Domestic violence and abuse | ActionAid UK

Domestic violence and abuse

Domestic violence is the most prevalent form of abuse experienced by women and girls. For millions of women and girls, home is where the hurt is.

Learn about the definition of domestic violence, the effects on women and girls’ health, the main barriers to women and girls leaving abusive relationships, and what ActionAid is doing to help.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence refers to physical, sexual or emotional abuse and controlling behaviours, usually by a current or former partner, but also by a family member or carer.

Domestic violence is rarely a one-off occurrence. A survivor usually experiences many different forms of violence during one incident. Violent acts are often repeated throughout and sometimes after the relationship.

Although domestic violence does affect men, statistics show that it is overwhelmingly carried out by men and experienced by women.

Like all forms of violence against women and girls, domestic violence is a gross violation of women and girls’ rights. To end violence against women and girls, we must tackle violence at home.

Domestic violence by intimate partners

Husbands, boyfriends, male neighbours and relatives are the most likely perpetrators of violence against women and girls.

Domestic violence by husbands, boyfriends or partners (also known as Intimate Partner Violence or IPV) is by far the most reported form of violence against women. In the most extreme cases, it can lead to homicide.

Globally, 38% of all murdered women (in contrast to 6% of all murdered men) are killed by their partner.1 

Domestic violence is universal. It is an expression of male dominance over women and it is both a cause and a consequence of women’s serious disadvantage and unequal position in comparison to men. Its impact is felt throughout every layer of society.

ActionAid focuses on tackling domestic violence through supporting survivors, helping them access family planning services, providing them with skills and resources to earn their own income, holding perpetrators to account and ending the patriarchal power structures and harmful practices such as child marriage that help enable abuse in the first place.

How domestic violence affects women and girls living in poverty

Violence at home is a global problem, but women and girls in poverty are even more at risk. Survivors often can’t afford to go to hospital or get support from the police, and are left dealing with the emotional and physical impacts of the abuse on their own.

ActionAid is committed to ending domestic and other forms of violence against women and girls. Our local workers tackle violence in their communities and help survivors access the services they need and the justice they deserve.

  • 1. apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/85239/9789241564625_eng.pdf;jsessionid=2FDC1C853CCBDB28EF867C581E345E3D?sequence=1

Domestic violence statistics

700 million

Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18.2 There are currently 700 million women alive who married as children.3

47%

It is estimated that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than 6% of men killed in the same year.4

120 million

Around 120 million girls under the age of 20 worldwide (about 1 in 10) have experienced forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.5 The most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends.

  • 2. www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-pregnancy
  • 3. http://www.girlsnotbrides. org/where-does-it-happen/
  • 4. https://www.unodc.org/documents/gsh/pdfs/2014_GLOBAL_HOMICIDE_BOOK_web.pdf
  • 5. https://www.unicef.org/mena/press-releases/new-global-data-on-violence-against-children

What are the different types of domestic violence?

Domestic violence by partners can take many forms. These are five of the main types of abuse.

  • Rape: non-consensual penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth with a penis or other body part – or non-consensual penetration of the vagina or anus with an object.
  • Sexual assault: any form of non-consensual sexual contact that does not result in or include penetration. Examples include: attempted rape, as well as unwanted kissing, fondling, or touching of genitalia and buttocks.
  • Physical assault: physical violence which is not sexual in nature. Examples include: kicking, biting, shoving, hitting with a fist, object or other body part, strangulation, suffocation, burning, scalding, attack with a weapon or object, acid attacks or any other act that results in pain, discomfort or injury.
  • Denial of resources, opportunities and services: denial of rightful access to economic resources/assets or livelihood opportunities, education, health or other social services. Examples include: earnings forcibly taken from an intimate partner, prevention of contraception use.
  • Psychological/emotional abuse: infliction of mental or emotional pain or injury. Examples include: threats of physical or sexual violence, intimidation, humiliation, forced isolation, remarks, gestures, written works of a sexual and/or menacing nature, destruction of cherished things.6
  • 6. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Rescue Committee (2012). Gender-Based Violence Classification Tool. 1st ed. [ebook] Gender-based Violence Information Management System Project.

The effects of intimate partner violence on women’s health

Domestic violence has devastating consequences for women and girls.

Women who have been physically or sexually abused by their partners are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression and, in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to acquire a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV.7

Other physical and mental impacts of domestic violence include injury, chronic pain, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, neurological disorders, anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse – and death.

The effects on children and babies

Violence during pregnancy has been associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labour and birth and low birth weight, according to the World Health Organisation.8

  • 7. http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women
  • 8. http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/global_campaign/en/chap4.pdf

Domestic violence and women’s economic empowerment

There are multiple issues that prevent women from leaving abusive relationships, including shame, denial, lack of self-confidence and fear for their safety.

However, for women and girls living in poverty, the biggest barrier to them leaving is usually financial dependence on their partner. Many women struggle with economic security and rely on their combined incomes with other family members or husbands in order to make ends meet for them and their children.

“He used to slap me in the streets at night or at his place. I didn’t report anything I just let things be. What’s the point of reporting someone who is feeding you?” Grace, Accra, Ghana

Grace’s quote highlights the way economic inequality enables control and domination, and can force women and girls into a situation where they have to suffer through abuse or face hunger or destitution.

Empowering women to generate their own income and have financial independence is therefore an essential part of ending domestic violence.

Domestic violence and unintended pregnancy statistics

14,100
ActionAid estimates that by reducing domestic violence by partners, 8.4 million unsafe abortions could be prevented — saving an estimated 14,100 women’s lives — the majority in sub-Saharan Africa.9

15%
 Overall, the proportion of unintended pregnancy that can be attributed to domestic violence by partners is 15%.10

40%
Reducing domestic violence by partners by 50% could potentially reduce unintended pregnancy by up to 40%.11

  • 9. http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/actionaid-familyplanning-report.pdf
  • 10. http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/actionaid-familyplanning-report.pdf
  • 11. http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/actionaid-familyplanning-report.pdf

Domestic violence and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SHRH)

Men can use violence to dominate their relationships economically, physically, psychologically and sexually. This denies them their sexual and reproductive health and rights, making it extremely difficult for women and girls to prevent unintended pregnancy.

Rape, fear of violence when or if women refuse sex, and difficulties negotiating contraception and condom use all increase the likelihood of women and girls having unintended pregnancy, as well as catching sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death for girls aged 15-19 worldwide.12

By giving women and girls access to family planning services we can support women to control the number of children they have – helping increase their independence and ability to stand up to abuse or leave abusive relationships.

“Since I started working I have the money to buy contraceptives because I am self-employed. I can now refuse my husband when he demands sex if I am not in the mood. I haven’t told him my husband I’m using contraceptives yet.” Beatrice, Accra, Ghana

However, as we can see from Beatrice’s comment – even when women are able to address some power imbalances and violence within their relationship, there is still fear of reprisal when it comes to speaking about contraception.

This highlights how empowering women economically is not enough. We must promote women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and address the power imbalances in relationships which are at the heart of the issue.

  • 12. https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/59751

How ActionAid is ending domestic violence

Local ActionAid staff across Africa, Asia and Latin America are working to end domestic violence. Through local women’s groups and girls’ clubs, we empower women and girls to know their rights – especially their right to make choices about their own bodies.

By funding local women’s organisations, we help provide vital information and support services for survivors of domestic violence. We support organisations who investigate domestic violence cases and take perpetrators to court to ensure they are brought to justice.

We work to end harmful traditional practices such as child marriage that create relationship power imbalances where domestic violence is practically guaranteed.

We do research on issues such as the link between domestic violence and sexual reproductive health and rights, and make recommendations to governments.

ActionAid also campaigns at a regional, national and international levels to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

You may also be interested in…

Donate to our Not This Girl appeal to keep girls safe from sexual abuse.

Learn more about women's rights to sexual and reproductive health

Read our latest policy work on ending violence against women and girls.

Footnotes

Page updated 8 November 2018