Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Gaps in provision of support for domestic violence and abuse

The history of the domestic violence movement, the development of refuges in crisis, and the improvement of services and support, is full of examples of poor and bad practice when it comes to how women experiencing abuse have been treated. All statutory agencies have at some point had to look at how its provision does, or does not, meet the need of victims and survivors. This is against a backdrop of wider social responses to abuse where the issue is often ignored.

Lack of awareness and education about domestic abuse

Women’s experiences revealed a lack of understanding and awareness of domestic abuse in society, amongst professionals and people in general, particularly about psychological abuse and controlling behaviour where ‘more depth of insight’ is needed. They included themselves in this, since the majority of the women we interviewed had little awareness of domestic abuse. This was an important factor in keeping them in abusive relationships longer, or as Julia said: ‘The strait jacket’ that was her life. Ella met her first abusive partner at the age of fifteen, and feels that, had she had help to understand abuse at that point, she would not have gone on to have two more abusive relationships.
Women called for better education in schools or via the media about abusive relationships. Sarah, in common with most women, had no idea what domestic abuse was other than a ‘man hitting a woman’. She warned against stereotyping. A confident, professional woman, her message is that domestic abuse can happen to anyone.
More funding needed

Some women were aware of how poorly funded domestic abuse services are. At the time of the interviews, the UK recession had resulted in cuts in government funding to all public services, including women’s refuges. Sophie feels that in the absence of any ring-fenced funding, domestic abuse services are under pressure and women like her are missing out on support.
Ongoing support needed, not just a ‘quick fix’

Women, like Jessica and Tasha, talked about how domestic abuse had impacted on their whole lives and they needed more follow-up, particularly after leaving a women’s refuge, since there is ‘very little afterwards’. Tasha could have returned to the refuge but said: ‘I can’t keep running away’. She needed help with ongoing harassment. Jessica would have liked help with mental health and housing issues, or more networking with other survivors of abuse.
Professionals and others need to be proactive

Women often described living in fear, waiting for an incident to occur that might trigger a response from professionals or others. Women experienced professionals, family and friends as being reactive to a crisis of some kind rather than taking action to help prevent further abuse. For example, police officers often told women that no action could be taken unless they were physically hurt or threatened (see ‘Role of the police in domestic violence and abuse’). Similarly, women wished doctors had taken a more active role, for example handing out leaflets for the Freedom Project (a group course for women experiencing domestic abuse). For Melanie the Freedom Programme was her ‘turning point’ but she only attended because ‘Shelter’, the housing and homeless charity, made the phone call for her and got her a place.
Jacqui’s GP gave her a card to contact a Domestic Violence and Abuse Agency and she wishes the doctor had actually made the call, as it took a while for her to ‘pluck up enough courage’ (see ‘Getting help from doctors and other health professionals for domestic violence and abuse’). Yasmin had little freedom from her controlling abusive husband and was upset that her doctor, health visitor or her children’s teacher did not pick up on signs and ‘analyse’ or ‘dig’ into her situation.
Some women wished friends or family members had intervened (see ‘Getting help from family and friends for domestic violence and abuse’). Women said then even if they had not wanted to hear this at the time, it might have made a difference in the long run. Penny said: ‘No-one suggested he was a bastard and I should get out’, and she only took action eventually when she was warned by her partner’s ex. As she said, however, it’s ‘difficult’ for friends because:
‘Nobody wants to interfere with a relationship that‘s sort of happening. And friends don’t say, “Actually, get out, he’s treating you rubbish”…. on the whole. But it would be, I think it would have been nice if friends had been brave enough to say, “He’s not treating you very well”’.

Support needed after leaving relationship

Leaving an abusive partner was a dangerous and vulnerable time for women and many only managed to leave with support from friends and family members. Women who did not have support locally described their difficulty in getting immediate help. Both Kanya and Ana had to return to their abusive partners as they could not get anywhere to live after leaving. As migrant women on ‘spouse visas’ they could not access public funds to pay for housing or a place in a women’s refuge. For Khalida, leaving her 33 year marriage was like ‘coming out of jail’. Her brain felt like ‘mush’ after a lifetime of abuse. She felt her needs as an older woman with health problems were not adequately assessed by anyone. She is still struggling to find suitable housing.
Min, said the worst thing was having to wait for services.
More support needed from police and legal aid

Many women stressed the limitations of the help available via the police, the lack of links with other services and difficulties in accessing legal support. Women who called the police were frequently assessed as not ‘in danger’ unless they were ‘about to be murdered’. Alonya wished the police ‘understood more’ and found them narrow-minded in their thinking.


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