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Essay: Domestic abuse

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  • Published: March 23, 2018*
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  • Domestic abuse
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According to the NSPCC, domestic abuse refers to any act that involves a person controlling, bullying, threatening or being violent towards another individual, aged 16 or over, within a relationship. Nevertheless, the abuse is not always physical, as it also includes emotional and psychological abuse. It is imperative that people understand that domestic abuse is not necessarily between man and woman, it can be within any relationship. Due to the broad nature of the crime type, the essay is going to specifically focus on victims of domestic abuse, in a range of geographical areas, to portray a clearer image of the crime. To understand what is often perceived as being ‘victim’ like, Nils Christie (1986) introduced six major characteristics of an ‘ideal victim’ (Newburn, T. (2017):
1. The victim is weaker than the offender

2. The victim is living their everyday life

3. The victim is not to blame for what is occurring

4. The offender is unknown to the victim

5. The offender is viewed as being “big and bad”

6. The victim is proportionate in terms of power, influence and sympathy.

It will also cover what domestic abuse is, the issues around the definition, changes in attitudes and the law, how we measure it, its prevalence in both historical and contemporary settings, and the debates in the media and politics.

A range of issues arise when considering the definition of domestic violence. First of all, some definitions dismiss the idea that domestic violence occurs outside intimate relationships. The Parliament of Australia suggests that domestic violence is “acts of violence between people who are in, or have been involved in, an intimate relationship.” It then states the abuse that befalls within families is not classed as domestic violence, and is simply termed “family violence” (Philips J. et al (2015). The 2013 Westminster cross government definition states domestic violence is “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” (Trouble & Strife). However, most offences regarding domestic abuse occur with females under the age of 16. To back this up, when analysing a survey carried out by the NSPCC in the UK, it became apparent that between 2008-2009 3.7% (approx. 74 out of 2275) of participants aged 11-17 experienced severe “maltreatment by a parent or guardian”. The result of domestic violence on a child can be life threatening. Figures from the NSPCC demonstrate that children in the age bracket of 11-17 who were “severely maltreated by a parent or guardian were over six times (6.4) more likely to have current suicide ideation, and almost 5 times (4.6) more likely to have self-harm thoughts than were the non-maltreated young people in this age group” (Radford, L. et al (2011).

Domestic abuse has continually been an issue. When looking back at the Roman era, a woman was regarded as being the husband’s property. Therefore, they were required to do as the husband says (Davis. J). With regards to modifications in attitudes and laws, the way women are perceived has transformed enormously. This is apparent when looking at previous rules, such as the 1857 Rule of Thumb. This principle made it legal for a man to beat his wife with a stick no bigger than his thumb. In 1860, it was initiated that when a duo gets married, the husband takes accountability of the activities carried out by wife and children (if applicable), enabling him to control their actions both physically and verbally; this is acknowledged as the law of coverture. A curfew was introduced in London concerning wife beating in 1895. It became illegal to beat your wife among the hours of 10pm and 7am, in case you disturbed the neighbour’s due to the wailing of the violated woman keeping them awake (Brady, M. (2014). However, it wasn’t too long before these attitudes changed…

In the 1970s, attitudes towards domestic violence shifted radically. Yet, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the revolutions came into force. In 1973, there was an advertisement that was published in Ms. Magazine which read “HAVE SOME FUN. BEAT YOUR WIFE TONIGHT”. Throughout this period, domestic violence against women was considered as being secretive and something that wasn’t worth investing in. As the 1970s proceeded, feminist activisms came into play to give women support. Feminists and women who were prior victims of domestic abuse united together to unveil a campaign (The Battered Women’s Movement), marching with “we will not be beaten” signs. The intention of the campaign was to represent the severity of domestic violence towards women, through encouraging establishments to “provide shelter and support, and demand radical change from law, medicine, and society” ( (2015). The movement gained the attention of powerful institutions like the government and law officers, causing more people to join the campaign. Women were eventually perceived to be victims of domestic abuse by the early 1980s. Consequently, shelters were created for those who were victims of domestic abuse and had nowhere to go ( (2015). Leading on from this, it is crucial that we also look at the prevalence of domestic violence in a contemporary setting and how we measure it.

Domestic violence is a very large issue in a contemporary setting. In 2015, the Office of National Statistics identified that every week, two women are murdered within England and Wales by someone who they are currently in a relationship with, or a previous companion (Flatley, J. (2016). The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) encouraged individuals amongst the ages of 16 and 59 to complete a self-completion module based on intimate violence. This incorporates a range of factors, for example emotional, financial and physical, which are carried out by partners or family members. The survey also took into reflection sexual assault and stalking performed by anybody. From the survey, it was found that approximately 8.2% of women and 4.0% of men testified that they had experienced domestic violence between 2014-2015 (Flatley, J. (2016). When looking at this in terms of figures, it translates to roughly 1.3 million female victims in comparison to 600,000 male victims (Flatley, J. (2016). Despite this, there is great a disputation that domestic violence is underreported. However, the Crime Survey for England and Wales is skilled in exposing crimes which have not been recorded by the police. Throughout 2014, 1.3 million women between the ages of 16-59 experienced a form of intimate violence, as well as 600,000 males. The focal kind of abuse practiced in this figure was non-sexual partner abuse, i.e. hitting and being violent, and stalking (Flatley, J. 2016). The undesirable attitudes towards women were also evident in a historical setting – as mentioned above.

Domestic violence is frequently measured by using methods such as population- based surveys. Population-based surveys take a representative sample to show how a certain problem, in this case domestic violence, affects a population. These surveys may include questions which hold a direct link to the woman being the victim. Through doing this, researchers are able to gather a clear understanding into the prevalence of the crime (UN WOMEN). Other methods that may be used include snowball sampling. Snowball sampling refers to beginning with a small sample and asking for suggestions of other potential participants. It acquires the name ‘snowball’ as it begins a small sample but turns into a large sample. This sampling technique is beneficial when researching a sensitive topic, such as domestic violence, as it has the ability to include hidden populations (Dudovskiy. J (2016).

The media and politics often have a dismissive view on domestic violence. The Oxford encyclopaedia proposes that the media concentrates heavily on abuse carried out by strangers, rather than domestic abuse. Linking to this, a dissertation was produced on media coverage, looking at reports from 1992-2012. Chagnon (2016) identified that an American newspaper, the New York Times, incorporated accounts connecting to rape and sexual assault by strangers 2.5 times more than they featured stories concerning domestic violence. It was found that sex offences implemented by intimate partners or family members were rarely highlighted. When domestic abuse is mentioned in the media, it is common for the victim to be blamed. For example, when a woman is beaten by their companion, the media often portray that the victim was at fault, suggesting that they did something to provoke it (Chagnon, N. et al (2017).

An article published by the Guardian, stated that Theresa May wanted to alter the way we interpret domestic violence, through rising prosecutions and dismissing the way that victims are treated by police forces. Previously, victims had to come face-to-face with their abuser in court – causing underreporting. May’s new idea stopped this from occurring, so the likelihood of victims reporting abuse would escalate. As a result, there is potential that an act will be formed to help victims. It is believed that since this idea was introduced, the prison population has risen due to increasing knowledge and punishment relating to sexual offences. May has also created resources which authorise people to question the constabularies regarding whether their partner has formerly been a perpetrator of abuse, increasing the protection of individuals (Mason, R. (2017).

It is inevitable that all of the factors explained above influence the knowledge and explanation of domestic violence. For example, the media portray the crime in a negative light, causing attitudes to change and new laws to be introduced. As mentioned in the text, until 1970, domestic abuse was seen as being secretive. If it wasn’t for the feminist movement stepping in for change and creating controversy, it is likely that attitudes would not have altered, and domestic violence would be acceptable today. This view has carried on into today’s society through a campaign called ‘Women’s Aid’ – who are “working together until women and children are safe” (Women’s Aid).

Word count- 1648


Author unknown (no date) NSPCC, what is domestic abuse? Available at: (Accessed: 24.10.2017)

Newburn, T (2017) Criminology: Third Edition, pg. 366 – 367. Available at: (Accessed: 16.11.2017)

Phillips, J. et al (2015) Parliament of Australia domestic violence: issues and policy challenges. Available at: (Accessed: 25.10.2017)

Author unknown (2014) Trouble & Strife, time for a rethink – why the current government definition of domestic violence is a problem. Available at: (Accessed: 25.10.2017)

Radford, L. et al (2011) NSPCC child abuse and neglect in the UK today. Available at: (Accessed: 27.10.2017)

Davis, J. (no date) Criminal Justice Institute, Domestic Violence Report, pg. 2. Available at: (Accessed: 27.10.2017)

Brady, M. (2014) The Flowering Brain, Why You Shouldn’t Beat Your Wife Between 10PM and 7AM. Available at: (Accessed: 29.10.2017)

Author unknown (2015) Circulating Now, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN THE 1970S. Available at: (Accessed: 30.10.2017)

Flatley, J. (2016) Office for National Statistics, intimate personal violence and partner abuse. Available at: (Accessed: 01.11.2017)

Author unknown (no date) UN WOMEN, conducting research, data collection and analysis. Available at: (Accessed: 03.11.2017)

Dudovskiy, J. (2016) Research Methodology, snowball sampling. Available at: (Accessed: 03.11.2017)

Chagnon, N. et al (2017) Oxford Research Encyclopaedias, Media Representations of Domestic Violence. Available at: (Accessed: 07.11.2017)

Mason, R. (2017) The Guardian, Theresa May: I want to transform how we think about domestic violence. Available at: (Accessed: 07.11.2017)

Took quotation off home page. Available at: (Accessed 10.11.2017)

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