The terms ‘domestic violence’ and ‘domestic abuse’ are often used interchangeably, but ‘domestic abuse’ is now more commonly used as it is felt to be a more inclusive way to describe a range of behaviours, which include violence as well as all other forms of abuse.
According to the Home Office (March 2013), domestic abuse is defined as:
"Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality".
The Home Office definition goes on to state that it can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:
- Psychological (including threats and intimidation; the use of jealousy as a control; humiliation; constant criticism, etc);
- Physical (biting, kicking, punching, etc);
- Sexual (including rape);
Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.
This definition includes so called ‘honour based’ violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) (click here for the FGM multi-agency procedure) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.
The Home Office definition is non-statutory but recognises that past legal and cultural understanding of domestic abuse has been too narrowly focused on single physically violent incidents rather than complex and controlling patterns of behaviour. As a result of this, following national consultation, the law changed and coercive and controlling behaviour became a criminal offence (Serious Crime Act 2015).
Many forms of domestic abuse are crimes including: coercive and controlling behaviour; assault; false imprisonment; criminal damage; theft; fraud; harassment; murder and attempted murder; rape; forced marriage; causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to die or to suffer serious physical harm; and ill treatment and/or wilful neglect of a mentally incapacitated adult.
See also Definitions, Categories and Indicators of Abuse, Domestic Violence. Further information about the new Government definition of domestic violence and abuse can be found at the GOV.UK website. See also the following for more information: GOV.UK website: Guidance - Domestic Violence & Abuse
The Prevalence of Domestic Abuse
Women were more likely than men to have experienced intimate violence across all headline types of abuse asked about in the interpersonal violence section of the Crime Survey for England & Wales (CSEW March 2015) and covers those aged 16 - 59 years old. It estimates that 8.2% of women and 4.0% of men reported experiencing any type of domestic abuse in the last year (that is, partner/ex-partner abuse (non-sexual), family abuse (non-sexual) and sexual assault or stalking carried out by a current or former partner or other family member). This is equivalent to an estimated 1.3 million female victims and 600,000 male victims. There were 6.5% of women and 2.8% of men who reported having experienced any type of partner abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.1 million female victims and 500,000 male victims. Overall, 27.1% of women and 13.2% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.5 million female victims and 2.2 million male victims. Statistics and information about Domestic Violence can be accessed at the GOV.UK website and Crime Survey.
Whatever form it takes, domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident. It is more commonly a pattern of controlling or abusive behaviour through which the abuser seeks power over their victim. It occurs across all sectors of society, regardless of age, class, ethnicity, race, culture, sexuality or geography but figures show however, that it consists mostly of violence by men against women. Although men can be abused too, the statistics show that in most cases it is women who are abused and who experience more frequent and more severe abuse than men. Domestic abuse against men are typically characterised by one-off incidents (Crime Survey for England & Wales).
It is therefore important to acknowledge that domestic abuse is very much a gendered crime that is underpinned by power and control. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives and 1 in 10 women will experience domestic abuse at least once in the last year (Home Office 2010). On average, two women are killed every week by their current or ex-partner (Home Office Statistics). Around 45% of all female homicides each year are domestic homicides compared to 5 - 8 % for male homicides.
It continues to be heavily under-reported. There were 6,382 incidents reported to the Police in Sunderland in 2016-17 and based on levels of under-reporting we estimate that this would be closer to 11,600 - 15,600 victims in the last year (source: Sunderland Domestic Violence Health Needs Assessment 2013-14). Nationally, an HMIC Inspection (Everyone's Business 2014) found that a domestic abuse call was made to the police every 30 seconds requesting assistance.
It's rarely a one-off and a common statistic used is that it takes on average 35 assaults before a victim comes forward to report to the police.
Domestic abuse impacts negatively on children such as their emotional and physical safety and wellbeing, their behaviour and attendance at school, feelings of blame, social adjustment, etc.
Domestic abuse is high-cost. The Sunderland Domestic Violence Health Needs Assessment (2013-14) found it costs almost £80M per year in Sunderland, which is comparable to other public health priorities such as smoking and obesity.
Domestic Abuse and Complex Needs
Many domestic and sexual abuse victims have a myriad of complex needs which can include:
- mental ill-health
- drug and alcohol dependency
- learning disabilities
- physical disabilities
- women with symptoms of trauma
- victims of forced marriage, honour-based violence or female genital mutilation
- domestic slavery or trafficking
- women whose children are in care
- childhood experiences of sexual violence, or neglect and care
- sexual exploitation
Those with complex needs generally have longer term support needs and some may not necessarily be high risk, but have high levels of complexity and a high demand on public services. Multiple complexities often create multiple sites of disadvantage. Multiple markers of difference, such as age and ethnicity intersect to inform lived experiences which mean that some women's experience of abuse is not only gendered, but can also be connected to factors such as ethnicity, age, class, disability, sexuality or complex needs.
Domestic Abuse Legislation
The Government announced the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill 2017 to transform the approach to tackling this devastating crime. The key elements of the bill will be to create a clear definition of the crime in law, consolidate prevention and protection measures, ensure sentences reflect the harm that domestic abuse has upon children, and establish a new commissioner who will represent victims and survivors and drive forward progress.
The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 gives Police and other agencies the tools to get to the heart of domestic violence crimes. It aims to increase the protection, support and rights of victims of domestic violence and their witnesses.
This Act gives Police and courts powers to deal with domestic violence, including:
- Common assault is an arrestable offence;
- Courts can impose restraining orders when sentencing;
- The law applies to couples who have never married or lived together.
Section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004: causing or allowing the death of an Adult at Risk (or child) in a household - states that it is an offence to cause the death, and also to have stood by and not taken reasonable steps to safeguard the victim.
It is important that social care and health care professionals identify those cases where alleged abuse impacts upon wider family members, in particular children, so that they can also be recognised as potential victims of domestic abuse.
For issues of domestic abuse which fit with these Safeguarding Adults Procedures, a representative from the local domestic abuse services provider must be invited to attend any Safeguarding meetings.
There may be occasions where the local domestic abuse services provider has uncovered the domestic violence that has overlapped into these Safeguarding Adults Procedures. In such cases, it is the responsibility of the domestic abuse services provider to complete and forward the SAC referral form and contribute to the Safeguarding Strategy Discussion / Meeting, as appropriate, (see Part 3, Managing Individual Cases - Procedures Relating to All Cases). It is essential for the efficacy of these Procedures that representatives from agencies requested to participate in any Safeguarding meetings, respond appropriately and take an active role, as they would with any other Safeguarding meeting.
The involvement of the victim is of paramount importance and when possible, victims should be encouraged to participate and be present at meetings. This is of particular resonance in domestic violence cases as it is crucial that the alleged victim is aware of the support available to them and that their input, views, evidence and perspectives are valued. However, the appropriate risk assessments must be done in cases of domestic violence (see SafeLivesDASH-RIC) to ensure that the victim is not put at additional risk due to the Safeguarding Adults process, or due to their participation in it. Each case will need to be individually considered and agencies will need to work together to ensure these risks are mitigated.
Many domestic abuse/violence cases coming under the Safeguarding Adults Procedures will have Police involvement and as such, appropriate information sharing and communication with the Police is imperative to the safeguarding process. There may be cases where the alleged perpetrator is also under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) (see Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) Procedure) or Potentially Dangerous Persons (see Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) Procedure, Potentially Dangerous Persons) systems and again, liaison with the Police will be crucial to ensure the smooth and effective co-ordination of both processes.