Are you worried about yourself, or is someone you know experiencing domestic abuse? This is a practical resource to help you know what to do.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse includes any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence, or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional) between persons who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. This includes honour based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
Controlling behaviour is : a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is: an act or pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.
Who is at risk?
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. Women are more likely to be victims, but men can also be the target of domestic abuse. Children can also be victims of domestic abuse whether they live in a home with adult victims or are themselves harmed directly.
Is someone you know being affected by domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse can have detrimental effects on a person’s health and wellbeing and can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, loss of sleep and physical harm, as well as feelings of failure as a parent which can result in long time suffering. All this can result in a parent not admitting to or realising what is happening to them and therefore not seeking help and support but getting the necessary support can be the first step in healing and rebuilding a family’s life.
Parents experiencing domestic abuse may experience conflict of emotions; whilst they are fearful of their child’s actions and behaviours they also love and want to protect their child and may also feel a responsibility to look after and financially provide for their child. This may leave the parent feeling resigned and hopeless about the situation as well as resulting in them covering up what is really happening
Spotting the signs of abuse can be difficult to identify, but there are key attributes of an abusive relationship. Signs of abuse can include, bruising, burns, fractures, fear, depression. loss of sleep and weight loss.
Domestic abuse comes in many forms including, physical, mental, financial and emotional but there is likely to be a pattern to abuse amounting to a form of control. In many instances the victim may fail to realise they are even a victim, with the abuse often contextualised within existing family difficulties. The abuse can result in the victims self-confidence and self-belief being destroyed and leave them feeling responsible for the treatment they are receiving. In cases of adult child on parent abuse, this notion is often further exaggerated, as many parents feel responsible for what happens within their family.
Parents’ feelings of responsibility, as well as feelings of guilt and shame for the adult child’s behaviour, often make them reluctant or embarrassed to speak out about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of their own child. There is also the fear of being disbelieved or blamed as well as a fear of criminalising their own child through reporting the abuse.
What can I do to help?
If you are experiencing domestic abuse or suspect that someone you know is there are many support services available to help.
A fundamental problem that underpins parent abuse is the silence is the silence that surrounds it, resulting in a lack of public awareness, and a lack of knowledge for the parent as to where they can turn to for support, However there are many services available to support victims of any form of domestic abuse.
Assuming someone is a victim or perpetrator of domestic abuse is a serious claim and needs to be dealt with in a sensitive manner. When speaking to someone that you think may be a victim of domestic abuse be sure not to be accusatory about someone’s relationship or family life, this can lead to them feeling blamed and guilty and can make them shy away from talking about it.
Ask if they are OK and make it clear that you are available to talk if they want to, typically victims will have gone to great lengths to hide or dismiss signs of abuse, but by you asking if they are OK could be the trigger they need to realise they are in an unsafe situation. If you feel they want it then offer them advice of where they can get professional help, details of which are in this guide. In adult child against parent abuse the parent may have concerns of criminalising their child by speaking out about the abuse. Be sure not to pressure them into doing anything they do not feel comfortable with.
The most important thing is to do something. Do not assume that someone else is dealing with the problem. If you are worried, contact one of the services on the contacts page now.
Where people can go for help
Somerset Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 6949 999
Somerset Survivors: http://www.somersetsurvivors.org.uk/welcome/
Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (Women’s Aid and Refuge): 0808 2000 247
Children’s Social Care (Somerset County Council): 0300 123 2224
Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS) Helpline: 0808 8010456
Karma Nirvana: 0800 5999 247 (supports victims of honour-based violence)
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 8010327 or www.mensadviceline.org.uk
Rape Crisis helpline: 0808 802 9999
Avon and Somerset Constabulary: https://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/advice/threats,-assault-and-hate-crime/domestic-abuse/domestic-abuse-help-and-support/
Women’s Aid: www.womensaid.org.uk
What advice can I give?
Encourage them to contact a helpline or advice centre for help and support. The answer is not necessarily for them to leave their home; there is support available to help victims of abuse. If leaving seems like the only option you can present as homeless at your local authority housing department.
If you or someone you know feels threatened or in immediate danger, you should phone 999.
Leaving an abusive relationship or home is often very difficult and can be very dangerous. It’s very important to think clearly about the arrangements and to plan ahead. Leaving takes a great deal of strength and courage and victims often face huge obstacles such as nowhere to go, no money and no-one to turn to for support.
If you are planning to leave your home, it’s important that you try and keep your plans quiet to reduce the risks of being hurt. Perpetrators can potentially react adversely if they fear they are going to be left alone so it is generally best to keep your plans quiet until you are in a safe place.
If you or someone you know needs to remove themselves from an abusive relationship to a safer place, you can support them and help them to put together a survival plan first; where to go, when to go, and what to take. Encourage them to keep important documents such as passports and driving licences with them at all times, as well as an overnight bag, so they are ready when to leave when the right time comes.
How domestic abuse can affect children
Short term effects
• At school, their work may suffer.
• They may have poor attendance.
• They may behave in an aggressive or withdrawn way or have behavioural problems.
• They could be bullied or behave in a bullying way towards other children.
• They could have poor concentration and display signs of emotional turmoil. Often this is associated with the child worrying about what is happening to their parent.
• Children may become violent themselves.
• Babies under one show their distress by poor sleeping and excessive crying.
• Children can suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress involving fear, helplessness, and horror. This can involve flashbacks, a continual state of anxiety, and waiting for the possibility of abuse to themselves or their parent.
• It leads to significant distress and impairment in all aspects of their life, play, health and ability to form relationships.
• Children will feel unable to invite friends to their homes for fear of shame of what their friends might witness.
• Older children may use drugs or alcohol as a way of coping or turn to self-harm.
• Some children may develop eating disorders
Long term effects
The longer children are exposed to violence or domestic abuse, the more severe the effects on them are. These can include:
• A lack of respect for the non-violent parent
• Loss of self-confidence/low self-esteem, which will affect their ability to form healthy happy relationships in the future
• Some of these children may become victims or perpetrators in future relationships
Talking to children about domestic abuse
When talking to children about domestic violence and abuse tell them that:
• What is happening is not OK
• It’s not your fault
• It must be scary for you
• I will listen to you
• I’m sorry you had to see/hear it
• You do not deserve to have this in your family
• There is nothing you could have done to prevent it/change it
Benefits of talking to children
• Children feel safer
• They learn that violence isn’t their fault
• They learn that violence isn’t an OK way to solve problems
• It helps them to feel cared for, and understood
• Children learn that it’s OK to talk about feelings
How can you help children when they have witnessed/ experienced domestic violence and abuse
• Talk about it with them when they are ready
• Listen to them
• Talk about their feelings
• Show understanding
• Let them know it’s not their fault
• Let them talk if they want to
• Let them know you will try to keep them safe/act in a way that is safe
• Let them know that violence is not OK
• Acknowledge it’s hard/scary for them
• Accept that they may not be willing or able to talk about it right away
How denial affects children
• They will learn that violence is normal
• They are afraid to talk about the violence
• They are confused, don’t understand
• They blame themselves
• They learn to deny and not talk about their own feelings
• It makes them feel like they are crazy
• It makes them feel isolated and lonely
• They learn that it is not OK to ask about the violence or discuss it
• It gives the children unrealistic beliefs about the cause of violence
Research with children and young people living with domestic violence and abuse shows that they have very individual reactions to the violence. They have their own views and interpretation of the abuse they are living with. It is particularly important to avoid assumptions of permanent psychological damage and notions of ‘cycles of abuse’.
There are several factors that moderate the risk of harm and negative experiences of children.
• The parent’s ability to maintain their parenting abilities under such adverse conditions and whether the parent is perceived by the children to be positively supportive are important factors in moderating the abuse impact.
• Children whose parent’s mental health is not unduly affected by depression and anxiety also show greater resilience.
• Children also may learn positive aspects of survivorship from those parents who model assertive and non-violent responses to violence.
• Levels of social support from within the extended family or community are significant for all children.
Top Ten Tips for parents… Basic parenting principles are particularly important when children have lived with domestic abuse
- Be a good role model, as a child they copy what you do you can model respect (and self-respect) politeness, honesty, and affection.
- Be Clear about what you want me to do. Sometimes it feels like all you ever say is “no” and “don’t” and “stop that”. It is important to teach the child what they should not do, but they need to understand what you would like them to do e.g., instead of “don’t scream” try “talk calmly so I can hear what you want to tell me”
- Praise a child when they behave. Sometimes when children behave badly they get more attention than when they do what you want them to do. Praise them when they behave well, and they are more likely to do it again because children like praise.
- Focus on the child’s behaviour. We know you love your child, but you don’t have to love their poor behaviour, when you praise, or correct poor behaviour focus on the behaviour rather than on the child e.g. instead of “you’re a naughty girl” try “it’s not ok to draw on the walls”
- Give the reason for your request. If you explain the reason, the child may do as you ask more quickly or maybe not, but over time the child will learn that their behaviour will have effects and consequences, and it will help the child learn others points of views. E.g., instead of “get down from there” try “I need you to stop climbing on the bookcase because it could fall down and hurt you”
- Keep emotion out of discipline. All parents get tired, frustrated, and irritable; sometimes that effects how the child feels too. Before you react to the child’s behaviour, count to three, take a deep breath and speak calmly. Children learn to ignore shouting if they have heard it a lot, they tune out, make requests in a calm tone of voice, and let the words not the volume get your point across. Raised voices are used in emergency situations e.g. when a child runs out into the road.
- Give the child choices they can manage. The child knows there is no choice about going to bed, so please don’t give them a choice about it. Getting the child to bed if it is not negotiable, giving the child a choice will distract them. Instead of “do you want to go to bed” try “time for bed, shall we read this book or that book?”
- Expect what is reasonable. Set your expectations at a level consistent with the child’s age and understanding. Taking a child shopping at nap time, they may well be irritable, or expecting a teenager to go to bed at 8pm may not be realistic.
- Keep adult issues for adult ears only. All children are too young to understand adult issues and children are likely to be upset if they hear them. Don’t confide in your child, or expect them to be your friend, it’s not fair, the parent needs to be in charge
- Make time to play with me. The child may misbehave to get your attention, if poor behaviour only gets your attention then expect the child to continue. Parents are busy with life’s demands, but it is important to make time to play, talk, or to just be together.