Domestic abuse affects not only the victim, but the whole family

Teenage girl looking directly at window

Domestic abuse is controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 and over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members (mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister or grandparents, directly related, in-laws or stepfamily), regardless of gender or sexuality.

Around one in five children have witnessed domestic abuse, with a third of children witnessing domestic abuse also experiencing another form of abuse.

There is growing evidence that children who live in families where there is violence between the parents can suffer serious long-term emotional effects. Even if they are not physically harmed, children may suffer lasting emotional and psychological damage as a result of witnessing violence. They may be encouraged to take part in bullying or threatening a parent, or be threatened by one parent as a way of controlling the other (Barnardos).

Research evidence shows that children experiencing domestic violence and abuse can be negatively affected in every aspect of their functioning, safety, physical and mental health and well-being, school attendance and achievement, economic wellbeing and emotional development. The effects may continue into adulthood affecting their ability to form peer friendships and healthy partner relationships of their own. In the most extreme cases, children are at risk of serious injury or death as a result of domestic violence and abuse. For many children experience of living with domestic violence and abuse is the underlying factor in other needs for which they come to the notice of services and individual organisations (Dorset Safeguarding Children Board).

Nearly 75% of girls and 50% of boys have reported some sort of emotional partner abuse.

The national strategy

The Government’s strategy to tackle violence against girls and women was first outlined in 2010 and updated last year. The document outlines the key actions that need to be taken by different agencies to prevent and protect girls and women and vulnerable people, and prosecute those who perpetrate violence.

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse

Domestic violence and abuse is defined as any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, 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 abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

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.

The Government definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called 'honour’ based violence, including FGM and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

Domestic violence and young people

The changes to the definition of 'domestic' raise awareness that young people in the 16 to 17 age group can also be victims of domestic violence and abuse. Young people’s awareness of domestic violence was raised through the Government's 'This is abuse' campaign. The campaign ran from 2010 to 2014 and was targeted at 13 to 18 year old boys and girls. It aimed to encourage teenagers to re-think their views on violence, abuse, controlling behaviour and what consent means within their relationships. A report summarising the development and evaluation of the campaign was published in March 2015.

Changes introduced in recent years

In recent years a number of important changes were made to legislation to improve response to victims of domestic violence. Significant new legislation is now in place defining offences of stalking, forced marriage, failure to protect from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and revenge pornography, as well as the new domestic abuse offence.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

FGM is illegal in England and Wales under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 as amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015. Under the legislation, failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM is an offence. The law also provides for FGM Protection Orders which can be used to protect girls at risk and places a mandatory reporting duty on specified professionals to report known cases of FGM in under 18s to the police.

The statutory guidance on female genital mutilation came into force in 2016.

Forced marriage

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes it a criminal offence to force someone to marry. A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. It is an appalling and indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.

New criminal offence of coercive and controlling behaviour

The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced a criminal offence of coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate and family relationships. It is a behaviour which causes someone to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions; or causes them serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their usual day-to-day activities. Victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that amounts to psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice. It carries a maximum 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. Guidance for police and criminal justice officials on the offence is available.

Domestic violence protection notices and orders

Domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) are being implemented across England and Wales from 8 March 2014. Domestic violence protection orders can be issued by the police. They enable the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident. With DVPOs, a perpetrator can be banned with immediate effect from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days, allowing the victim time to consider their options and get the support they need.

Domestic violence disclosure scheme

From 8 March 2014, the domestic violence disclosure scheme or 'Clare’s Law' as it is more commonly known, was implemented across England and Wales.

This gives members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, where there is a concern that the individual may be violent towards their partner.

If police checks show that the individual has a record of violent offences, or there is other information to indicate that someone may be at risk, the police will consider sharing this information.

The aim of the scheme is to increase public safety and afford victims of domestic abuse with better protection by helping people make a more informed decision on whether to continue a relationship. It also provides help and support to assist individuals when making that choice.

Role of Independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs):

IDVAs help keep victims and their children safe from harm from violent partners or family.

Serving as a victim’s primary point of contact, IDVAs normally work with their clients from the point of crisis, to assess the level of risk. They help with developing plans for longer term safety, represent victims and their children at multiagency meetings and communications, such as multiagency risk assessment conference (MARAC), develop plans for immediate safety.