The impact of domestic abuse

The impact of domestic abuse

When thinking about the consequences of domestic abuse, it is important to consider the impact (mental, emotional, physical, social and financial) on the individual survivor and her family and children, and also the wider societal costs including the costs of police, health and other service responses, and time off having to be taken by survivors from paid employment and caring responsibilities. It is also important to bear in mind the additional barriers particular social groups might face in escaping domestic abuse or in accessing support or justice.

  • In findings from our annual survey, 46.2% of women in refuges had spent between two and 10 years in the abusive relationship, with 17% of women enduring a violent relationship for more than 10 years. 40.9% of women using community-based domestic abuse services had spent between two and 10 years in the abusive relationship, with 24.1% enduring a violent relationship for more than 10 years. (Women’s Aid Annual Survey, 2013 – responses were given for 755 women using community-based domestic abuse services during a census week.)
  • Data taken from On Track’s national data set showed that 13% of service users had experienced abuse for 20 years or more. (Women’s Aid, 2017 – Out of 1,217 female survivors supported by 25 domestic abuse services between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017.)

Supporting survivors – your questions answered

  • Poverty: Women in poverty are particularly likely to experience the most extensive violence and abuse in their lives. One research report found that 14% of women in poverty have faced extensive violence and abuse, compared to women not in poverty (6%). (From a sample of 1185 women in poverty and 2884 women not in poverty.) (McManus & Scott with Sosenko, 2016)
  • Black and Minority Ethnic women:

A survey of women using specialist BMER (Black, Minority Ethnic and Refugee) domestic abuse services found that 96% reported experiencing psychological, emotional and verbal abuse, 72% had experienced physical violence and 30% had experienced attempted and/or threats of murder from the perpetrator(s) (Thiara & Roy, 2012). Some BMER women are at higher than usual risks of repeat victimisation, and face extra barriers to reporting abuse and to seeking help. For example, 23% of women supported by the No Woman Turned Away project in 2017-18 had no recourse to public funds (Miles and Smith 2018).

One study of black and minority ethnic (BME) domestic abuse service users found that a large number of survivors from a BME background were trapped in relationships by violent perpetrators for a long time; 26% (n=48) had been in a violent relationship for 20 years or more; 18% (n=33) for five years or more (Thiara & Roy, 2012).

Black and minority ethnic (BME) survivors may not report abuse to the police for a range of reasons, including concerns about the impact or stigma on their wider family or community, language difficulties and feeling distrustful of the police because of past negative experiences (Thiara & Roy, 2012).

  • Pregnancy: 40%-60% of women experiencing domestic violence are abused while pregnant. (Department of Health, 2005)
  • Disability:Women with a long-term illness or disability were more likely to be victims of any domestic abuse in the last year (15.9%), compared with those without a long-term illness or disability (5.9%). (ONS, 2018)
  • An examination of the results of the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey revealed that 75% of women in the ‘extensive physical and sexual violence’ group were not receiving either medication or counselling for a mental health problem at the time of the survey. This is despite ‘indications of very high levels of mental ill health’ in this group. 36% of women in the ‘extensive physical and sexual violence’ group had attempted suicide. In the same group, women were more than twice as likely to have an alcohol problem and eight times more likely to be drug dependent than women with little experience of violence and abuse.[9] (The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey is a large survey of a representative sample of men and women of all ages, resident in private households.) (Scott & McManus, 2016)
  • 8% of women survivors of domestic abuse responding to the Crime Survey of England and Wales 2017/18 reported sustained non-physical effects of the abuse (for example, mental or emotional problems as an effect of the abuse) (ONS, 2018).
  • Analysis conducted for Refuge and the University of Warwick showed that almost a quarter (24%) of a sample of 3,500 of Refuge’s clients reported having felt suicidal, and 86% reported feeling depressed.
  • As reported in The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse, we surveyed 72 survivors and found that:
  • Nearly a third (31.9%) of respondents said their access to money during the relationship was controlled by the perpetrator
  • A quarter of respondents said that their partner did not let them have money for essentials during the relationship
  • A third of respondents had to give up their home as a result of the abuse or leaving the relationship and nine found themselves homeless as a result of leaving
  • 43.1% of respondents told us they were in debt as a result of the abuse and over a quarter regularly lost sleep through worrying about debt
  • 56.1% of our sample who had left a relationship with an abuser felt that the abuse had impacted their ability to work and over two fifths of all respondents felt the abuse had negatively impacted their long-term employment prospects/earnings.
  • Perpetrators of domestic abuse now routinely use technology and social media to control and instil fear in those they victimise. In a 2015 Women’s Aid survey of 693 survivors of domestic abuse, 85% of respondents reported online abuse perpetrated by a partner, or ex-partner, as part of a pattern also experienced offline. Nearly a third of survivors had experienced the use of spyware or GPS locators on their phone or computer by a partner or ex-partner. (Women’s Aid, 2015)
  • Conviction data for image based sexual abuse (commonly referred to as ‘revenge pornography’) show that out of the 464 prosecutions for this offence recorded in the year ending March 2018, 86% (400) were flagged as being domestic abuse-related (ONS, 2018).
  • Domestic abuse costs society an estimated £15.73 billion a year in terms of costs to services, economic output, human and emotional costs. (Walby, 2009)
  • In 2011 gender-based violence cost the EU an estimated 228 billion Euros, which represents 1.8% of EU Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Nogaj, 2013).

The Femicide Census is a database containing information on women killed by men in England and Wales since 2009. It was developed by Karen Ingala Smith and Women’s Aid working in partnership, with support from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Deloitte LLP. Femicide is generally defined as the murder of women because they are women, though some definitions include any murders of women or girls.

Key findings on the 139 women killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2017 are:

  • The majority of women killed by men in 2017 were between the ages of 26 and 55 years old (82 women, 59% of the total). However 20 women (14%) were aged 66 or over. Five of these older women were killed by their partner or spouse.
  • 64 women (46%) were killed by their current or former partner; for women killed by men other than by terrorism, the percentage killed by their current or ex-partner rose to 54.2%.
  • 12 (55%) of women killed by their ex-partner or ex-spouse were killed within the first month of separation and 19 (87%) in the first year.
  • 32% of women were killed at the home they shared with the perpetrator, in the majority of cases their partner or spouse. 26.6% were killed in a home where they lived independent of the perpetrator.
  • 24 women (17.3%) were killed by a man known to them (such as a social or business acquaintance, friend or neighbour).
  • 30 women (21.6%) were killed by a stranger, including 21 women killed in terror attacks.
  • In 66 (47.4%) cases men used a sharp instrument to kill their victims.
  • ‘Overkilling’ – where the force and/or methods that a man used was greater than that required to kill the woman – was evident in 58 (41.7%) cases. Cases include women being repeatedly bludgeoned with an axe or other object or stabbed multiple times. There was also evidence of mutilation and desecration of bodies after killing in some cases.

Accordion ContentCoercive and controlling behaviour is at the heart of domestic abuse and has been a specific criminal offence since the end of 2015. Coercive control is defined in statutory guidance as, “a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another” (Home Office, 2015).

  • The Crown Prosecution Service Case information system recorded 960 offences of coercive and controlling behaviour where a prosecution commenced at magistrates’ courts in the year ending March 2018. This is a three-fold increase from 309 in the year ending March 2017 (ONS, 2018). 97% of defendants prosecuted for coercive and controlling behaviour in the year ending December 2017 were male (ONS, 2018).
  • Analysis of Merseyside Police domestic abuse data found that 95% of coercive control victims were women and 74% of perpetrators were men. 76% of coercive control cases happened within an intimate partner context.  The study found that common abusive behaviours used in coercive control included “…use of technology (such as phone trackers, controlling social media usage, barrage of text messages or monitoring phone usage), sexual coercion, monitoring behaviours, isolation, threats, financial abuse, deprivation (depriving access to support) and physical violence (63% of coercive control cases featured reports of physical violence)” (Barlow et al, 2018).
  • One study found that 95 out of 100 domestic abuse survivors reported experiencing coercive control (Kelly et al, 2014).
  • Another study found that women are far more likely than men to be victims of abuse that involves ongoing degradation and frightening threats – two key elements of coercive control (Myhill, 2015).

Information and support for survivors 

If would like more information about domestic abuse go to:  The Survivor’s Handbook


Aitken, R and Munro, V (2018) Domestic abuse and suicide: Exploring the links with Refuge’s client base and workforce. Published online: Warwick Law School and Refuge
Barlow, C., Walklate, S., Johnson, K., Humphreys, L. and Kirby, S. (2018) Police responses to coercive control. Published online: N8 Policing Research Partnership (156 of the cases studies were listed as S.76 coercive control offences, the data studied were from January 2016-June 2017.)
Department of Health, (2005) Responding to Domestic Abuse: A handbook for healthcare professionals. London: Department of Health, p. 15, citing British Medical Association (1998) Domestic violence: a health care issue? London: BMA
Femicide Census (developed by Karen Ingala Smith and Women’s Aid Federation of England working in partnership, with support from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Deloitte LLP). (2018) The Femicide Census: 2017 findings. Annual Report on cases of Femicide in 2017. Published online: Karen Ingala Smith and Women’s Aid.
Home Office. (December 2015) Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship Statutory Guidance Framework. Published online: Home Office
Kelly, L., Sharp, N. and Klein, R. (2014) Finding the Costs of Freedom How women and children rebuild their lives after domestic violence. London: Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit and Solace Women’s Aid, p.19
McManus, S. and Scott, S. (DMSS Research) with Sosenko, F. (Heriot-Watt University). (2016) Joining the dots: The combined burden of violence, abuse and poverty in the lives of women. Published online: Agenda
Miles, C. and Smith, K. (2018) Nowhere to Turn: Findings from the second year of the No Woman Turned Away project. Published online: Women’s Aid
Myhill, A. (2015) ‘Measuring coercive control: what can we learn from national population surveys?’ Violence Against Women. 21(3), pp. 355-375
Nogaj, M. (2013) European Added Value Assessment Combatting violence against women An assessment accompanying the European Parliament’s Legislative own-Initiative Report. Brussels: European Added Value Unit, European Parliament, p. 24
Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2018) Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2018. Published online: ONS.
Scott, S. and McManus, S. (DMSS Research for Agenda). (2016) Hidden Hurt, violence, abuse and disadvantage in the lives of women. Published online: Agenda (A research report building on APMS data which surveys 7,500 adults living in private households across England.)
Thiara, R.K. and Roy, S. (2012) Vital Statistics 2 Key Findings Report on Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee women and children facing violence and abuse. London: Imkaan
Women’s Aid, Online Safety, Accessible online.  2015
Women’s Aid. (2017) Understanding domestic abuse: findings from On Track. On Track Bulletin. Published online: Women’s Aid
Women’s Aid (2019) The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse. Bristol: Women’s Aid.
Scroll to Top