What is domestic violence? How can women get help?

Unfortunately, domestic violence is still prevalent in this country. Even worse still, people are often kept in the dark about the subject. In this article, we’ll look at what is domestic violence and how you can get help if you're in a situation you need to get out of.

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T/W This article includes references to domestic violence

Domestic violence is probably something you’ve heard about. But it usually feels so far removed that you can’t imagine your relationship being abusive. We want you to know that you should never ignore a gut feeling if you have one. For more information and support, see our article on the signs of an abusive relationship here.

There is no one answer to ‘What is domestic violence?’ because Domestic violence or abuse can be experienced in many different ways. This includes physical, sexual or psychological behaviour that aims to control you, as well as controlling your finances. If any of this sounds familiar, the first thing to remember is that it’s not your fault. No one has the right to abuse you. So here’s what you can do to get help in a tough situation.

If you’re still with your abuser

If you’re still living with your abuser, Refuge gives the following advice (you can always call Refuge on 0808 2000 247 for more support):

  • Be ready to call 999 in case you or your children are in immediate danger.
  • Makes notes of any abusive incidents, including times, dates, and details of injuries. These can be important to help build a case against your abuser.
  • Keep some money and a set of keys hidden in a safe place.
  • Find out about your legal and housing rights, e.g. talk to a solicitor.
  • Keep copies of important papers (passports, birth certificates, court orders, marriage certificates) hidden in a safe place.
  • Carry a list of emergency numbers, such as the police, relatives and friends you can turn to.
  • Tell someone you trust about the abuse.
  • Make calls from a public phone or a friend’s house.
  • Report any injuries to your GP (doctor) so there’s a record of the abuse.
  • Talk to family and friends about staying with them in an emergency.
  • Plan escape routes in the event of an emergency.

How to escape domestic violence

If you’ve moved beyond wondering ‘what is domestic violence’ to wondering how to get out of a domestic violence situation, it’s worth thinking about all the logistics way in advance. Leaving can be incredibly dangerous since your partner will likely do anything to keep you under their control. We’d recommend calling the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 to talk through your options.

Finding somewhere safe to stay will be the first priority. You may want to stay with your mates or family initially. Problem is, it could be easy for your abuser to work out where you are. Not to mention, your friends might only be able to accommodate you for a short time. They may even encourage you to go back if they don’t know the full story. With all that in mind, staying in a refuge, or emergency accommodation may be the safer option.

What to take with you if you leave

If it’s safe to do so, try and take the following with you:

  • ID and important papers e.g. passport, bank account details.
  • Money.
  • Any important phone numbers.
  • Set of spare house and car keys.
  • Medicine and toiletries.
  • A couple of day’s worth of clothes.
  • Proof of the abuse e.g. notes, photos.
  • If there’s a residency or parental order in place, talk to a solicitor before leaving or right after you’ve left. Leave a note saying you’ve left with the children, they are safe, and that the solicitor will contact the non-resident parent in the future. Keep a copy of this note for future reference.

What are my legal rights?

Leaving your home doesn’t affect your right to return, your tenancy rights or ownership of the home. Whether you rent or own your home, you’ll keep the same rights as you’ve always had.

Police are the first port of call for people if you need domestic violence help. Remember, their role is to protect everybody from harm and to investigate. So they won’t be judgmental or critical of anything you’ve done.

Be completely honest with them and they’ll be able to provide the right support. So don’t be afraid to start planning how to get out of a relationship filled with domestic violence. 

You may decide that it’s safe to return to your home if you get an injunction. There are two types:

  • Non-molestation Order
    This is aimed at preventing your partner or ex-partner from using threatening violence against you or your children.
  • Occupation Order
    An Occupation order regulates who can live in the family home. It can also restrict your abuser from entering the surrounding area.

Is domestic violence my fault?

NO, NOPE, NIET, NEIN, NUNCA. We’d say it in every single language if we could because it’s absolutely never your fault. Only the abuser is responsible for their behaviour. Placing the blame on somebody else is something that abusers often do to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. They might also diminish your self-esteem in order to control you. So it’s totally understandable that you feel this way.

The blame game is a common one as victim, Catherine, remembers. “When you’ve been hit you think, ‘my God, this is cold-blooded, controlling, calculating stuff’. You think to yourself, ‘how can I be in this situation?’ But, as horrible as it is, you still wanna make it work,” she says.

“You love this person. So you tell yourself it must be your fault, and he reaffirms that. In my case, he was attractive and successful, people think he’s wonderful and he’s earning lots of money. I felt like there was no way in the world it could’ve been his fault.

Abusers who use alcohol or drugs may use phrases like, “I was drunk”, or “I don’t remember” to justify their actions. You should know that these are never reasons to let someone get away with hurting you.

Domestic violence help

You might want to use our relationship tool to understand your relationship dynamic, and what you can do if it’s not as healthy as it should be. There are also loads of different ways you can speak to our team anonymously if you need someone to talk to.

Next Steps

  • Women's aid protects women from domestic violence. Call their 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.
  • Refuge offers advice and support to victims of domestic violence. 0808 2000 247
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 29-Jun-2022