Domestic Physical Abuse

Domestic Physical Abuse

Domestic violence usually blights a relationship after a period of threats and verbal assault. It is an extreme form of seeking to dominate and control one’s partner. Not that is any comfort to the victim: pain is pain.

Anyone of any age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic background or gender can become a victim. That said, the overwhelming number of perpetrators are men and the vast majority of victims are women: on average two women are killed in the UK each week by their partner or an ex, a number which rose to three in 2018.

Forms of physical abuse
  • Slapping
  • Hitting
  • Punching
  • Pushing
  • Shoving
  • Biting
  • Kicking
  • Burning
  • Choking
  • Holding the victim down
  • Throwing things at the victim.
The violence can show up as:
  • Bruises
  • Black eyes
  • Red or purple marks at the neck
  • Sprained or broken wrists
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension
  • Involuntary shaking
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Menstrual cycle or fertility problems.

The spiral downward to violence is often preceded by the perpetrator having a bad or unpredictable temper; punching or kicking walls; destroying their partner’s belongings; threatening to harm pets; threatening to commit suicide if their partner leaves; threatening to take the children away or harm them; or threatening to hurt or kill their partner.

Warning Signs

As violent abusers often direct their blows where the bruises and marks will not show up, warning signs someone may be a victim of physical violence include:

  • having frequent injuries, with the excuse of them occurring as accidents;
  • frequently missing work, study courses or social occasions, without any explanation;
  • dressing in clothing designed to hide bruises or scars, such as wearing long sleeves in summer; and
  • donning sunglasses indoors or on cloudy days.

Criminal Offences

The criminal offences covered by domestic violence are primarily common assault, grievous bodily harm, making threats to kill, and murder.
Sexual Abuse
Whenever a partner is forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or a degrading sexual activity that is sexual abuse. Forced sex is a crime. As the Home Office bluntly states in its advice: “If your partner has sex with you when you don’t want to, this is rape.”
Repeated Behaviour

Some victims regard the domestic violence they are suffering from as minor because it is not as severe as they have heard or read about. But a push against a wall is violence all the same: very serious injuries can result from that form of physical attack. Even if someone has assaulted their partner ‘only’ once or twice, there is a greater risk they will do so again and things then escalate into much more regular, and possibly more severe, physical abuse.

Abusive behaviour is nearly always a choice, a way for the perpetrator to gain control over their partner, and it follows a common pattern.

After the assault, the abuser says they feel guilty. But that is not always genuine remorse, more the fear of being caught and facing the consequences of their actions. Then the perpetrator rationalises what they have done, possibly coming up with a long line of excuses or blaming the victim for provoking them. They do not want to take responsibility for their violence.

A spell of normal behaviour follows with the abuser acting as if nothing has happened. They may turn on the charm to lull their partner into thinking that they have really changed. But it is usually a ploy to regain control and ensure their partner will stay in the relationship.

All too often the perpetrator then begins to fantasise about repeating the abuse, spending a lot of time thinking about what their partner has done wrong and how they will make them pay for it. Frequently they will the set the partner up to create an excuse to abuse again.

More profuse apologies and loving gestures follow, making it difficult for the victim to leave what has becoming a physically abusive relationship. And so the cycle keeps repeating itself.

By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”