Physical and sexual abuse are severe forms of domestic violence that can put the person subjected to it in serious danger and can even be fatal. The impact for women that have experienced this kind of abuse can be severe and long-lasting affecting a woman’s physical and mental wellbeing. Victims of physical and sexual abuse may be left with serious injuries and severe emotional scars.
Physical abuse is perhaps the most recognisable form of abuse and over time, it often gets worse. Physical abuse includes but is not limited to being pushed, punched or slapped; being beaten with a weapon or another object; being stabbed or gagged and being spat at or urinated on. Other examples of physical abuse include being bitten of having your hair pulled or having your head banged off of something such as a car dashboard or a wall.
In 2019, Women’s Aid heard 3,873 disclosures of physical abuse. The Physical abuse disclosed included women being beaten, having their hair pulled, being burned, strangled, cut with a knife and being hospitalised. Women also reported experiencing physical abuse during pregnancy. We also heard 139 disclosures of abuse while the woman was pregnant, with a number of women experiencing miscarriage because of the abuse.
Where there is a dynamic of control and abuse in an intimate relationship, the likelihood of sexual coercion and sexual abuse is high. It is harder for women who are being abused by their partner to negotiate a free and equal sexual relationship with that partner. Sexual abuse can include being repeatedly raped and beaten; being forcibly stripped and raped or being told that it is your duty to have sex with the abuser. Being raped in front of children or when physically vulnerable such as after child birth are also examples of sexual abuse as well as sexual degradation through the enforced use of pornography.
There were 609 disclosures of sexual abuse to Women’s Aid in 2019. This included women being raped by their partners, women being coerced into sexual activity, women having intimate videos and photos taken and shared without their consent and being raped while pregnant or after childbirth. The sexual abuse figure includes 288 disclosures of rape within intimate relationships.
In our new research on intimate relationship abuse and young people aged 18 to 25, the prevalence and severity of physical and sexual abuse is evident. Of the 1 in 5 young women who were subjected to intimate relationship abuse, 56% were threatened with physical violence, 58% suffered ‘less severe’ physical abuse such as slapping and shoving, 32% suffered ‘severe’ physical abuse such as punching, burning and strangulation and 24% experienced physical abuse with a weapon or threat of a weapon to cause of threaten to cause serious injury.
The impacts of physical and sexual abuse can be multiple, severe and life-altering. Physically women can suffer reproductive health issues and STIs as well as broken bones, teeth, head injuries and internal injuries as a result of physical assault and rape. This is in addition to all of the other possible impacts such as panic-attacks, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, isolation and exhaustion as well alcohol and substance abuse.