Evening News special report: Devastating psychological impact of domestic violence
PUBLISHED: 12:27 11 February 2011
The impact of domestic violence and emotional abuse on the mental health of victims can be devastating.
According to domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, abused women are at least three times more likely to experience depression and anxiety disorders than other women.
One third of all female suicide attempts and half of those by black and ethnic minority women can be attributed to past or current experiences of domestic violence.
About 70pc of female psychiatric in-patients and 80pc of those in secure settings have histories of physical or sexual abuse.
No similar research is available for male victims, but with men representing one in five of those who contacted the police about abuse last year, a similar link seems likely.
"Along with physical injury, longer lasting effects can include flashbacks, low self-esteem, poor confidence, difficulty in decision making, poor self care skills and constant feelings of fear."
Children who live with domestic violence are at increased risk of behavioural problems, emotional trauma and mental health difficulties in adult life.
Polly Aitken, primary care therapist at the Great Yarmouth and Waveney Wellbeing Service, said abuse included physical, sexual, emotional and verbal attacks. It can include financial control over another as an means to intimidate and control.
She said: “There can be a number of contributing factors to an abusive relationship. These can include learned behaviour, stress and depression or other mental health issues, alcohol or substance misuse.
“While these factors can contribute to, or worsen domestic abuse, they are not its cause. Life events such as pregnancy and redundancy can make domestic abuse more likely in an abusive relationship.”
She made it clear that, whatever the circumstances, abusers always have the choice to stop and they can be helped to do this.
“The choice to use domestic abuse lies with the abuser. While perpetrators may not be aware they are making a choice to behave in this way, the fact that the abuse usually happens in the home, away from view, suggests otherwise,” she added.
“Help for a perpetrator begins with an acknowledgement of responsibility for their actions and a willingness to make positive changes.
“Re-education then helps challenge the beliefs of the perpetrator in order to gain an understanding of the effects of their behaviour. Any programme for a perpetrator relies on the participation of that person and a commitment to change.”
Insp Ross McDermott, who leads Norfolk police’s domestic violence team, said he was keen for the force to help offenders stop their behaviour as a preventative measure.
He said: “It doesn’t happen very often at present but there is no reason why an abuser who is concerned about their own behaviour shouldn’t seek help. I would like to see us get to a point where somebody in that position comes to us before the situation escalates. They may be afraid about admitting what they are doing or worried about the consequences. But my measure is, the earlier you confront the problem the less likely it is that the situation will spiral out of control.”
Miss Aitken added: “Domestic abuse is never the fault of the victim. It can be common for survivors of domestic abuse to feel to blame, often because they were told by the abuser that the abuse was their fault, for example for answering back, not tidying properly etc.
“The effect of this is often feelings of guilt that perhaps there was something they could have done to prevent the abuse. Many victims come to realise this is just an excuse by the perpetrator and that they would have been punished in some way whatever they had done.”
The effects on people who have experienced domestic abuse can vary greatly although many have said that the effects of emotional abuse can be the longest lasting and most damaging.
“Along with physical injury, longer lasting effects can include flashbacks, low self-esteem, poor confidence, difficulty in decision making, poor self care skills and constant feelings of fear,” she said. “Eating disorders are a common effect following domestic abuse and this is likely to be due to control around meals and shopping as well as meal times becoming a volatile time.
“Many victims will also have become isolated from friends and family and experience high levels of loneliness. Some people experience post traumatic stress disorder, which has been shown to be exacerbated by factors present in domestic abuse such as repeated abuse or violence, attacks that are personal rather than a shared experience and the attacks coming from a loved or trusted person.”