Understanding what domestic violence is
Domestic violence can involve physical or sexual abuse, rape, emotional abuse and isolation, coercion, threats, intimidation, economic abuse, financial control, forced marriage and honour-based violence. Abusive, coercive and threatening behaviour can take place online and in text messaging, for example. It doesn’t have to be face to face.
People who experience domestic violence may have a range of responses to it. Fear, anxiety, isolation, depression, drug or alcohol misuse are all common reactions. And all too often the women feel blamed.
Men and women can be perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence can occur within heterosexual and same sex relationships. It can take place when people live together or apart. It can occur once couples have separated and it can occur between family members (e.g. a mother-in-law abusing her daughter-in-law or a son victimising his mother). Statistics show that in the majority of domestic violence cases, the perpetrator is male and the adult survivor is female. However, we do not disregard male survivors and female perpetrators, nor do we minimise the importance that fathers can play in protecting children.
Research shows that witnessing domestic violence can be very harmful for children. The legal definition of significant harm specifically includes the damage caused to a child by witnessing violence. It is one of the most common reasons why social workers become involved in the lives of young parents and their children.
Domestic violence – Frequently Asked Questions
A social worker has contacted me because they’re concerned about how domestic violence is affecting my child. What can I do?You may be contacted by a social worker from children’s services because they have received information from someone else who is concerned about domestic violence and your family.
If this happens, it’s important to ask the social worker why they are contacting you. They may think that your child needs support and wish to look at whether your child is a child in need. They may be concerned that your child has been harmed, or is at risk of significant harm due to the domestic violence and want to carry out child protection enquiries. You can find out more about children’s services and the ways they become involved with families here.
I am scared to contact the police or the social worker as I don't want the situation to be held against meIf you feel that you or your child may be at immediate risk, then you need to contact the police. The most important thing is the safety of you and your child/ren.
You may be worried that reporting the domestic violence may be held against you later on. Then again, if you don’t seek help, sometimes this can be viewed as you putting yourself and your child at risk.
You may feel you’re in an impossible situation – if you don’t report the violence you may be criticised for not taking steps to protect yourself and your child. If you do report the violence you have been suffering, then you are revealing the harmful situation your child has been in and you may fear that you will be criticised for this too.
We do understand that dilemma, but what matters most is the safety of you and your children. Specialist advice organisations can help advocate for you to children’s services so that you won’t be blamed for doing the right thing. You will find details of specialist advice organisations on the Where to get further help page on Family Rights Group's website.
My partner has told me the children will be taken from me if I report the violenceThreats of this kind are common in domestic violence situations. However, it’s very important they don’t stop you from seeking help.
You can discuss how to manage your situation by contacting a specialist domestic violence service. You can go to the Where to get further help page on Family Rights Group's website for a list of services.
I think my child is in danger but the social worker doesn’t agree. What can I do?It is always very stressful to feel your child is at risk of harm. It’s even more upsetting if you think your child is at risk but professionals do not agree with you.
Contact a specialist domestic violence service to find out what support you may be offered. You can do this whether or not the social worker agrees your child is at risk.
You should also keep a record of the instances of abuse and ask any professionals working with you to help you explain your concerns to the social worker.
You should always call the police if you are worried that either you or your child is in immediate danger.
What happens if I feel the social worker doesn't understand what I am going through?All child and family social workers should have had some training in domestic violence and the impact it has on children. However, some may not have much experience of domestic violence in practice.
If you’re worried the social worker doesn’t have the necessary experience to support you, you could politely ask the social worker’s manager if there is a social worker available who has more experience in this area. You can find out from your child’s social worker the name and contact details of their manager. You may also find that information on reports that the social worker has written about your child’s case or by telephoning children’s services directly.
It may not be possible for the manager to offer you a different social worker but you can ask what the reasons are for any decision. If you’re very unhappy with the social worker, then you can make a complaint to children’s services.
My child’s social worker is male. I feel very uncomfortable with this given my recent experience of domestic violence. What can I do?You can request a change of social worker through your social worker’s manager. Make sure you explain your reasons carefully. If the manager says it isn’t possible to allocate a female social worker, ask the manager to explain the reasons in writing.
I don’t feel the social worker is being straight with me and we don’t get on. Is there anything I can do?The relationship you have with your child’s social worker is an important one.
However, women who are experiencing domestic violence don’t always feel supported by their child’s social worker. They sometimes feel they’re being blamed for the situation they’re in, or feel they’re not believed. Women sometimes also feel they’re being judged as a ‘bad’ mother.
If you’re not feeling supported, try talking directly to the social worker about how you feel. They may not realise how you’ve been feeling.
If you’re getting support from a specialist domestic violence worker ask them to talk to the social worker on your behalf. They will also be able to provide the social worker with specialist information about domestic violence (if the social worker doesn’t have this knowledge already). If you are not getting support from a specialist domestic violence worker but would like to, you can contact a specialist domestic violence service. You can go to the Where to get further help page on Family Rights Group's website for a list of services.
What if I don’t see what happened between me and my partner as domestic violence?It’s hard being told you are a ‘victim’ when you don’t see yourself as one. But remember, a lot of women who have been subjected to domestic violence also didn’t see it that way at first.
If a professional feels domestic violence has taken place, it’s best to agree to a referral to a domestic violence service. You will be able to speak freely to the professionals there.
You may start to feel differently about your situation when you have spoken to them – or you may at least learn more about domestic violence, which may help you in the future.
Professionals will also want to see that you’re making every effort to ensure your children do not witness domestic violence. Otherwise they may consider your children to be at risk of harm.
I don’t want to end my relationship with my partner but the social worker says I have to or they’ll remove my children from my care. What should I do?Sometimes, after assessments have been completed, your child’s social worker may say that your partner should leave the home and have no further contact with your child.
If you don’t agree with this, try discussing it with a domestic violence support worker. If you haven’t already been referred to a specialist domestic violence service, you should ask for a referral or contact a domestic violence service yourself. Specialist domestic violence services are listed on the Where to get further help on Family Rights Group's website.
After discussing your situation with a domestic violence professional, you may change your mind about what is in the best interests of your child.
If you still don’t agree, you should ask the social worker to be clear with you what will happen if you don’t co-operate. They may tell you that children’s services will start care proceedings to remove your children from your care.
At this stage, you may be sent a letter before proceedings.
Alternatively, as the social worker’s concern is the safety of the children, you may be able to agree arrangements for you to keep in contact with your partner, so long as the children are not involved. Of course, you won’t be able to do this if legal restrictions (such as bail restrictions or injunctions) are in place.
For more information about care proceedings and letters before proceeding, please go to the Care proceedings page.
Is it safe to allow contact between my child and their father following domestic violence?If your child’s father has been violent towards you, it is essential to make sure neither you nor your child is put at risk of harm if or when they have contact with him. You may need help and support with this. You can contact a specialist domestic violence organisation or talk to children’s services.
Your child could be harmed by witnessing further violence towards you or by being directly hurt themselves.
You may have many questions about how contact can be safely arranged between your child and their father. You may feel it’s in your child’s best interests to have a relationship with their father, but social workers disagree. Or you may be being asked to allow contact when you feel it isn’t safe to do so.
The Frequently Asked Questions on Family Rights Group’s Contact arrangements for children where there is domestic violence page will help you with these issues and other questions that you may want to think about.
I’m in an abusive relationship but I’m worried about my immigration status in the UK. What can I do?If you’re worried about domestic violence but feel scared to speak to a social worker or the police because you don’t have a right to be in this country, you can contact a specialist domestic violence helpline or an immigration advice service. They should be able to help you get the right advice for your situation.
You will find a list of the different advice services that may be able to help you on the Where to get further help page on Family Rights Group's website.
It is common for an abusive partner to tell a woman he will report her to the immigration authorities if she tells anyone about the domestic violence. If you are in this situation, it is very important to immediately contact the police or children’s services whenever you feel you or your child is at risk. You should receive some support to keep you and your child safe.
If you want to leave an abusive partner but you are worried that you won’t be able to stay in the UK because you entered as a spouse, civil partner, un-married or same-sex partner of a British citizen or someone present and settled in the UK, you must contact a specialist immigration adviser.
Under current immigration rules:
- If you have been here for more than two years, you may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain, even if you are no longer with your partner
- If you are still under a two-year probationary period, you may be able to apply to stay in the UK under the Destitution Domestic Violence concession, if you can show that you are a victim of domestic violence
- You may also qualify for some benefits for a temporary period of time such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Housing Benefit or Universal Credit which would also help you to access safe housing through a specialist domestic violence charity.
The rules are quite complicated and don’t apply to everyone. So it’s very important that you speak to a specialist immigration legal advisor as soon as possible to find out what your legal position is and how you go about making an application under the domestic violence rules.
If you cannot find the question and answer you are looking for, take a look at the domestic violence information pages on the main Family Rights Group website. You can also ring Family Rights Group's free advice line on 0808 801 0366 (Open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 3pm; excluding bank holidays) or seek advice and information from an organisations listed on the Where to get further help on Family Rights Group's website for a list of services.