by Kate Molan
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Before I started a career as a matrimonial and family lawyer I naively thought domestic violence was something that happened more to “working class” households, that victims were overwhelmingly women, rather than men, and that it predominantly involved physical violence rather than anything more subtle.
Working in family law has made me reassess my own preconceptions of what constitutes domestic violence or abuse. My work has made me more aware of the scale of the problem and the stereotypes that surround it. Domestic violence and abuse affects everyone all over the world – regardless of gender, regardless of social class.
Whilst research suggests that domestic violence is more commonly perpetrated against women, men are also victims, as highlighted recently by the publicity surrounding model and TV presenter Kelly Brook’s admission that she had punched two former partners. The charity, Women’s Aid, estimates that one in four women, and one in six men, will experience domestic violence.
However these statistics are most likely a significant understatement of the reality of the situation as they are based on single incidents of a criminal nature and will not include more subtle or complex types of behaviour. Many victims will not report abuse after the first incident and may experience repeated abuse before feeling compelled to take action. There is still a reluctance by victims to speak up, especially if they are male. Some victims may feel ashamed or embarrassed and are afraid of judgement or criticism from others against themselves or their abuser. When it comes to domestic violence perpetrated by partners, victims may be conflicted emotionally between what they have experienced and their feelings towards their partner. Also, these victims may be worried that reporting the incident will bring repercussions and make their situation worse.
In the UK, domestic violence is defined extremely broadly and encompasses many types of events and behaviour.
Domestic violence is defined as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or 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 sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional.
Controlling behaviour is defined as “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 defined as “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.”
We must all work towards raising awareness of the breadth of behaviour falling within the definition of domestic violence and abuse. On a global scale, the UN estimates that up to 70 percent of women will experience violence in their lifetime.
The issue is so serious that the UN has proclaimed 25 November to be International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The current Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is urging everyone to become what he terms “agents of change” on this issue. 
Starting this conversation about violence and abuse, will help highlight the issue. Getting the conversation started, is one way we can all help to address the issue of violence and abuse and the stereotypes around it.
My next blog will explore the stigma attached to domestic violence and why people do not speak out as well as how the cycle of violence continues.
Kate is a family law solicitor with Penningtons Manches
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