometimes the perpetrators threaten to hurt or kill themselves in order to scare the victims. I have dealt with many cases where the perpetrator threatened to commit suicide and then disappeared for hours, or sometimes days, leaving the victims absolutely petrified and feeling guilty. This is also a form of abuse.

  1. Coercive and controlling behaviour

There are so many different ways to control another person and I am often very surprised to learn new ways and tactics of how the perpetrators control their victims.

We all live in the age of technology, mobile phones and social media. If your partner demands to see your phone, reads your messages, or without your knowledge checks the photos you have taken, this is also a form of control.

But also… if your partner demands to know your pin or passcode, or prevents you from having one at all, this is also a form of abuse.

controlling behaviour

Similar principles apply to any social media accounts. If your partner demands to have access to your social media accounts and controls what you are allowed to post or who you are allowed to be friends with – this is a form of control.

But also… if you are not allowed to have any social media account, or you are, but you can only have females, or males, linked to the account, or you decide not have any account because it causes more trouble than it is worth – this is also a form of abuse.

In my experience, one of the easiest ways to control someone is to isolate them from their loved ones and friends. Awfully, I have dealt with many cases where the victims were not allowed to visit or even speak to members of their own family or friends. This often results in victims losing friends, who are unaware of the reasons for such behaviour, making the victims feel increasingly isolated and lonely.

But also… if you decide to cut ties with your family or friends, not because the perpetrator has forced you to do it, but simply because you do not want your loved ones to witness any incidents or you are embarrassed by your partner’s behaviour, or simply because your partner is so unpredictable that you are scared for your and your friends’ safety – this is also abuse.

Sometimes victims are ‘allowed’ to go out and meet with family and friends, but only if they are going to call or text their partner every so often to let them know where you are and who with – this can also be a form of abuse. Very often, victims are forced to send photographs of where they are or even video call their partner to make sure that the victim is where he or she had said they would be.

But also… if you are allowed to go out with your family or friends, but at the last minute your partner changes their mind or they are purposely late returning home, or they refuse to look after the children in your absence forcing you to cancel your plans – this can also be a form of control and abuse.

Shockingly, I have dealt with many cases where the perpetrators control how the victims dress, or even whether they are allowed to wear make-up. In many cases, especially with women, I have seen their male partners forbid them from wearing short skirts, or dresses, with the male partner accusing them of trying to grab attention from other men. Even if they put a bit of make-up on, they would be accused of cheating. Some victims have even stopped wearing make-up, just to prevent any arguments and accusations.

But also… I have dealt with cases where the victim was forced to wear her hair in a ponytail, after being accused of trying to attract attention from other men. In another case the victim used to pretend to be asleep when she was in the car, as the perpetrator would so frequently accuse her of looking at other men through the car window. No question about it, this is all abuse.

Perpetrators often try to limit the victim’s liberty and free will. Very often, victims are frightened at a chance of coming home late from work or any other engagements. Sometimes victims are not allowed to leave the house at all. I have dealt with cases where victims were accused of cheating if they arrived home from work a few minutes late. In another one, I represented a victim who was not allowed to go to a local grocery shop, because she was accused of looking for a way to cheat on the perpetrator.

But also… I have come across cases where the perpetrator put a camera above the fireplace in front of the sofa. The victim had to sit on that sofa whilst the perpetrator was at work so he could see what exactly she was doing all day. In another case, the perpetrator sprinkled some flour on the floor leading to the exit door, so that he could see whether the victim left the house during his absence. In another example, the perpetrator took away the victim’s keys and locked her in the house to ensure that she was not going anywhere. In another case I have dealt with, the victim who was ‘allowed’ to go out and meet with friends, but the perpetrator would carefully examine her bank statements after each day out to find out where exactly she went and how much money she spent in certain places. These are all examples of control and abuse.

  1. Financial abuse

Another form of abuse is to limit the victim’s financial resources. In many cases the perpetrators withhold money from the victims, refuse to contribute to the household or demand money from the victims. I have come across cases where the victims were forced to finance the perpetrator’s drug or gambling addictions.

financial abuse

But also… If you are not ‘allowed’ to have a bank account in your own name, or you are, but you have no access to it because the perpetrator keeps all the cards and online access away from you – this is financial abuse. If you are forced to claim any benefits but never have any access to the money because it is being used by the perpetrator – this is also abuse. If you your shopping receipts are being regularly scrutinised by the perpetrator, or you have a list of what you are allowed to buy – this is also abuse.

  1. Sexual abuse

Sexual activities that you are forced to engage in against your will is another form of abuse. It does not have to include a very brutal attack which is often portrayed in films but any sexual activity that you are not comfortable with and do not consent to. I have dealt with many cases where a victim consented to a vaginal sexual intercourse, but not to anal intercourse, which was then carried out by the perpetrator regardless of the victim’s objections. Very often victims are forced to engage in oral sex or certain aspects of oral sex, against their will. Frequently, victims are not comfortable with the nature of the sexual intercourse because it involves the perpetrator gaining gratification by inflicting or receiving pain. I hear, very often, especially from women, that they think that engaging in any sexual activities is their ‘duty’ as a wife or partner. There is no such duty. If you do not want to engage in sexual intercourse, you do not have to do it and if the other person proceeds with it regardless of your objections, it is abuse. It is very likely to be criminal, too.

sexual abuse

But also… I have come across many cases where the perpetrators treated sex as a currency or an ultimatum. Victims were often forced to engage in various activities, so that the perpetrator would contribute to food, rent or mortgage. I have dealt with a case where a victim had to engage in oral sex if she wanted to go out with her friends. In another one, the victim had to please the perpetrator to buy a formula for their baby.

Another misconception is that women are always the victims of domestic abuse and never the perpetrators. I accept, though, that women are still more likely to come forward and ask for help than men, and more likely to be the victims. Sadly, there is still somewhat of a taboo surrounding abused men, many of whom do not speak out. Under law, men and women have exactly the same forms of protection. The legal tests in order to obtain a Non-Molestation Order or Occupation Order are the same regardless of gender.

Further, domestic abuse does not always happen between partners or former partners. I have come across many cases where people were seeking help and protection from the members of their own family. I have come across cases where the parents were seeking protection from their own adult children, and the other way round. One of the saddest cases I dealt with involved someone who was forbidden by their parents from continuing with their education. They were forced to notify their college that they no longer wanted to continue with their studies. Their mobile phone, tablet and a laptop were taken off them by the perpetrators. Even a house land line was disconnected to ensure that they were not contacting anyone to seek help. Luckily, in this case, it was as a result of a stranger’s kindness that they managed to seek help and obtain the protection that they needed.

If any of the examples listed above look familiar, either in your circumstances to or someone you know, please speak up. Please get in touch with any domestic abuse agency or the police. Please get in touch with a family solicitor. Please get in touch with me. Our firm offers a 30-min free family law consultation, during which we can discuss your case and consider the best way forward. There is no obligation to proceed with the case, but it is always worth knowing your options. Should anything happen in the meantime, putting you or your loved ones at any risk of harm, you must contact the police immediately.

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Catherine Reynolds
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