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Women’s Aid and University of Bristol launch research into the gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse

Press release issued: 20 July 2021

Women’s Aid and University of Bristol launch research into the gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse

New research by Women’s Aid and the University of Bristol published in a report today updates the evidence base on the gendered nature of domestic abuse. Gendered experiences of justice and domestic abuse shows that gender stereotypes play a significant role in women’s experiences of domestic abuse and set the scene for male abusive partners’ coercive and controlling behaviours.

The research involved the analysis of 37 in-depth interviews with female survivors of domestic abuse, identifying three key themes: household/relationship roles, sexuality and intimate partner relationships and mental health and domestic abuse. It identified the harm caused by sexist stereotypes and social norms that sexually objectify women, create hierarchical division of roles in the home, and label women as “crazy” or over-emotional. These stereotypes create barriers to female survivors being believed and supported to leave abusive men.

The findings further highlight the importance of responding to domestic abuse as a form of violence against women and girls (VAWG), and sufficiently funding safe, empowering spaces led by women for women.

Women’s Aid is currently running a national campaign calling for the government to require local authorities to fund specific domestic abuse services for women and ensure that the £125m statutory duty in the Domestic Abuse Act reaches local specialist women’s domestic abuse services.

Alongside the publication of the report, Women’s Aid is today launching a social media campaign #FlipTheSexistScript, calling for unlearning of gender stereotypes and the unpicking of social power imbalances.

Farah Nazeer, chief executive at Women’s Aid said: “Our new research with the University of Bristol shows the extent to which gender stereotypes place the man in charge, cause power imbalances in the home and set the scene for domestic abuse.

"Female survivors described how their male partners held the view that as men, they should be the ones to make the decisions about the household. These decisions formed the basis of abusive and controlling behaviours — leaving women with no say in how the household is run and with an expectation for women to be sexually available and compliant. This is not what healthy, loving homes look like. Women’s bodies and lives do not belong to men.

"We need to build a world where harmful gender stereotypes and domestic abuse are no longer tolerated. To do this, we need to unlearn sexist gender stereotypes and unpick the power imbalances which are so engrained in our society.

"If the findings in today’s report have helped you spot the signs of an abusive relationship, please reach out for support. Women’s Aid is here for you.”

Professor Marianne Hester, Chair in Gender, Violence & International Policy, School for Policy Studies, at the University of Bristol said: “This work is really important. It provides new and detailed evidence about the way domestic abuse is perpetrated and justified by men in relationships with women. The research shows the importance of countering sexist stereotypes, as they underpin and normalize domestic abuse against women.”

This research was made possible by a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship, funded by Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Award – ESRC IAA, between the University of Bristol and Women’s Aid. It was the first time a Fellow, in this case a researcher from Woman’s Aid, was brought into and temporarily based at the University of Bristol from a national charity. 

Further information

Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Since 1974 it has been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic abuse, with survivors at the heart of its work. It is a federation of more than 170 organisations which provide just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country.

The Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol, is a centre of excellence for research on gender based violence based in the School for Policy Studies. It aims to tackle gender based violence in its many forms and make a positive difference to the lives of individuals and communities touched by gender based violence, including survivors and perpetrators, whether adults or children, and professionals who may work with them. Projects are usually conducted in collaboration with survivor organisations and others working to tackle gender based violence. Its research informs understanding of gender based violence, policy, practice and action, in the UK and beyond. Find out more.

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