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The signs of domestic violence

Looking from the outside in, it is easy to feel baffled by domestic violence. We wonder not only why the perpetrators engage in this despicable behaviour towards people they supposedly love, but also what leads the victims into such dysfunctional relationships in the first place.

Yes, some people walk out the door the day their partner strikes the first blow, but for many, making that wrenching break can be very difficult. Humans are not ruled by logic. Relationships have a momentum of their own – and it can very difficult to admit that you are a victim. What if you are still genuinely in love with your violent partner? What if you have nowhere else to go?

The roots of this thorny conundrum surely lie in childhood. For most of us, our parents were the original and greatest role models of adulthood, whether good ones or bad ones. If your parents were wonderful, then you were blessed but many people are not so lucky,  and such people can so easily take the emotional turbulence and mixed messages of their childhood with them as they grow up and enter relationships of their own. Often they do so without even realising. And what happens then?

According to a new report from Girlguiding, based on a representative selection of discussion groups, “too many girls are ready to accept controlling behaviour and see it as a normal part of a ‘caring’ relationship”.

A significant proportion of the teenagers who took part said they saw  jealous and controlling behaviour by boyfriends as signs of commitment and concern. Three quarters did not see such behaviour as indications of a dysfunctional relationship and a form of domestic violence.

Reading the report, we learn, rather disturbingly, that two fifths of the girls said they thought it was okay for a boyfriend to insist they tell them where they are all the time. On in ten thought their partners were allowed to tell them who they can spend time with, and a depressing 17 per cent thought it is okay for their boyfriends to send photos or videos of them to others without their permission. Incredibly, 21 per cent of the girls surveyed even said they thought it was acceptable for partners to shout at them and call them names.

This kind of behaviour is officially classed as domestic violence, under the newly expanded definition which came into force in March this year.

The report, called Care Versus Control: Healthy Relationships, notes rather tellingly that:

“Many girls interviewed struggled to envisage how they would react if they themselves were in a controlling relationship. Although most felt they could recognise different types of controlling behaviour in theory, when presented with specific scenarios that they or their peers might encounter they were quick to make excuses for the controlling behaviour. They readily imagined situations where it might be acceptable or even their fault. Some even found this behaviour endearing.”

Only 23 per cent of the girls surveyed “showed a full understanding of what an abusive relationship is.”

Where do such attitudes come from? Their parents will have helped shape their expectations, but the media has a  role to play as well, the culture around them too. Interestingly, the report attributes at least some of the blame to social media:

“Social media facilitates a culture of constant ‘checking-in’, where monitoring a partner’s movements can be done at the click of a button. This can further cloud young people’s judgements into believing that a certain level of control and surveillance is acceptable. Girls in our focus groups had mixed feelings about the public nature of online interaction, and have experienced how it can lead to accusations of cheating and jealousy.”

There may be some truth in that. Young people are true ‘digital natives’, who have grown up in a world of ubiquitous mobile phones and computers, and their lives have been coloured accordingly. Facebook is now nine years old and will be ten next February. If you are 20, that is half your life.

Care Versus Control makes for very sobering reading, painting a vivid picture of unhealthy relationships in their earliest stages.

As Becky Hewitt, the director of Girlguiding, rightly notes: “Without the right support to interpret and examine their experiences, it is all too easy for early relationships to form unhealthy patterns of behaviour that they can take with them into adulthood. We have a responsibility to help young people to recognise unhealthy and controlling behaviour in their early relationships – helping them to establish positive relationship patterns for the future.”

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham says:

    During the course of my 4+ years of practice, about one dozen or so of my clients were victims of domestic violence. In my representation of each one of these clients, the one common denominator with each seems to be denial.

  2. Quib says:

    All of this applicable to boys!

    Some girls insist on knowing where boys are. Some girls tell their boyfriends who they can be with. Some girls send photos of their boyfriends to others without permission. Some boys think it is ok for their girlfriends to shout at them and all them names.

    Most boys and men, the media and authorities think it is alright for women to slap men.

    Why are male victims ignored once again?

    60% (women) said it was acceptable for women to hit their husbands while 35% admitted assaulting their partner.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Under the expanded definition, there is no doubt that more boys and men suffer (especially because they have to suffer in silence, without any support, and without anyone taking them seriously).

    It’s just not convenient to acknowledge this. The only reason this trashy journalism/research is churned out is because it fuels the divorce industry.

    Hence, issues like this, which otherwise do not seem to have anything to do with divorce, are of such interest to family lawyers.

    There is also an extremely powerful anti-father mafia (which seems quite humorously now to count Girlguides under its sway even), whose sole aim is to spread these lies and completely deny common sense. What is so amazing is that they actually pull it off. Most of us have long been convinced that men are apes, and it suits those who like to be in ‘control’ to have us all think this way.

  4. Luke says:

    Quib is right, the evidence is clear, domestic violence is not a gender specific issue – 50% of domestic violence is committed by women – again and again I keep seeing articles where it is assumed it is a one way street, the level of bias and ignorance on this is quite extraordinary.

    Many men have been conditioned to accept being assaulted by women as normal behaviour.

  5. Stitchedup says:

    I despair at yet another one sided article on domestic violence/abuse.

    Get Real!, if there is shouting going on you cant bet your bottom dollar that in 90% of cases it will be going both ways, and women will account for a good proportion of the remainder. Name calling??? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been called names by my ex. sometimes in jest and sometimes in anger,,,, and yes… an admission from me… I’ve done the same. I’m sure I’ve occasionally called my ex a miserable cow or asked her to stop being gripey when on the receiving end of constant criticism and extreme mood swings.

    We don’t live in some sort of Utopia, far from it! People loose their jobs, partners engage in in-appropriate emotional and/or physical affairs, many experience a mid-life crisis. All these aforementioned and many other issues cause personal stress and relationship breakdown that can result in shouting or name calling from both parties yet time and time again the finger is pointed at the man.

    Targeting men when they are experience divorce or separation is not the answer. No drop policies are a disaster… Perhaps those in the legal profession ought to ask themselves why so many women want to drop charges? is it because they are in denial or is it actually because they know the shouting and name calling has been both ways?

    This is not progressive politics, it is regressive. It puts all the responsibility for a perfect relationship on the shoulders of the man.

    So what happens when a men can prove a women has made false allegations and committed perjury?? I can tell you, the Police refuse to act!! They tell you to speak to your solicitor who in turn will tell you it is not his/her job to investigate a crime and send you back to speak again to the police who dismiss your complaint and evidence as “tit for tat” and refuse to act. They have no interest in helping to overturn a conviction, they prefer to keep what they have.

  6. Andrew says:

    The real question is why so many go on to a different violent partner. Some people just don’t learn.

    Remember also that if the complainant does not show up at the magistrates’ court her statement can be read if she is in fear, but there must be evidence of that – and her absence is not evidence. There can be no argument in a circle.

    Which just goes to show that the criminal justice system does not have all the answers.

    On another point: in civil or family proceedings the woman (usually) who alleges d.v. can get legal aid; the man (usually) who denies it cannot. How about a sweepstake on how many months before that is declared incompatible with the Convention rights?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Just to add to something that StitchedUp said above, the formulaic reply to dads who come to solicitors and say that they have suffered violence is actually this:

    “Don’t bring this up. The court does not want to hear this. If you talk about it, it will just reflect poorly on you. At any rate, you will not be believed.”

    And it is true; but it is actually worse than this. A man complaining in court about violence he has suffered will simply be seen as bitter, and his bitterness will be taken as ‘proof’ that actually he is the potentially violent one. Infallible logic.

  8. JamesB says:

    Yes, I tried too and they (the court) didn’t want to hear it, and reflected badly on me.

  9. Luke says:

    I have a male friend who works in the services, he got a bit too drunk one night and came out with the fact that his wife abuses him to the point of him crying on a regular basis. I don’t know if it’s physical as well as verbal.

    You would never know it to look at him and he would never ever be bringing this out in the open under normal circumstances – and he wouldn’t thank you for trying to either – I wonder how many cases there are like this…

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