In this book, domestic violence is taken to mean the coercive control of an adult by an intimate partner, involving physical, sexual, psychological and/or financial abuse. Domestic violence is prevalent worldwide, and it has a profound impact upon the health, emotional well-being, life chances and security of adults who are abused and the children who live with them. The language used to refer to this issue varies from the use of gender-neutral terms, such as 'spousal violence' or 'partner abuse', to terms which are gender-specific, such as 'woman battering', or terms like 'family violence' or 'wife abuse', which suggest that violence occurs in the context of a particular relationship (see Radford 2000). Variations in the language used to refer to a problem can reflect broader conceptual and ideological differences. A term can include and exclude, or emphasize, different aspects of the problem. In the UK, 'domestic violence' developed in the context of feminist research and activism since the 1970s, and it is now the most widely used term. It is also the term we prefer to use throughout this book.
We do not, however, wish to mystify the nature of the abuse by referring to domestic violence in a way that also implies gender neutrality. Domestic violence is a gendered crime. Like most violent crimes, it is predominantly men who are the offenders. Although victim surveys and research studies have shown that abuse of a partner can happen in gay and lesbian relationships and sometimes in heterosexual relationships where women use violence against men, women are most frequently the victims of domestic violence – they suffer the most persistent abuse and the most severe injuries (Walby and Allen 2004). Violence is gendered behaviour and it needs to be understood with reference to the power relations that legitimize and sustain it.
The term 'domestic violence' also implies that violence only happens in the home when people are living together, and not after a couple have