Report – Women’s Aid – Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for policy and practice

“Women’s Aid has been working with the University of Bristol on a research project that adds to and updates the evidence base on the gendered nature of domestic abuse. Today we have published Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse. Evidence for policy and practicea report on our findings from the analysis of 37 transcripts of in-depth survivor interviews.

We have also published a blog talking about the research. 

Our main findings are grouped around three themes. They add to existing evidence in highlighting the importance of sufficiently resourcing long-term, empowering recovery work delivered by specialist domestic abuse services, led by women for women to create safe spaces. This includes those vital services that are led by and for women from marginalised groups.
Some key findings:

1. Household/relationship roles

“Just to be subservient and just do everything that he said and not to have a voice or an opinion,…”

Survivors spoke about a hierarchy of roles in their homes or intimate relationships. For the survivors we interviewed, the man was in charge as the ‘head of the household’, and the woman had the unchosen role of the ‘homemaker’. The survivors were tasked with household chores or running the home efficiently, without having any say in how this work was carried out. They spoke of how their male intimate partners often dictated exacting rules about how household work had to be performed, even though the men usually refused to participate in this work themselves. Male authority in the household or relationship was both underpinned and reinforced by male violence and abuse.

2. Sexuality and intimate partner relationships

“And I think just sort of like the society that we live in at the moment it very much pushes that idea … women are objects and they’re very much sexualised and … like yeah, they’re there for men, like yeah there for the use of … which is … yeah that’s really bad.”

The female survivors we interviewed often described themselves, and how they perceived others saw them, in terms of sexual objects. They were seen as existing for the pleasure of men and expected to engage in sexual activity that was controlled and defined by their abusive male intimate partners. The survivors commonly described being routinely subjected to rape and sexual coercion and harassment in their intimate relationships. It was this most intimate part of a relationship that abusive men used to cement their power and control over women.

3. Mental health and domestic abuse

“The courts are extremely sexist places, and there is still very much a thing about an angry loud woman is crazy, you know, and abusive men are charming … and charming with professionals.”

The survivors we interviewed told us how labels of mental illness had long-lasting negative implications for them. Survivors themselves were seen as problematic rather than the abuse and violence committed against them being identified as the problem. This label of ‘crazy’ was a tool perpetrators could use to threaten survivors or call their credibility into question. Being mentally ill, or showing mental or emotional distress, seemed to be all too easily linked into wider stereotypes about women as a group being supposedly unstable, over-emotional or hysterical.

We will be talking about this research on social media using the hashtag #FlipTheSexistScript. Please share our posts and tweets with your followers! Our central message is that we all need to work together to call out the sexism and misogyny that enable and entitle men to demean, objectify, abuse and control women.”