Domestic violence

Domestic violence involves a variable combination of physical, sexual and psychological violence and economic abuse that forms a pattern of coercive, controlling behaviour. It takes place between adults who are current or former partners. Domestic violence can include:

  • Threats of physical violence even though no actual physical force
  • Physical violence (such as shoving, hitting, kicking, head-butting, burning, choking etc.);
  • Being forced to have sex;
  • Mental/emotional/psychological cruelty such as name calling, isolation from family and friends, deprivation of family income, being prevented from leaving the home, damage to pets or other personal items;
  • Using and abusing children in various ways to frighten or force compliance
  • Forced marriage;
  • Female genital mutilation and so-called honour-based violence
  • Elder abuse when committed within the family or by an intimate partner.

Research and government policy recognise that domestic violence is gendered; that is, most perpetrators are male and most victims are female.  As well, the gender of both victim and perpetrator influences behaviour and the severity of risk and harm caused. 

omestic violence has a devastating effect on victims, their families and the wider community, and occurs irrespective of ethnicity, class, sexuality, age, disability, religion or belief. Children and young people can be adversely affected by domestic violence. Children witnessing domestic violence are being emotionally abused and many are also directly abused by the same perpetrator. The total cost to society is an estimated £23 billion a year in England and Wales.    

The Government definition of domestic violence:

Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality." This includes issues of concern to black and minority ethnic (BME) communities such as so called 'honour based violence', female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.

An adult is defined as any person aged 18 years or over. Family members are defined as mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, and grandparents, whether directly related, in laws or stepfamily.  Source: Home Office Domestic Violence Mini-Site
National action 

In 2006-07 the Home Office produced its third National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan - Annual Progress Report.Strategies for addressing domestic violence have also been produced in Wales (All Wales National Strategy on Domestic Violence), Norther Ireland (Tackling Violence at Home). In Scotland the National Strategy to Address Domestic Abuse in Scotland (2000) has been replaced by an integrated approach to violence against women.  

According to the CEDAW Thematic Shadow Report on Violence Against Women in the UK (EVAW 2008): Despite significant developments in policy and guidance by major statutory agencies at national level there is inconsistent implementation at the local level. With the exception of the CPS, this is not monitored and followed up consistently at national level.
There is still a lack of co-ordination and oversight at a national level, limited attention to prevention work, an outstanding gap in strategic approaches and uneven and limited provision across the country, particularly in rural areas and for key groups of women, including refugees and asylum seekers. Children who live with domestic violence also remain poorly served.  
Forced Marriage and crimes in the name of ‘honour’ 

The term 'crimes of honour' is used to encompass a variety of manifestations of violence against women including: 'honour killings', assault, unlawful confinement and forced marriage, and the documents set out in this collection address these various manifestations.
Research shows that the majority of victims of such crimes are women, and consequently such crimes implicate the rights of women and the prohibition on gender-discrimination. Click here for further information.

A forced marriage is when a person is coerced into marrying someone against his or her will. They may be physically threatened or emotionally blackmailed to do so. It is an abuse of human rights and cannot be justified on any religious or cultural basis. It is not the same as an arranged marriage where someone has a choice as to whether to accept the arrangement or not.

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 gives the courts a wide discretion to deal flexibly and sensitively with the circumstances of each individual case. It employs civil remedies that offer protection to victims without criminalising members of their family. The first phase of implementation of the Act from Autumn 2008 will enable people to apply for an order at specified county courts, rather than just the high courts.  

The joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office / Home Office Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) was launched in January 2005 as the UK's "one stop shop" for developing government policy on forced marriage, coordinating outreach projects and providing support and information to those at risk. The Unit handles approximately 250-300 cases per year, 85% involve women. 

If you are worried you might be forced into marriage or are worried about a friend or relative call the Forced Marriage Unit on 0207 008 0151.  Trained professionals offer confidential advice and assistance to those who have been forced into marriage overseas; are at risk of being forced into marriage; or people worried about friends or relatives.

Although the FMU sees cases from around the world - including East Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe-the majority are from South Asia. Approximately 65 per cent of cases are in families of Pakistani origin and 25 per cent are in families of Bangladeshi origin. Around a third of cases the FMU deals with are children, some as young as 13. The Unit also assists reluctant sponsors - those forced into marriage and subsequently forced to sponsor a visa application - and has dealt with over 100 cases since May 2006.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the range of procedures which involve "the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reason".

It is estimated that approximately 138 million African women have undergone FGM worldwide and each year, a further 2 million girls are estimated to be at risk of the practice. Most of them live in African countries, a few in the Middle East and Asian countries, and increasingly in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America and Canada.
Due to the sensitivity of the subject and the non-prioritisation of the issue by the international community, systematic surveys have not been undertaken in all FGM practicing communities.

FGM in the UK

The Prohibition of ‘Female Circumcision’ Act came into force in 1985 making it an offence to carry out or to aid, or procure the performance by another person, of any form of FGM, except for specific medical purpose. The ‘Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 makes an offence for FGM to be carried out anywhere on UK nationals or permanent residents.
Despite these measures, estimates show that around 66,000 women resident in England and Wales have been subjected to FGM.

In October 2007, FORWARD published 'A Statistical Study to Estimate the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales'. The study revealed that over 20,000 girls could be at risk.    

FGM is a direct violation of girls and women human rights. Many governments have passed laws and signed declarations stating that they support women and girls’ human rights, however, in real terms very little has been done.
Various documents highlight the right for girls and women to live free from gender discrimination, free from torture, to live in dignity and with bodily integrity, including – Universal Declaration of Human Rights,United Nations Convention on the Elimination of ll Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Convention on the Rights of the Child, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. 
Further Resources 

Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Domestic Violence and Forced Marriage was published in June 2008 together with the oral and written evidence provided. 
A Guide to Civil Remedies and Criminal Sanctions has been produced by the Family Justice Council. This aims to assist professionals and service providers to advise victims on their options for effective protection for them and their families - especially their children.  As well as the English and Welsh versions the guide has been translated into Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Polish, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu.
Early evaluation of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 by Marianne Hester, Nicole Westmarland, Julia Pearce and Emma Williamson  Published on: 14 August 2008

This study was commissioned to provide an early evaluation of some of the measures of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. The report focuses on the three measures of the Act that were implemented during the evaluation period: 

  • making common assault an arrestable offence;

  • making it an arrestable, criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order;

  • extending the civil law on domestic violence (to ensure cohabiting same-sex couples have the same access to non-molestation and occupation orders as opposite sex couples, and non-molestation orders are available to couples who have never cohabited).   

Women's Aid (England) - Online Survivors Handbook                  

Campaign Abolish No Recourse To Public Funds PDF Print E-mail

This campaign brings together key women's organisations to highlight the devastating impact of 'no recourse to public funds' on the lives of minority women without secure immigration status and who are subject to domestic violence in the context of the marriage, employment and trafficking.
We call on the government to end the double standards in its approach to domestic violence, allowing some women the right to seek protection but not others. Alternative sources of long term funding must be found. Southall Black Sisters has proposed that costs are retrieved from perpetrators as a means of holding them accountable.


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