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Domestic Violence

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence (DV) is commonly held to include physical violence, psychological abuse, emotional abuse and financial control. If you are a victim of domestic violence, you need seek help to protect yourself and your children from harm.

What does ´harm´ actually mean?

´Harm´ means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development. This can include impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another person. If children witness domestic violence, even when it isn´t directed at them, the law considers that they are directly suffering.

´Development´ (insofar as a child is concerned) includes a child´s physical, intellectual, emotional, social and behavioural development.

´Health´ includes both physical and mental health.

´Ill-treatment´ includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment that are not physical such as neglect.

Can either sex be victims or perpetrators?

Absolutely. Domestic violence affects both men and women.

Why do people stay in an abusive relationship?

People stay in an abusive relationship for a number of reasons. A common reason is that the victim´s self-esteem becomes reliant on the abuser´s opinion. There may be fear of what the abuser will do if they tell anyone, there may be guilt or shame at being in the situation, a feeling of helplessness, a false feeling of responsibility for the abuse and a fear of how they will cope financially if they leave.

What are the effects on children of domestic violence?

Suffering abuse or witnessing domestic violence can have serious effects on children including ill health, anti-social behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse and self-harm. There can also be longer-term effects leading into adulthood. These can include anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and self-destructive behaviour. Sustained abuse can also have a deep impact on the children´s self-esteem and lead to difficulties forming relationships in later life, problems with employment and impact on their own parenting ability.

Who can provide advice and practical assistance?

Government agencies such as the Police and Social Services can provide practical help and support, as can charities that specialise in this area. This can include counselling, and the provision of a place of safety if required, albeit refuge places for male victims of domestic violence are limited.

Has a crime been committed if my partner has hit my children?

Possibly, depending on why they hit your child, and how the child was hit. Individuals with parental responsibility may use ´reasonable´ physical punishment to discipline their children.

It is illegal to punish children to the extent that they become a victim of battery, suffer grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm or experience punishment that could be considered to be cruelty.

Bodily harm includes any physical harm calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim.

If you are unsure as to whether your partner´s methods of punishment are excessive, you could contact the NSPCC to discuss this, if you had concerns about discussing it with your partner.

There is no need to use physical punishments to chastise a child. Other parenting methods have been proven to be more effective at maintaining a child´s behaviour and wellbeing. Organisations such as the Family Lives and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) provide further information on more appropriate ways to discipline your child:

Family Lives NSPCC

What will the Police do if I call them?

You should call the Police if you believe either you or your children are in danger, are being harassed, if your property has been damaged, you are being threatened, or have been physically assaulted. The Police have the power to enter any premises and arrest someone guilty of causing injury to another person or damage to property.

The Police are often the first point of contact for families where domestic violence is taking place and have extensive powers to ensure your safety.

If the Police believe that the children are at risk of harm, and depending on the severity of the circumstances, the Police can:

Will someone be arrested if accused of DV?

Some forms of domestic violence are criminal offences, for which the offender can be arrested and prosecuted, such as:

Are there organisations which can help victims?

Yes. If you and/or your children are in immediate physical danger, you should call the police.

If you and your children are not in immediate physical danger, but experiencing emotional, psychological or financial abuse or control, there are a number of organisations available to assist you:

Is there legal assistance for victims?

Yes. Legal measures may be taken to remove the perpetrator from the family home. Again, if you are at immediate risk of physical danger, the police should be called.

Legal aid is available to assist people who are victims of domestic violence. You should also contact a solicitor and ask if they undertake legal aid work. Government cutbacks will see legal aid provision reduced from April 2013, however evidence will be required to help secure legal aid funding. This includes:

A solicitor can help you apply for:

For more information about these orders, we have specific guides (see below):

Emergency Protection Orders Non Molestation Orders Occupation Orders

Victims of domestic violence, after separation, may have concerns about their children having contact with their ex‐partner. It may also be that the ex‐partner presents no risk to the children, but the victim of domestic violence may fear meeting them in person. In such circumstances, and where applications for contact have been made in the family court, please refer to our guide on contact centres, which may offer an appropriate and safe solution dependent on the nature and extent of risk:

Contact Centres

Is there help for abusers?

Yes. Respect is the UK membership association for domestic violence perpetrator programmes and support services. Their objective is to increase the safety of people experiencing domestic violence by promoting effective interventions.

Respect provides a telephone service offering information and advice to domestic violence perpetrators, their partner, ex-partner and friends and family.

If you are a perpetrator of domestic violence, the Court may take into account your willingness to recognise that you have a problem and are willing to get help when considering contact with your children.


The following leaflet provides additional information on domestic violence perpetrator programmes:

Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme (DVPP)

DVPP Questions and Answers

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Michael Robinson © 2014

Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales

Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's printer for Scotland.

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