Abuse takes many forms and can occur over the life span. Overcoming the effects of abuse is challenging but can be done. I strongly believe in an individual’s ability to recover from an abusive past. I have 20 years experience helping individuals overcome the long term difficulties resulting from domestic violence, childhood physical and sexual abuse, childhood neglect and sexual assault.
Signs of domestic violence and abuse
Domestic violence can happen against anyone. There are different kinds of abuse, but it’s always about having power and control over another person. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you might be in or have been in an abusive relationship.
Does/did your partner ever:
- Belittle you, or put you down?
- Blame you for the abuse or arguments?
- Deny that abuse is happening, or downplay it?
- Isolate you from your family and friends?
- Stop you going to college or work?
- Make unreasonable demands for your attention?
- Accuse you of flirting or having affairs?
- Tell you what to wear, who to see, where to go, and what to think?
- Control your money, or not give you enough to buy food or other essential things?
- Monitor your social media profiles, share photos or videos of you without your consent or use GPS locators to know where you are?
Threats and intimidation
Does/did your partner ever:
- Threaten to hurt or kill you?
- Destroy things that belong to you?
- Stand over you, invade your personal space?
- Threaten to kill themselves or the children?
- Read your emails, texts or letters?
- Harass or follow you?
The person abusing you may hurt you in a number of ways.
Does/did your partner ever:
- Slap, hit or punch you?
- Push or shove you?
- Bite or kick you?
- Burn you?
- Choke you or hold you down?
- Throw things?
Sexual abuse can happen to anyone.
Does/did your partner ever:
- Touch you in a way you do not want to be touched?
- Make unwanted sexual demands?
- Hurt you during sex?
- Pressure you to have unsafe sex – for example, not using a condom?
- Pressure you to have sex?
If your partner has sex with you when you do not want to, this is rape. Have you ever felt afraid of your partner? Have you ever changed your behaviour because you’re afraid of what your partner might do? If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, there are people who can help.
If you decide to leave
The first step in escaping an abusive situation is realising that you’re not alone and it’s not your fault.
Before you leave an abusive situation, try to get advice from an organisation such as:
- Women’s Aid or Refuge For Women
- Men’s Advice Line – for men
- Galop for LGBT+
If you’re considering leaving, be careful who you tell. It’s important your partner does not know where you’re going. Women’s Aid has useful information about making a safety plan that applies to both women and men, including advice if you decide to leave. The Survivor’s Handbook from the charity Women’s Aid is free and provides information for women on a wide range of issues, such as housing, money, helping your children, and your legal rights.
Helping a friend if they’re being abused
If you’re worried a friend is being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong. They might not be ready to talk, but try to find quiet times when they can talk if they choose to.
If someone confides in you that they’re suffering domestic abuse:
- Listen, and take care not to blame them
- Acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
- Give them time to talk, but do not push them to talk if they do not want to
- Acknowledge they’re in a frightening and difficult situation
- Tell them nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has said
- Support them as a friend, encourage them to express their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions
- Do not tell them to leave the relationship if they’re not ready – that’s their decision
- Ask if they have suffered physical harm and if they have, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP
- Help them report the assault to the police if they choose to
- Be ready to provide information about organisations that offer help for people experiencing domestic abuse
If you have been sexually assaulted, whether as an adult or a young person, it is important to remember that it wasn’t your fault. Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where it happens. Don’t be afraid to get help.
What is sexual assault?
A sexual assault is any sexual act that a person did not consent to, or is forced into against their will. It is a form of sexual violence and includes rape (an assault involving penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth), or other sexual offences, such as groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse or the torture of a person in a sexual manner.
Sexual assault is an act that is carried out without the victim’s active consent. This means they didn’t agree to it. It is not uncommon for a victim of sexual assault to have no physical injuries or signs of their assault. But sexual assault is still a crime and can be reported to the police in the same way as other crimes. Most sexual assaults are carried out by someone known to the victim. This could be a partner, former partner, relative, friend or colleague. The assault may happen in many places, but is usually in the victim’s home or the home of the alleged perpetrator (the person carrying out the assault).
If you’ve been sexually assaulted
If you’ve been sexually assaulted, there are services that can help. You don’t have to report the assault to police if you don’t want to. You may need time to think about what has happened to you. However, consider getting medical help as soon as possible, because you may be at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you want the crime to be investigated, the sooner a forensic medical examination takes place, the better.
Try not to wash or change your clothes immediately after a sexual assault. This may destroy forensic evidence that could be important if you decide to report the assault to the police. Where you go for help will depend on what’s available in your area and what you want to do. For specialist medical attention and sexual violence support, whether you decide to have a forensic medical examination or not, your first point of call is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).
The following services will also provide treatment or support, and can refer you to another service if you need more specialist help (such as a SARC):
- A doctor or practice nurse at your GP surgery
- A voluntary organisation, such as Women’s Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Survivors UK (for male victims of sexual assault)
- The free, 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247
- The Rape Crisis national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year)
- A hospital accident and emergency (A&E) department
- A genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic
- A contraceptive clinic
- A young people’s service · NHS 111
- The police, or dial 101
- In an emergency, dial 999
Supporting a victim of sexual assault For relatives and friends of someone who has been sexually assaulted, The Havens website has advice on what you can do to help. The advice includes:
- Don’t judge them, don’t blame them. A sexual assault is never the fault of the person who is abused.
- Listen to the person, but don’t ask for details of the assault. Don’t ask them why they didn’t stop it. This can make them feel as though you blame them.
- Offer practical support, such as going with them to appointments.
- Respect their decisions – for example, whether or not they want to report the assault to the police.
- Bear in mind they might not want to be touched. Even a hug might upset them, so ask first. If you’re in a sexual relationship with them, be aware that sex might be frightening, and don’t put pressure on them to have sex.
- Don’t tell them to forget about the assault. It will take time for them to deal with their feelings and emotions. You can help by listening and being patient. Find your nearest rape and sexual assault services, including SARCs.
Treatment and Support
My work with an individual who has experienced abuse would depend very much on where in their journey they might be. For those early in the process of leaving an abusive partner, I would support them to access other services such as Women’s Aid, Leeway, Refuge and The Lighthouse who are specialists in supporting those who need to leave abusive and dangerous situations. Individuals who have left such relationships or have experience of past sexual, physical and emotional abuse and sexual assault often suffer from anxiety, depression and trauma related difficulties. Treatment would be in accordance with these difficulties, in a safe and supportive setting.