Protecting yourself - domestic violence and abusive behaviour

Last updated: December 2020 | 5 min read


This article explains how to deal with violence or abuse at the end of a relationship.

Everybody experiences unpleasant feelings when a relationship ends. It is hard to accept that something you have invested such hopes and hard work in is over. It takes time to learn to live with that. Most people express their emotions in relatively 'safe' ways: there might be a bit of shouting, for example, or some tearful requests to 'give it another go'. In time, and with some outside help (for example counselling), these feelings pass and so does the need to express them.

Some people, though, react with violence or abusiveness when they're told that the relationship is over. You may also be one of those unfortunate people with a partner who has been violent or abusive throughout the relationship, so, naturally, you are concerned that this behaviour will escalate when you tell him or her that it's over.

Violence is never 'acceptable'

Domestic violence can and does kill. Most women who die a violent death in England die as a result of 'domestic violence'. As well as causing physical harm, violence in relationships also causes enormous damage to the victim's psychological health which can lead to addictions and even suicide.

The effect on children is even more serious. Children subjected to violence, both directly and indirectly, can suffer all their lives from the psychological (and sometimes physical) consequences.Violence against children and exposing children to violence in the home is child abuse.

It is important to remember that violence is never the victim's fault. No matter what you do or say, it neither causes nor excuses violent behaviour. The problem always and only lies with the person who is violent and, or abusive.

Abusive behaviour

Abusive behaviour can be almost anything. As well as threatening violence or spreading rumours about you amongst your family or friends, it can also include things which, under other circumstances, might be regarded as romantic: repeatedly serenading you at night, for example.

Because of this, the legal definition of 'molestation' (the legal term for abusive or pestering behaviour) is very vague. As a rule of thumb, any behaviour which has an effect on your mental or physical health and, or 'pestering', is molestation.

To go back to the serenading example: being kept awake (or woken up) is likely to have an effect on your mental and physical health. It's also pestering you.

What can you do to stop it?

  • Calling the police

Violence and some kinds of abusive behaviour are criminal offences.When called, the police will come and will arrest the person suspected of committing such a crime. It is likely that your partner will be released after being questioned and charged.Certain conditions may attach to this release - for example, a condition to not contact you. If the matter goes to trial, you will almost certainly need to give evidence (appear in court and answer questions). You will not need to do that if he or she pleads guilty. Decisions about the case (including whether it goes to trial or not) are made by the Crown Prosecution Service. You do not need any legal representation;

  • Going to court yourself

If you are living together, married or in the process of separating or divorcing, you could also (or instead) apply to the court for an injunction. There are two types of injunctions:

-  An injunction ordering your partner to leave the joint home or parts of it (called an occupation order); and

-  An injunction ordering him/her to not do certain things (called a non-molestation order).

If you obtain such an order and your partner doesn't keep to it, he or she could be imprisoned. In emergencies, such an order can be obtained quite quickly. We do not recommend that you try and get an injunction without a solicitor;

  • Remove yourself from the situation

You or your children might be in such immediate danger that getting away is the safest option for you. If you do not have a safe place to go, there is almost certainly a women's refuge in your area.

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