The learning objectives of this module are to become familiar with the various indicators of domestic violence as well as their related risks and to be sensitised to them.
Indicators of domestic violence in adults
The following are indicators associated with victims of domestic violence. Please note that none or all of these might be present and be indicators of other issues. Some victims also give hints in conversations, and their behaviour can also be revealing. Victims are therefore dependent on being listened to, on someone being persistent and asking for signs and clues. Using these indicators as a guide can complement the practice of asking directly.
- Unexplained bruising and other injuries
- Especially head, neck, and facial injuries
- Bruises of various ages
- Injuries sustained do not fit the history given
- Bite marks, unusual burns
- Injuries on parts of the body hidden from view (including breasts, abdomen and/or genitals), especially if pregnant
- Chapped lips
- Teeth knocked out
- Miscarriages and other pregnancy complications
- Chronic conditions including headaches, pain and aches in muscles, joints and back
- Sexually transmitted infection and other gynaecological problems
- Emotional distress, e.g., anxiety, indecisiveness, confusion, and hostility
- Sleeping and eating disorders
- Anxiety/depression/pre-natal depression
- Psychosomatic complaints
- Self-harm or suicide attempts
- Evasive or ashamed about injuries
- Seeming anxious in the presence of their partner
- Social isolation/no access to transport
- Frequent absence from work or studies
- Submissive behaviour/low self-esteem
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Fear of physical contact
- Nervous reactions to physical contact/quick and unexpected movements
Possible indicators of sexual violence
- Self-harming behaviour
- Unwanted pregnancies/abortions
- Complications during pregnancy
Indicators of domestic violence in children
- Difficult eating/sleeping
- Slow weight gain (in infants)
- Physical complaints
- Eating disorders (including problems of breast feeding)
- Fingertip injuries
- Aggressive behaviour and language
- Depression, anxiety, and/or suicide attempts
- Appearing nervous and withdrawn
- Difficulty adjusting to change
- Regressive behaviour in toddlers
- Delays or problems with language development
- Psychosomatic illness
- Restlessness and problems with concentration
- Dependent, sad, or secretive behaviour
- ‘Acting out’, for example cruelty to animals
- Noticeable decline in school performance
- Fighting with peers
- Overprotective or afraid to leave mother or father
- Stealing and social isolation
- Exhibiting sexually abusive behaviour
- Feelings of worthlessness
Witnesses of domestic violence
Caregivers and family members, but also neighbours or work colleagues can become potential witnesses of domestic violence. The victim’s cooperation and consent are the most important prerequisites for intervening as a witness. An intervention by a witness can include talking to the victim, helping to access help services, or supporting the reporting of domestic violence to the authorities.
Factors that may inhibit or encourage intervention by witnesses
- Witnesses often have a strong desire to intervene, but not necessarily to report domestic violence to the police. The possibility to remain anonymous can encourage them to report domestic violence to the authorities.
- Understanding domestic violence and knowing how to support victims can motivate witnesses to intervene. This underlines the importance of awareness-raising campaigns that promote understanding and help to identify the signals of domestic violence (especially non-physical violence). They should also provide guidance on how to support victims.
- In the health and social sector, the obligation to report domestic violence is a crucial factor, as witnesses must report domestic violence to the authorities. However, these obligations vary from country to country and the existing conflict between reporting and confidentiality may prevent them from reporting.
- As a rule, witnesses are more inclined to report domestic violence to the authorities if children are involved. If they do not report domestic violence in those cases, it may be because they are worried that the children will be separated from their parents or experience trauma as a result of a police investigation.
- Other factors that may prevent witnesses from intervening are a negative picture of the police and justice system, fear for their own safety and the misunderstanding that domestic violence is a private matter.
- There is a great need for measures that sensitise witnesses and encourage them to act. Further information is needed for professionals who are obliged to report domestic violence.
- It is crucial that police and judicial authorities increase their efforts to deal with reports of domestic violence in a way that protects both, victims and witnesses.
- Further research is needed to ensure that relevant measures to promote and facilitate witness intervention, such as awareness campaigns and helplines/hotlines, are monitored and evaluated to maximise their effectiveness.
More information on the decisive factors for witness intervention in domestic violence can be found here: https://eige.europa.eu/gender-based-violence/eiges-work-gender-based-violence/intimate-partner-violence-and-witness-intervention?lang=sl