Myths and Facts about Domestic Abuse

Myth: Domestic violence is not widespread, as many men are victims as women

FACT: Domestic violence is one of the greatest criminal problems facing the UK, accounting for a quarter of all violent crime. It is a pattern of violence that includes physical, psychological and sexual violence.

Crime statistics and research both show that domestic violence is gender specific – i.e. predominantly experienced by women and perpetrated by men.

Any woman can experience domestic violence regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, class, sexuality, mental or physical ability or lifestyle.

It is women who suffer the most serious harm, intimidation, threats, rape, strangulation and post-separation violence, and are most likely to be killed by current or former male partners.

Myth: Domestic violence does not feature in most relationship breakdown or divorce cases

FACT: Of 2,500 families entering mediation, approximately 75% of parents indicated that domestic violence had occurred during the relationship.

Myth: Domestic violence stops on separation or once the relationship ends

FACT: Women are at a higher risk of violence and of being killed after leaving violent partners. Domestic violence continues long after the relationship has ended – 76% of separated women suffer post-separation violence.

It is one of the most significant causes of repeat homelessness and repeat victimisation. 79% of women leave their violent partner because the abuse is affecting their children or they fear for their children’s lives.

Myth: Domestic violence only affects adults

FACT: 75% of all UK children on child protection registers are affected by domestic violence. Children experience physical injury and sexual abuse, and witnessing domestic violence is emotionally abusive resulting in psychological trauma, anger, fear, insecurity and guilt.

In 40-66% of domestic violence cases, the same violent man is directly abusing the children.

Myth: Fathers are routinely denied contact with their children by the courts

FACT: Although there is no statutory presumption of contact, a pro-contact stance is implicit and decisions in leading cases have resulted in a strong assumption of contact by judges.

The number of Contact Orders granted by the courts increased from 42,000 in 1997 to 61,356 in 2002, and over the same period the number of contact orders refused by the courts fell from 1850 to 518 – in 2002 only 0.8% of orders were refused. Only 9% of non-resident parents say they never see their child.

Myth: Contact is good for the child, even if it is with a parent who is violent

FACT: There is no evidence to show that contact with a violent parent is good for the child. It is the nature and quality of parenting by the contact parent that is important, not contact in itself, and where there is abuse, parental conflict or domestic violence, contact is extremely damaging to children.

In 2000 a Court of Appeal decision (Re L) described domestic violence as ‘a significant failure of parenting’. Children who have lived with domestic violence need support, safety and a stable environment to recover from its effects. Children’s emotional and behavioural problems are associated with their relationship with their father.

The more fear and anxiety, the greater the problems. The longer children are away from a violent father, the greater the improvement in adjustment.

The value of contact and its quality is rarely examined. 16% of refuges in England and Wales say they know of local cases since April 2001 where a contact visit with a violent parent has resulted in a child being significantly harmed.

Since 1999 at least 19 children have been killed during contact visits in England and Wales.

Myth: Children are not being placed at risk by court ordered contact

FACT: A recent report stated that there are ‘serious concerns that contact is being inappropriately ordered in cases where there are established risks’.

Since the introduction of court guidance on contact and domestic violence in April 2001, across England and Wales – at least 18 children have been ordered to have contact with fathers who had committed offences against children (schedule 1 offenders); 64 children have been ordered to have contact with fathers whose behaviour previously caused children to be placed on the Child Protection Register.

21 of these children were ordered to have unsupervised contact with the violent father. 101 children have been ordered to live with a violent father, often because he was living in secure accommodation in the former family home.

Myth: Law and court practice adequately listen to children's concerns about contact

FACT: 16% of refugees in England and Wales believe that appropriate measures are never taken to ensure the safety of the child and the resident parent and 13% say children are never listened to. 76% of children ordered by the courts to have contact with a violent parent were abused during contact.

Domestic violence perpetrators often use child contact laws to track and stalk their victims after they leave a violent situation – this is when women and children are at most risk of homicide.

Myth: More mothers kill children than fathers

FACT: Between 1995 and 1999 in England and Wales, 90 per cent of the known or suspected killers of children aged 10-16 were male, dropping to 62 per cent for children aged below five years, and 56 per cent for infants of less than one year.

Infanticides (killings of infants under 1 year by a natural parent) are committed in roughly equal proportions by mothers (47%) and fathers (53%) – where the child is killed by someone other than a parent, males strongly predominate.

General patterns of domestic violence are much more characteristic of male filicide perpetrators than of female: men who kill their children are more likely to have been violent to the child, and to their partner, before the filicide.

Women are more likely to have been diagnosed as suffering from some form of psychiatric disorder.

Myth: Disabled women are unfit mothers

FACT: De-sexualised perceptions of disabled women impact on domestic violence; cultural depictions of disabled women as unfit mothers equip violent partners with increased and often realistic threats of gaining residence of children.

Recent research has shown that such threats deter women from disclosing and/or leaving a violent partner primarily due to fear of losing contact with children.

All abused women in this research were threatened with losing residence of children, and all except one mother did lose residence after leaving the violent partner