Domestic violence: what is it and who’s experiencing it?

by Rosalind Robson

Domestic violence (DV) is physical and sexual violence, psychological and emotional abuse, threats and intimidation, financial blackmail, harassment, isolation, also belittling and unreasonable criticism within an intimate or family relationship. It could be part of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. It should include the abusive actions of extended family members including such things as forced marriage and “honour crimes”.

DV cuts across boundaries of gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation and class. However women are very more likely to suffer, and research shows the most vulnerable are younger and poorer women.

US research shows that domestic violence in LGBT relationships is vastly under-reported. People of all genders and none are as at least as likely to experience DV as self-defined women in heterosexual relationships.

The up-to-date UK data on DV comes from the Crime Survey for England and Wales. This is a large sample survey of people carried out by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) for the Home Office.

The BCS estimated that there were 392,000 incidents of domestic violence across England and Wales in 2010 to 2011. Interesting is the positive contrast to 1,116,000 incidents of domestic violence recorded in 1993.

However because victims may be reluctant to disclose experience of domestic violence in a face-to-face interview, the crime survey also captures data on domestic violence via a self-completion module, which allows the respondent to write experiences directly onto the interviewer’s laptop.

The self-completion figures additionally include emotional and financial abuse, along with threats to do such. It adds in experiences of sexual assault (and threats and attempts of such) as well as stalking.

This method shows up a different figure. Seven per cent of women and five per cent of men report having experienced domestic abuse in the last year, equivalent to 1.2 million female victims and 800,000 male victims.

What should we make of the high figures for reported violence and abuse against men? This has been a subject of debate for some years. Some of this research is based on studies of generalised family violence.

Abuse against men tends to occur in what (superficially at least) looks like mutually violent relationships. However the more frequent and severe the violence the greater the gender asymmetry: for example strangling and threats to kill are much more usual as male on female violence.

Women are more likely to use violence expressively (showing frustration and explosive anger) or defensively rather than as a tool of control and domination. Defensive violence can lead to retaliation and escalation of violence.

Sexual violence is a frequent part of the ongoing abuse women suffer — this is left out of the studies looking at generalised family violence.

A more nuanced and complex picture of DV is needed. However the feminist case that violence against women in heterosexual relationships is underpinned by structural oppression (generalised male domination), remains key.

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About womensfightback17

Women’s Fightback is a socialist feminist paper and blog produced by members and supporters of the socialist group Workers' Liberty. Workers’ Liberty is a revolutionary socialist organisation fighting as part of the labour and student movements, and in campaigns, for a socialist alternative to capitalism, based on common ownership and democracy.

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