Domestic Abuse

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is:

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

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.

A coercive or controlling behaviour offence came into force in December 2015. It carries a maximum 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. Victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.

The offence closes a gap in the law around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour that occurs during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners who still live together or family members.

Domestic abuse 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.

By including this age group the government hopes to encourage young people to come forward and get the support they need, through a helpline or specialist service.

Young people’s panel

A young people’s panel will be set up by the NSPCC. The panel will consist of up to 5 members between the age of 16 and 22, who will work with the government on domestic violence policy and wider work to fight violence against women and girls.

Domestic violence disclosure scheme

From 8 March 2014, the domestic violence disclosure scheme was implemented across England and Wales. This follows the successful conclusion of a 1 year pilot in the Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, West Mercia and Wiltshire police force areas.

Right to ask

Under the scheme an individual can ask police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. This is the ‘right to ask’. If records show that an individual may be at risk of domestic violence from a partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. A disclosure can be made if it is legal, proportionate and necessary to do so.

Right to know

This enables an agency to apply for a disclosure if the agency believes that an individual is at risk of domestic violence from their partner. Again, the police can release information if it is lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so.

Domestic violence protection notices and orders:

Domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) have been implemented across England and Wales from 8 March 2014. This follows the successful conclusion of a 1 year pilot in the West Mercia, Wiltshire and Greater Manchester police force areas.

Domestic violence protection orders are a new power that fills a gap in providing protection to victims by enabling 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.

Before the scheme, there was a gap in protection, because police couldn’t charge the perpetrator for lack of evidence and so provide protection to a victim through bail conditions, and because the process of granting injunctions took time.

Male victims of domestic and sexual violence fund 2011 to 2013

In December 2011 the Home Office launched a fund to support male victims of domestic and sexual violence. The following organisations were successful in this fund and received up to £10,000 to support services for male victims:

Survivors UK
Women’s Support Network
Arch North Staff
Southampton Rape Crisis
Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre
Blackpool Advocacy
Safer Wales
Preston Domestic Violence Service
North Derby Women’s Aid
GALOP (London’s LGBT anti-violence and abuse charity)
the Lesbian and Gay Foundation
Rosa (fund supporting initiatives for women and girls) and Safeline

Case Examples:

Mel B:

The brave disclosure by Mel B of years of abuse at the hands of her ex-partner Stephen Belafonte, is a clear example of the way domestic abuse cuts across all sections of society. It is not unique to one particular class or community, and there is no such thing as a ‘typical victim’. The combination of different types of abuse alleged – including physical abuse, coercive control, sexual and financial abuse – demonstrates why domestic abuse is such a devastating, life changing crime. It appears that it was not the first time Belafonte had been abusive towards a partner; it’s time we all stop asking ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ and start asking ‘why doesn’t he stop?’.

The allegation that Belafonte isolated Mel B from her friends and family, who felt powerless to help her, reminds us that we are all paralysed by the stigma around domestic abuse; we must all learn to talk about it if we are going to make it stop. We congratulate Mel B on taking the incredibly brave step to make this allegation in the public eye, and hope she can now begin to rebuild her life.

Mary Russell:

The death of Mary Russell, 81, from a bleed to the brain after an alleged assault by her 88-year-old husband Albert, has highlighted the fact that domestic violence among older couples is far more common than is generally thought.

Margaret Castle:

When Andrew Castle’s wife of 18 years asked him for a divorce, his response was to rig up a homemade electric chair in his garage and try to kill her. After inviting Margaret Castle into the garage “for a chat”, he sat her in the metal chair, intending to knock her unconscious with a rubber cosh before connecting the impromptu device to the mains.

Margaret Beardon:

A 79-year-old man from Somerset who was said to have “snapped” and strangled the wife he had cared for has been jailed for 12 months. Beardon had lost control after caring for his wife for more than a decade.

Sylvia Rowley-Bailey:

Edwards “saw red” and repeatedly stabbed Ms Rowley-Bailey after she goaded him with comments about his aging mother, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, was told.

Video Links:

BBC Panorama – Domestic Abuse Caught on Camera:

Behind Closed Doors:

Dangerous Love: