Domestic Violence

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What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence, sometimes called domestic abuse, is abusive behaviour from a family member, or partner. It is extremely dangerous and should always be taken seriously as it can have devastating consequences. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of gender, age, sexuality or ethnicity.

There are different types of domestic violence, such as:

  • Physical abuse (for example: punching, kicking and other violence)
  • Emotional abuse (for example: playing with your feelings, intentionally making you feel bad or guilty)
  • Sexual abuse (for example: making you have sex when you don’t want to)
  • Digital abuse (for example: using the internet to harass or embarrass you) 
  • Financial abuse (for example: taking your money or controlling the money that you can access)
  • Spiritual abuse (for example: controlling or mocking your beliefs or religion)

Some people may also experience more than one type of abuse at any given time.

Since the coronavirus lockdown in Iraq, there has unfortunately been a huge increase in domestic violence within the country.

Domestic violence between mother and father in the background with their young daughter sitting scared behind a wall.

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What are the different types of domestic violence?

There are several different types of domestic violence. All types tend to involve incidents or patterns of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour.

Many people are familiar with what physical abuse looks like, but when it comes to emotional abuse, it is much harder to recognise. People may think that emotional abuse isn’t as serious as physical abuse, but when you’re on the receiving end it can be just as devastating.

 

There are different types of behaviour that come under emotional abuse. For example:

 

Aggression and threats

 

This could be shouting, trying to make you feel scared or intimidated, or acting aggressively. 

The abuser may say that something bad will happen if you do not do what they want, or if you tell anyone about the abuse. It is often a way of the abuser trying to stop their victim from standing up for themselves.

 

Guilt

 

Making someone feel guilty is a type of emotional abuse through manipulation. It may be ignoring someone, sulking, or emotional blackmail. Your abuser may make unreasonable demands for your attention, or threaten to harm themselves if you don’t do what they say. They may even blame you for the abuse or arguments going on.

 

Controlling behaviour

 

Emotional abuse is generally about gaining control. Your abuser might tell you what you can and can’t do, how to dress, or who you can and can’t see, as a means to try to isolate you and control your life. 

 

Making you feel small

 

This can include undermining you or dismissing your opinion, belittling you, or putting you down all the time. Also criticising someone a lot, name-calling or making lots of unpleasant comments can lower someone's self-esteem and confidence.

People may think that physical abuse is maybe one of the easier types of domestic violence to recognise, but sometimes not all types of physical abuse can be seen in an obvious way. 

Types of physical abuse include:

  • Hitting
  • Biting
  • Hair pulling
  • Being handled in a rough way 
  • Being restrained
  • Deliberately being burnt or scalded
  • Being forced to eat or having food withheld from you
  • Abuse of someone’s medication - either making them overuse it or withholding it from them
  • Honour violence (committing violent acts for the sake of the family’s honour)

Physical abuse can stay hidden within a relationship or family units for some time before anybody notices. However, some signs that someone is being physically abused include:

  • Physical evidence of abuse such as bruising or cuts
  • Unexplained broken bones
  • Becoming socially withdrawn
  • Being  reluctant to see friends and family
  • Having confusing or unlikely explanations for their injuries

Honour killing is the most extreme form of honour violence. Many women around the world are killed due to honour killing every year. 

In Iraq this is also a problem. Honour killing is most commonly the murder of a woman or a girl who isaccused of bringing shame upon her  family. The murder is usually carried out by family members or the partner of the victim. By committing this violent act or murder, it is believed to act as redemption for the shameful act.

Honour violence is not tied to religion, but instead it is a cultural belief. Acts that may be seen as shameful within a community are closely tied to:

  • Virginity
  • Fidelity
  • Modesty

Unfortunately, honour violence is not a criminal offence in many countries, and the people that carry out these acts do not often get arrested and charged by police. 


Living in a household where honour violence occurs can be an extremely dangerous and distressing place for someone to be.

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone but it is most commonly carried out by men against women. It is any sexual activity that occurs without consent, and it includes:

  • Touching you in a way that you do not want to be touched
  • Hurting you during sex
  • Pressuring you to have sex when you dont want to
  • Making unwanted sexual demands 
  • Rape, or attempted rape
  • Sexual photography or forced use of pornography
  • Non-consensual masturbation

Sexual abuse can be extremely difficult to recognise but you may notice that someone has:

  • Bruising over the body, in particular, thighs, arms and neck
  • Bleeding or pain in the genital area
  • Incontinence not related to any medical condition
  • Reluctance for someone to be alone with a particular person
  • Self-harming

Some people may not have heard of reproductive coercion, but it is extremely serious as it has a potentially life-changing impact on a woman’s life. It is denying a woman free choice over her body and life by controlling her reproductive choices, such as:

  • Deciding whether or not she can use contraception
  • Controlling her choice to become pregnant
  • Controlling her choice to continue with a pregnancy
  • Deliberately causing a termination of pregnancy

There is some crossover between reproductive coercion and other types of domestic abuse. It can be carried out with violence, for example using physical violence to cause a termination, or emotional abuse such as blackmail surrounding contraception and pregnancy.

Financial abuse in a partnership or family is a way of gaining control over a person by making them become financially dependent on you. Being financially abused can include:

  • Having a strict allowance
  • Having limited access to cash or bank accounts
  • Being required to justify the money that you spend
  • Having your salary used in a way that was not agreed
  • Having lots of debt put in your name against your will

By creating financial dependency, it often means the victim feels that they cannot leave the relationship as they would have no access to money, and they may worry that they have such a poor credit rating that they wouldn’t be able to secure anywhere new to live. 

Digital abuse is a type of emotional abuse that occurs when someone uses technology such as texting and social media to bully, stalk, harass or intimidate a partner. 

Digital abuse  can have a really negative effect on your life, and  there can also be aspects that cross over into sexual abuse. Digital abuse can include:

  • Your partner telling you who you can and can’t be friends with or follow on social media 
  • Receiving abusive negative texts or messages online
  • Using social media sites to keep tabs on someone and what they’re doing
  • Your partner insisting that you give them your passwords
  • Your partner looking through your phone frequently to see who you have been in contact with
  • Someone sending you explicit pictures or videos and demanding that you send some in return
  • Someone using explicit pictures or videos to blackmail you

Spiritual abuse can be really hard to identify, and it is also a type of emotional abuse. Traditionally it was recognised as a faith leader abusing congregation members by shaming or controlling them using the power of their position, however it can also occur within an intimate partner or family relationship. For example:

  • Your partner may insult your religious or spiritual beliefs
  • Your partner may prevent you from practising your religion
  • They may use your religious beliefs to try and shame you
  • They may use religious material to rationalise abusive behaviours 
  • They may force you to follow their religion and accept their beliefs

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Who is usually affected by domestic violence?

Domestic violence towards women

Research shows that the majority of all types of domestic violence are most commonly against women. Women in particular tend to experience sexual violence and physical violence from an intimate partner. 

Woman crying and holding her arms up to her face.

Domestic violence towards men

Domestic violence towards men is much less common than violence directed towards women, but that is not to say that it doesn’t happen. Data shows domestic violence against men is most often physical violence from their spouse. Unfortunately domestic violence towards men is reported much less and is often taken less seriously by police.

Man standing up and crying, hand to his head

Domestic violence towards the elderly

As people grow older they become more vulnerable and may be less able to defend themselves against types of domestic abuse. The elderly population are more likely to fall victim to physical abuse from carers and financial abuse from family members. This is often harder to recognise as memory problems at this age may make the abuse less obvious.

Elderly woman looking sad and gazing into the distance.

Domestic violence towards children

Any mistreatment or harm to someone under the age of 18 years old is considered to be child abuse. In most cases, child abuse is done by a parent or family member, someone that they know and trust. Children can suffer from a few different types of abuse at the same time including:

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Medical abuse 
  • Neglect
If there is domestic violence at home, such as between parents, children may be affected even if they are not being abused themselves. A child that is suffering through domestic violence may show some red flags including:
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Behaviour changes such as anger or aggression
  • Tearfulness
  • Poor attendance at school
  • Not wanting to go home
  • Is socially withdrawn
  • Trying to run away
  • Beginning to self-harm
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Sexual knowledge that is inappropriate for their age
  • Shows a delay in emotional development 
  • Low weight 
  • Poor hygiene
Sometimes the abuser may also show red flags that could indicate child abuse including:
  • Blaming the child for the problems
  • Verbally abusing the child in public
  • Smacking the child in public or using unnecessary force
  • Showing very little concern for the child
  • Limiting the child’s contact with others
  • Offering unconvincing stories for their child’s injuries

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Why are some people abused and others not?

Being a victim of abuse is not your fault.

Domestic violence can happen to absolutely anyone. However there are a few situations that researchers have identified that may increase someone’s risk of being a victim of domestic violence. These include:
  • Having a lower level of education
  • Having a lower income level
  • Marrying early
  • Being in an arranged or forced marriage
  • Having marital problems
  • The abuser having a mental health condition
  • The abuser misusing substances such as drugs and alcohol 
  • Experiencing domestic violence in childhood 
  • Being under financial stress
  • Being part of a community that condones violence by giving a higher status to men than women

It is important to remember that suffering from domestic violence is not your fault. It is a way of your abuser gaining control over your life to benefit themselves. It should not be accepted as something that just happens and has to be put up with.

How does domestic violence affect someone’s quality of life?

Domestic violence is extremely serious and can have a huge impact on someone’s quality of life. It can have long-lasting effects on your life for years to come.

Young girl sitting on the staircase covering her ears with her hands.

The effects of domestic violence on children

For children, either witnessing or experiencing domestic violence, can have a very big impact on their development and behaviour. These can manifest as physical, behavioural, emotional or psychological issues.

  • Developmental delay with speech and motor skills
  • Learning disabilities
  • Substance abuse
  • Health problems that develop because of  neglect
  • Premature death

  • Physical violence towards others
  • Withdrawal from other people
  • Problems at school
  • High risk behaviours eg. substance misuse or risky sexual behaviours
  • Teen pregnancy

  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Unhealthy views of marriage
  • Acceptance that violence in a relationship is normal

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Young girl with PTSD on her bed crying.

The effects of domestic violence on adults

For adults, it can also have serious knock-on effects in different aspects of their life, such as:

  • Long-term physical injuries
  • Gynaecological problems from sexual violence in women
  • Physical violence that may actually result in death
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Premature death

  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Inability to work
  • Loss of wages
  • Difficulty forming or maintaining relationships

What should you do if you suspect that someone is in an abusive relationship?

If you think that someone you know is in an abusive relationship, it can be really difficult to know what the right thing to do is. You may not step in because you might be scared of interfering, and by doing so you may worry  that you might lose them as a friend. Despite that, there are some things you can do to try and help the victim, for example:

1. Be supportive

The main thing is to be supportive. Listen to your friend and let them open up on their own. Offer no judgement, remember that it will be extremely difficult and traumatic for them to talk about it.

2. Don't be too forceful

Don’t be too forceful with your opinions, this may make your friend/family member feel defensive and shut down. They may not feel that you are a safe person to speak with anymore.

3. Let them make their own decisions

Allow your friend/family member to make their own decisions. Their relationship is likely extremely complex! By demanding that they leave their partner, you might actually be mimicking the forceful behaviours that they are used to. This could actually put more stress on them.

4. Offer them safety & practical support

Try and have some simple solutions at hand but let them know that you will support them whatever they decide. They may want to speak to someone on the phone, or in person. Offer them a safe place to stay if you can and help them to plan their next steps.

5. Act fast if the victim is in immediate danger

If you believe your friend is in imminent danger then the best thing to do is to call emergency services right away. Many domestic violence relationships end in death when the victim tries to leave.

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Why is it sometimes hard for domestic violence victims to leave?

If you are not a victim of domestic violence, it may be extremely difficult for you to understand why someone would not just simply leave an abusive relationship. There are often a lot of factors involved that make it extremely difficult for someone to leave the relationship, for example:

  • The victim may not actually understand that they are in an abusive relationship. They may actually think that the abusive behaviours that they are putting up with are normal.

  • Lack of self confidence and self-esteem. This may make the victim feel like they are unable to leave as there would be no better option.

  • Apologies and promises from their abuser. Often abusive behaviour is followed by grand apologies and promises that it will never happen again.

  • It is too dangerous to leave. They may feel like their life would be in danger if they leave the abusive relationship.

  • Culture dictates that they cannot leave. Religions that do not agree with separation or divorce may make someone feel like they cannot leave as they would bring shame on their family.

  • They believe something might change. Many people feel that their partner might change if they can just stick it out a little bit longer.

  • Children. Being in a relationship with children often complicates the ability to just walk away.

  • No access to money. In cases where the abuser has restricted them financially, they have no access to cash to simply leave and start a new life.

  • Isolation. Through a period of abuse, the victim is often isolated from their friends and family. After a period of not being able to see or talk to them, they often feel that they cannot tell them about what’s going on in a bid to leave.

Who can you go to for help if you are being abused?

Going to someone for help when you are the victim of domestic violence can be very scary. Who can you trust? Who will help you? Who will listen?

There are a few different options. It is a good idea to think about who could help you best. You may be able to receive help from:

  • A trusted family member
  • A friend
  • Your doctor
  • A charity
  • The police

Charity Groups & Government Services

They are a few charity groups and government services in Iraq that you may be able to contact for support:

These organisations help women threatened by violence to escape to safety and begin rebuilding their lives. They have allies and escape routes and aim to create positive change by strengthening a woman’s capacity to demand their rights to freedom from violence.

 

You can access them on the following websites & pages:

 

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior is an official government agency with a department dedicated to family and child protection. Their website offers information and contact details for victims of domestic violence.

 

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior Website

 

Email address: fcp@moi.gov.iq


You can also call their hotline number at: 139

Emergency services are available if you feel that your life is in immediate danger. By calling them yourself or on behalf of someone else, it could help save a life.

If your life or someone else’s life is in danger, call 115

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The domestic violence signal for help

Recently, there has been a video circling online, about a hand signal that can be used on video calls to tell someone that you are suffering from domestic violence. The signal for help was created by the Canadians Women’s Foundation, and provides a silent way for a person to show that they are in distress and would like help.

The hand is held up with the palm facing the camera before the thumb is tucked into the palm and fingers closed over the top. It helps someone signpost that they are experiencing abuse but not in an obvious way that would leave any trace.

Signal For Help Step 1: Palm To Camera & Tuck Thumb In
Signal For Help Step 2: Trap thumb
Signal For Help Instructions

What to do if you see the signal for help sign

If someone uses the gesture with you to indicate that they are suffering with abuse, try to do the following:

1. Do not react

Try and continue the conversation on normally so as not to alert suspicion to anyone that may be listening.

2. Call them and only ask them questions that can be answered with yes or no

This reduces the risk of putting someone in danger incase someone is listening to them.

3. Try to meet them in person if it is safe and they are willing to meet you

If it is safe for both of you, and the victim is willing to, try and meet up with them in person somewhere where you can be sure you are alone. You can use this opportunity to support them emotionally and to ask if there are any other ways you can help them.

4. When it is safe to do so, ask them if they want you to contact someone on their behalf

When it is safe, you might want to ask if they would like you to call the police, a shelter, or even if they would like you to call and check in on them everyday.

5. Use another form of communication such as text, social media, WhatsApp, or email and ask general questions

This may be safer for your friend or family member as someone might be watching their device or accounts. For example, you can ask: “How are you doing?” or “How can I help you out?” without arousing suspicion.

6. Act fast if the victim is in immediate danger

If you believe the victim is in imminent danger then the best thing to do is to call emergency services right away. Many domestic violence relationships end in death when the victim tries to leave.

Taking these steps can be so helpful to someone suffering with domestic violence and may be the start of them getting help or trying to get out. It is important to have patience and support them in any way you can.

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Is domestic violence illegal in Iraq?

Domestic violence is a serious problem in Iraq. The Iraqi constitution prohibits ‘all forms of violence and abuse in the family’, however, only the Kurdistan region actually has a law against domestic violence.12

A major problem is that in Iraq, victims of domestic violence often do not make complaints to the police because they feel ashamed or do not think they will be taken seriously.

The law in Iraq criminalises physical assault, but does not expressly mention domestic violence.12

Article 41 within the law actually gives a husband a legal right to punish his wife within the ‘limits of the law’. It also gives the right for parents to punish their children.11

Those who commit violent acts or honour killings often receive shorter sentences. Honour violence is seen as an acceptable cultural act in most places within Iraq.12

There was an effort in Iraq to pass a law against domestic violence in 2019-2020 but this was blocked as some members of parliament do no believe that the state should punish honour killings or corporal punishment of children.This does not make these things right or normal, and campaigners continue to fight to change the law.12

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  11. Iraq: Urgent Need for Domestic Violence Law. Human Rights Watch. 2020 April 22. (Access here)

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