Domestic violence and abuse can affect anyone

In the lead up to the 6th National Safeguarding Conference, an experienced member of the NHS National Safeguarding Team dispels some of the myths surrounding domestic violence, abuse, threats and controlling or coercive behaviour. Their name has been withheld to protect the victim within their family:

While working in the NHS, I have sadly been exposed to the negative impact and poor outcomes that victims of domestic abuse and violence endure.

I have been trained and am skilled in my ability to spot the signs of domestic abuse and know who, how, when and where to support, sign-post and refer victims for protection.

Despite this training and my knowledge and skills, nothing prepared me for the reality I faced when domestic abuse affected a close member of my family.

Even in 2019, domestic abuse is thought to be a problem for a stereo typed cohort of society, namely people from socio-economically deprived and uneducated backgrounds. This is not the case.

I am not socio-economically deprived, am fortunate enough to be well educated and supported throughout my life from a loving and caring family. I have a secure and rewarding job as is the case for my close family member, who I will refer to as X.

She is highly educated and has a respected professional role, and same can be said of her partner. As is so often the case, the domestic abuse started during her first pregnancy and, as is all too often the case for many victims, she hid what she was enduring for many years.

I feel angry and ashamed to say that I did not initially spot the signs of the abuse X was enduring. Even when I did, I felt helpless as she was reluctant to accept any kind of help or support, as she was sure that in time things would improve. I shared the evidence with her, including the potential ill effects that domestic abuse can have on children, and felt utterly powerless while she repeatedly asked me to support her by “doing nothing”.

I felt so desperate that I had to personally confide in a close friend and police officer who reiterated all that I already knew, that X would have to work through the issues herself and that she would leave in her own time and only when she was ready to do so. Although she did leave many times, she sadly returned many times after being given promises of changed behaviour.

At times I feared something terrible would happen to her and her children and that it would be my fault as I had done as she requested – nothing.

She now acknowledges that she endured controlling behaviour for many years including being locked in the house; having her car keys taken; the baby’s car seat withheld and the car insurance cancelled.

She also endured coercive behaviours which included financial abuse, where she was forced to take out finance agreements in her name as her partner was unable to secure the credit he wanted for many unnecessary luxury items.

Due to what she describes as the lack of physical violence, X did not at the time seem to recognise that she was a victim of domestic abuse. Even when she did reach out to the police and other agencies, due to the lack of physical violence she was not seen as a victim of domestic abuse.

Although the proposed changes to the Domestic Abuse and Violence Bill cannot change the experience of X, the introduction of a statutory definition can help protect future victims of domestic abuse, including abuse such as controlling and coercive behaviour.

The proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse is:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological; physical; sexual; economic; emotional.

“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 a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim”.

The aim of my blog is to prevent domestic abuse by challenging the stereotypes that society may label ensuring that it is widely known that anyone in society could be a victim, and it could be someone close to you as it was for me.

If you are affected by anything within this blog and need further help and support please contact:

Domestic violence and abuse will be discussed at the 6th National Safeguarding Conference. Register your interest to join the event.

For further updates, search #NHSsafeguarding on Twitter.

Occasionally we invite guest bloggers to write posts for NHS England. Those posts are marked as authored by “Guest blogs”.

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  1. nancy southcott says:

    As an operational manager in CAMHS, I see the effects of DV and abuse on children every day. Trauma and attachment are a common ailment for a growing number of children, and with austerity measures in Local Authorities the complexity for children’s presentations is increasing. Having been both a social worker and practitioner/manager in Mental Health, I have seen how cases are coordinated from both aspects and have a special insight into the concerns. I see that silo thinking does not work, and more work in STP’s, joint strategic groups is needed to “join up” coordination to cases to ensure the child is at the heart of care in the community.

  2. Shahanaz Uddin says:

    We all know that Domestic abuse does not select what society in touches. What I would like to know why as a society we are not doing more, especially in places like a Hospital. As a trained profession in Domestic Abuse, the first port of call might be a visit to the A&E department, the old say, ‘I walked into the door’ or ‘I tripped over the toys’ are as old as time began. There needs to be deeper understanding and questioning the victim. I also think there should be trained specialist there so that staff can recognise and can support that person. I know that the NHS are stretched but in the long run this will be cost effective all round.

  3. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this. As a ‘victim/survivor’ of domestic abuse that doesn’t fit the stereotype I fully support that society needs to understand this affects women across the board. I am an educated professional working in the NHS but I endured many years of coercive control, financial and sexual abuse from my outwardly ‘loving’ husband. No one is immune, it could happen to anyone.