Trigger warning: This article deals with issues around domestic violence, sexual violence, emotional violence and may be upsetting to survivors or witnesses of violence.

One out of four women in the UK will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime (British Crime Survey 2011). That’s one out of your close group of girl friends, two of the girls in your rowing team, four of the women taking your bus, about twenty of the girls in a large lecture hall, and a quarter of the women you pass on the street every day.

Why then, does no one talk about domestic violence outside of feminist and charity circles? Does no one believe in the reality of its existence? Is it simply taboo? Is it, like rape, something we know happens but just don’t want to acknowledge because it makes us too uncomfortable? I think the problem is partly due to a misunderstanding of what domestic violence is.

The image that springs to mind stereotypically is of a woman who is beaten by her husband. However, although physical violence is part of domestic violence, a far larger proportion of the abuse consists of the psychological and emotional violence used by a man to control his partner on a regular basis. (Men can be victims of domestic violence from female perpetrators, and domestic violence happens in same-sex relationships, but in this article I will talk about evidence based on male perpetrators and their female partners.)

The psychological and emotional abuse commonly used by perpetrators includes the use of strategies such as: Isolation, Forced Trivial Demands, Degradation and Humiliation, Threats, Displays of Total Power, Occasional Indulgences, Exhaustion and Distorted Perspectives. (These terms and this model is one commonly used by practitioners in the field and is the one I was taught on a domestic violence awareness training day run by Tender, an excellent organisation who work with young people. These strategies parallel some of those used in concentration, torture and POW camps.) Continue reading