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Polly Neate on domestic violence, from the Crimestoppers website
Women’s Aid grew out of the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As women came together, the issue of violence in the home as well as other forms of sexual and interpersonal violence to women became highlighted.
The first Women’s Aid federation was set up in 1974, providing practical and emotional support as part of a range of services to women and children experiencing violence.
Here, Polly Neate, the Charities Chief Executive, talks about the role Women’s Aid plays and what to do should you think someone is experiencing domestic violence?
Domestic violence is controlling, coercive, or threatening behaviour in a relationship or between family members. It includes psychological, sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse. It is behaviour designed to make a person feel inferior or dependent by isolating, exploiting, humiliating, depriving, and regulating them.
The majority of domestic violence is made up of a pattern of controlling behaviour, and women are significantly more likely to be affected than men.
Around 89 per cent of those who experience four or more instances of domestic violence are women , one in four UK women will be affected in their lifetimes , and two women are killed per week by partners or ex-partners, compared to many fewer men .
Women are also much more likely than men to experience multiple types of domestic violence, and to experience sexual violence. Large numbers of children are also affected by domestic violence: three-quarters of a million children witness domestic violence every year, and in 80 per cent of cases they are in the same or the next room as the violence .
Domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of age, socio-economic status, race, disability, or lifestyle. It’s often thought that a strong, professional, or confident seeming woman can’t experience domestic violence, but many women are very adept at hiding what’s happening to them. Perpetrators also rarely fit the stereotype of a ‘wifebeater’, but are often very charming and good at hiding their controlling behaviour.
Leaving a violent relationship isn’t simple; perpetrators often get more violent and dangerous when a woman tries to leave. Women are at greatest risk of being killed when they leave or after they’ve left a violent partner. Many women reasonably fear their abuser, who may have threatened to hurt them or their loved ones if they try to leave. Many feel the violence is their fault, that they deserve it, or that they wouldn’t cope on their own.
There are many services for women and children experiencing domestic violence, including refuges, outreach services, counselling, and advocacy. A refuge is a safe house where women experiencing domestic violence can go with their children to stay safe. There should be enough space at refuges for any women who needs it, but Women’s Aid know that because of recent funding cuts, that isn’t always the case. In some places women have to wait for up to four weeks before a refuge space will become available for them.
The Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid provides support, information, and a listening ear to women experiencing domestic violence and their children. The helpline is staffed by fully trained female support workers and volunteers and can refer women on to other sources of help and information where appropriate.
What should I do if I think someone I know is experiencing domestic violence?
Abusers often isolate a woman and make it difficult for women to seek support from family and friends. They also often try and make women feel the abuse is their fault. So it’s important to try and keep the lines of communication open and let her know she can come to you if she needs you. If possible, try and have an open, non-judgemental conversation to talk about what domestic violence is and where a woman can get help. You can let her know about the National Domestic Violence Helpline and other support services. This will allow a woman to make her own informed choice about whether to seek help.
Never confront a perpetrator – you could put yourself at risk, or you could risk isolating the woman further. You might also put her at further risk of harm when you are no longer there. If you see an incident of abuse or think someone is at immediate risk, call the police. You don’t have to wait for violence to take place before you call, and if in doubt you should ring them. Never intervene in a physical attack – you could put yourself at serious risk.
Where to get help:
0808 2000 247 Freephone 24-hour national domestic violence helpline run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge