What is Domestic Violence?


“The use of physical or emotional force or threat of physical force, including sexual violence, in close adult relationships…the term ‘domestic violence’ goes beyond actual physical violence. It can also involve emotional abuse, the destruction of property, isolation from friends, family and other potential sources of support, threats to others including children, stalking, and control over access to money, personal items, food, transportation and the telephone”

(Task Force Report on Violence Against Women, 1997: p.27)

The above is the definition provided by the Task Force Report from whose recommendations the OSSCork ultimately emerged. It recognises that domestic violence is not manifested in only physical terms. It also acknowledges the multiple means by which violence can occur. In fact, more recent reports from Amnesty International and the Crime Council (both 2005) are utilising the term Domestic Abuse to more accurately reflect the reality of the type and multiplicity of violent acts a victim may experience. A person does not have to be subjected to all the above to be a victim of domestic violence and in fact may suffer a different combination of abuses at different times of their lives, for example physical violence may be replaced by the threat of violence over a period of years. Neither does it limit domestic violence to within the confines of marriage. It can and does occur between co-habiting couples as well as between parents and children, amongst others, and indeed may continue post the end of the relationship.

Power and Control

A healthy relationship operates as a power sharing executive where the power and control is shared equally between the partners. Differences of opinion will occur but parties can agree to disagree or reach a compromise, all the while respecting the other person’s point of view. In an abusive relationship however, the abuser attempts to retain all the control and all the power in the relationship for themselves. They may believe it is their right but they may also be threatened that their partner will leave so they have a need to control them totally – from their movements to their very thoughts.


The consequence of domestic violence is that the self-esteem of the person being abused is attacked and reduced thereby decreasing the chances that the victim will leave. Self-doubt increases and the victim looses faith in their decision making processes. Self-pride diminishes. The victim becomes emotionally fragile and easily manipulated. The OSSCork works to re-establish their sense of self-worth so they believe they are a person of value whose opinions are important.

Dependency – Co-dependency

Perpetrators of domestic violence seek to make the victim dependent upon them. New theories abound that the motivation behind domestic abuse is in fact the inter-dependency/co-dependency of the abused on the abuser and vice versa. The victim has their self-esteem reduced via the violent behaviours thereby creating the dependency. Furthermore they may in fact believe that the abuser ‘needs’ them and that the relationship, however damaging, satisfies their need to be needed. On the other hand the abuser may enter the relationship with low self-esteem. They need to control their environment and hence their victim in order to increase their sense of importance. They take advantage of and manipulate their victim’s weakness.


Most abusive relationships are conducted in secret. The victim may have no-one to disclose the truth to as a result of the isolation experienced but is also very often greatly ashamed to reveal the truth. They hide the abuse, creating excuses to explain various injuries or behaviours. Unfortunately this merely serves to facilitate the abuser in their campaign of violence. Neither does the perpetrator disclose as that would only undermine their control. They actively foster a ‘street angle’ persona in an effort to negate any attempt the victim may make to break the secret and tell their story.


The perpetrator of violence will not take responsibility for their behaviour. They will attempt to apportion blame to the other person, for example ‘look what you made me do’. Furthermore, a situation may develop where the victim assumes responsibility inappropriately for example, ‘if I hadn’t done XXX he wouldn’t have gotten angry’. At its extreme the perpetrator can threaten suicide if the partner attempts to leave. This is an extremely powerful tool and places the responsibility for the perpetrators life in the hands of the abused inappropriately

Types of Abuse

The following is a list of the most common forms of domestic abuse. It is not an exhaustive list and is not intended to be so. Other categories may and do exist.

A.Physical – Bruising, cuts, visit to A&E
B.Emotional – Manipulation, Verbal Abuse
C.Psychological – Mind Games
D.Sexual – Rape
E.Financial – Accountability
F.Social – Isolation


This is self-explanatory. The perpetrator will use physical force or indeed the threat of physical force to control their partner. It can and does result in bruising, cuts, broken bones and may involve a visit to the GP’s office or the A&E. Very often a victim will try to hide the signs of physical abuse oftentimes only going to a professional medical practitioner if serious damage has occurred and even then will attempt to provide the medic with a plausible ‘alternative explanation’ – ‘The woman who walked into doors’ syndrome. It is also the case that the perpetrator will exercise control over his/her own behaviour and will choose where to strike their victim – usually in an area that will not be visible such as the back, deliberately avoiding the face.

The threat of a physical assault can be a powerful tool as a means of placing someone in fear and exercising control, if not more so than an actual assault. It creates an atmosphere of ongoing tension. Clients often state that they wish the perpetrator would strike them so that ‘the tension would be over for a while and an atmosphere of calm would return’ until the next cycle commences.


The aim of emotional abuse is to reduce the victim’s self-esteem to a point where they cannot function independently. It is achieved through:

The perpetrator will be very adept at using the victims’ weaknesses against them, for example, a need for approval or the need to be loved. Ultimately the victim becomes dis empowered. They become totally dependent upon their abuser for a sense of self-worth and despite the abuse are grateful for the abusers presence in their lives.


This differs from Emotional abuse in that instead of manipulating feelings it is an attempt to manipulate the mind through the use of mind games and contradictions, for example the perpetrator will persuade the victim that they previously said, or did, or informed them of something when in fact they had not. The victim becomes confused which is compounded by statements such as ‘No-one would believe you!’ Self-doubt sets in and eventually they cannot think for themselves. They defer to the abusive partner before taking any action however simple for example, ‘what would XXX think/do if I do this?’ The victim begins to behave in a way that may appear to defy normal logic as a means of avoiding confrontation with and retribution from the abuser. They will acquiesce to/concur with the perpetrator through fear even though they may know the situation or facts to be wrong.


This is a form of abuse that is often minimized by the victim. It includes rape, coercion of a partner to engage in sexual activities against their will, or pressure to have children. Many are ashamed to disclose this form of abuse. Others minimise it as a means of coping. They struggle to accept that this form of violence is being perpetrated by a person they would have trusted the most. Many ‘go along’ with the demands made to ‘keep the peace’. There is a lack of awareness amongst both the general public and the victims who present themselves that rape within marriage is in fact a crime under Irish law (Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 & Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990). Forcing someone to have children in order to ‘save the relationship’ or persuading them that it is a means of demonstrating their love ‘if you loved me you would have a child’ is a powerful means of control, trapping a woman, in particular, in the relationship through increased responsibilities .


Controlling the family finances is a very potent method of abuse. Forcing an individual to account for every cent spent from a budget or face violent consequences or precluding them from having access to any money at all creates huge dependency. It limits the options for escape, particularly if there are children involved. The victim will be worried about issues such as food and shelter – ‘how will I feed them?’, ‘where will we live?’ Furthermore they will very often be dissuaded and pressured into not engaging in paid employment as this would dilute the perpetrators control. They may engage in emotional manipulation for example, ‘the children need you at home’ to satisfy this form of abuse.


Social isolation is the final form of violence to be illustrated. It is something that happens subtly over a period of time. What may commence as perceived innocent jealousy on behalf of the abuser becomes a form of active control where all other support structures from family and friends are removed. The perpetrator will persuade the victim that ‘others’ are a ‘bad influence’ or ‘they don’t like me’. In order to avoid confrontations and violent argument in the home the victim will at first defend the perpetrator to family and friends and eventually avoid contact with others altogether. Once again a dependence upon the abuser has been created.

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