Shocking new estimates suggest over a quarter of women under 50 worldwide have experienced domestic violence by a male partner.
Researchers from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other institutions have analysed 366 studies in the WHO Global Database on Prevalence of Violence Against Women, spanning 161 countries and areas, and representing 90% of the global population of women and girls.
The results suggest 27% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
Senior author Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno said: “Although this study took place before the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers are alarming and research has shown the pandemic exacerbated issues leading to intimate partner violence, such as isolation, depression and anxiety, and alcohol use, as well as reducing access to support services.
“Preventing intimate partner violence from happening in the first place is vital and urgent. Governments, societies and communities need to take heed, invest more, and act with urgency to reduce violence against women, including by addressing it in post-Covid reconstruction efforts.”
WHO also previously reported a significant increase in the number of people reporting incidents of domestic abuse in Europe over the pandemic – within three weeks of the first lockdown in 2020, calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline in the UK were 49% higher than usual.
Domestic abuse is “defined as a single incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence”, explains Laura Dix, member of the board of trustees at Women + Health, and former national community engagement manager at Women’s Aid. “It’s usually by a partner or ex-partner, but can also be by a family member or carer.
“Domestic abuse can include coercive control, which is a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control, with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence. It can also include psychological, emotional, sexual, financial or economic abuse, harassment and stalking, and online or digital abuse.”
These are some of the relationship red flags you should look out for, as they might indicate you’re in a dangerous situation…
Trying to control what you wear or who you see
Any indication of controlling behaviour is worrying, even if it doesn’t seem that sinister.
“Coercive control can start out very subtly – with women telling us it started as perhaps trying to control what they wore, who they saw, where they went, increasing in both severity and volume,” says Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge. She says it’s increasingly common, and the charity supports many people who have experienced this “hidden form” of abuse.
“Coercive control became a crime in 2015. Like other forms of abuse, coercive control rarely occurs in isolation, often happening alongside physical abuse and sexual violence.”
Jealously is a huge issue – for no tangible reason
If someone has cheated in a relationship, jealousy and trust issues can be difficult to work through, but it’s not uncommon for abusers to accuse their partners of cheating, or of inappropriate behaviour, when there has been no such evidence.
If a partner is constantly concerned about other men or women looking at you or talking to you, it’s a huge red flag. If you’ve given them no reason to feel jealous or paranoid, yet it’s a source of arguments, it isn’t something to brush off. Jealously may be motivated by fear that you’ll leave them, but it can soon turn toxic and be another way of trying to exercise control over you.
Making you doubt your recollection of events
Gaslighting is a relatively new term, but it’s been happening in abusive relationships for a long time. Davison says the charity often hears it reported by the women they support.
It’s a form of manipulation, where the abuser makes the victim question their judgement or their version of reality. At its worst, gaslighting can make the victim start to wonder if they’re losing their sanity and seeing things that aren’t happening.
“It can include abusive partners making women feel they are to blame for their partner’s actions, rubbishing women’s concerns about male behaviours, shrugging off these behaviours as ‘normal’ and making women doubt the validity of their own experiences,” says Davison.
It can include phrases like, “I never said that” (when you know they did) or, “You’re remembering it wrong”.
She adds: “It is an insidious and dangerous form of abuse.”
Trying to persuade you to spend all of your time with them
Sometimes in the guise of being infatuated or in love and wanting you to spend all your time together, another worrying sign is if someone gets upset if you spend time with friends, or peruse interests outside of the relationship.
“Abusers also use isolation as a form of control – cutting women off from their friends, family and support networks, which can make it harder for women to flee,” explains Davison. They want you to become wholly reliant on them and have no one else to turn to for support.
In a healthy relationship, a partner will always support your interests and encourage you to spend time with friends.
They can’t argue in a healthy way
Arguments are a part of relationships, even the healthiest and happiest partnerships will have them. But if your partner can’t have a minor disagreement or discussion without flying off the handle, putting you down or becoming aggressive, then it could be something to worry about.
You might want to dismiss it as ‘fiery’ or ‘passionate’ but if they’re using bullying tactics, so you feel as if you’re walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting them, it’s a concern. You should never be made to feel afraid of your partner – even slightly – or of an argument occurring.
How to seek help…
“If your relationship doesn’t feel right, help and support is available,” stresses Dix.
Domestic abuse is a serious crime, and if you believe there is an immediate risk of harm, or it is an emergency, it’s important to call 999. The police have powers of arrest and can remove the perpetrator from the property to ensure yours and your children’s safety.
Alongside this, you can find expert help both nationally and locally too. A good place to start is the telephone helplines on gov.uk.”
Dix says survivors often find accessing online help is safer than making a phone call, where they could be overheard by an abuser. Women can contact Women’s Aid for online support; the charity has a ‘Live Chat’ instant messaging service where they can speak to a trained member of staff.
The Women’s Aid website also contains a directory of local services, which provide a range of help, from refuges to specialist support, for children and young people.