What can be gleaned from the statistics about domestic abuse?

Here are some staggering facts about domestic abuse:

Don’t think it’s confined to just women or certain sections of society. Of those aged 16-74 who told the Crime Survey for England and Wales that they had experienced some form of domestic abuse since they were 16, a third were male and two thirds were female. Twenty nine percent, nearly a third, of perpetrators are in professional, senior or middle management roles.

Another interesting point to note is that recently the bureau of investigative journalism has reported that police forces in England and Wales are facing a super-complaint ( a device to help groups challenge endemic problems in policing) over their handling of domestic abuse allegations against officers. Police officers are much less likely to be convicted than members of the public. Of nearly 700 reports of police-perpetrated domestic abuse over a three year period, less than a quarter ended in professional disciplinary action.

domestic abuse

Let’s take a detailed look at the data from the Crime Survey.

In the year ending March 2018, 29% of all women and 13% of all men aged 16 to 59 interviewed for the Crime Survey for England and Wales said that they’d experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16. That’s the equivalent of around 2.2 million men and 4.8 million women in England and Wales who have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. This figure includes all types of domestic abuse, including from family members or partners, and physical and sexual, as well as stalking. Looking at those individual types of abuse, 29%, nearly a third, of those who report being a victim of partner abuse were men. Of those who said they had experienced family abuse, 36%, over a third, were men.

The Crime Survey has just started to ask people aged 60 to 74 whether they have experienced domestic abuse (although the survey is just for households so will miss those in care homes). The prevalence in this group was a bit lower – 9% of men and 19% of women in this age group reported that they had experienced domestic abuse since they were 16 (which indicates that domestic abuse has become more common in the last 50 years!  Why would that be?). Looking at those percentages among the total population aged 60 to 74 who had experienced domestic abuse around 31% were male and 69% were female.

How is data on domestic abuse recorded?

The prevalence of domestic abuse is notoriously hard to measure.  It requires victims to report it to the police or to surveys and even then it’s difficult to measure how often it’s happening to the individual. The Crime Survey for England and Wales is based on interviews with almost 35,000 people living in households. One of the benefits of this survey is that it picks up crimes that have not been reported to the police. While a lot of the interviewing is face-to-face, much of the reporting is by respondents answering questions using a tablet which they say “allows respondents to feel more at ease when answering these sensitive questions”.  The survey’s definition of domestic abuse doesn’t include the more recent offence of “coercive and controlling behaviour”. This is emotional and psychological abuse that doesn’t always include physical violence.

Four percent of men and 8% of women aged between 16 and 59 surveyed said they had experienced domestic abuse within the last year. That equates to an estimated 695,000 men and 1.3 million women. Men make up 35% of the total number of 16 to 59 year-olds who reported they had experienced domestic abuse within the last year.

The Office for National Statistics says the prevalence of domestic abuse has shown “little change from year to year”.

Other data, this time from SafeLives

What’s  apparent from research by SafeLives is that victims tolerate the abusive behaviour for a considerable time, in fact sometimes for years, and those who eventually take some steps to leave the relationship often return. For those who haven’t experienced it, it’s difficult to understand why. SafeLives suggest a number of reasons; victims sometimes don’t even realise what they’re experiencing is abuse, or they live in physical fear or fear of the consequences for others, their children for example, if they disclose it.

Let’s look at some of the numbers:-

  • On average victims deemed to be at high risk don’t report the problem for 2.3 years and those at medium risk for 3 years before getting help.
  • Eighty five percent of victims who sought help from professionals did so on average 5 times in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse.
  • On average victims experience 50 incidents of abuse before getting effective help.
  • Seventy eight percent of high risk victims report their abuse to the police on average 2.8 times each in the year before they get effective help.
  • Sixty eight percent of high risk victims try to leave the relationship on average 2 or 3 times each in the year before getting effective help.
  • Twenty three percent of high risk victims attend A&E with injuries, many multiple times, in the year before getting effective help.
  • Thirty four percent of children in high risk households are not known to social services.
  • Eighty percent of children who are still living in domestic abuse households are known to at least one public authority.
  • Domestic abuse crimes take up 8% of overall crime, 11% of all sexual offences,
  • 33% of all recorded assaults where injuries were inflicted and 49% of all recorded harassment crimes in England and Wales.

So how can victims escape and not get caught in the cycle of leaving and returning?

The most interesting issue in these statistics is the use of the phrase ‘effective help’ which is not defined. What’s clear is that victims in these circumstances don’t perceive the help they receive as effective. That’s a serious problem. Presumably this includes the police, charities, lawyers, and other helping agencies. They don’t seem to be able to take the step of removing themselves from the household without a number of failed attempts. This has to be hugely damaging for victims and their children.

You have to wonder what’s wrong with the help that leads them to return home. Is it that the help actually is inadequate or could it be much more complicated than that. I’m guessing one factor is the power of the perpetrator to keep re-engaging the victim often through fear and threats of continued harm to them and children. That’s certainly what I’ve heard from victims regularly. They’ve even been prepared to withdraw complaints at the door of the Court. I’ve also had regular experiences of helping victims find a refuge and taken them there only to discover that they’ve returned home after a few hours or days. This cycle of failure is a difficult problem to solve for the victims and for those wanting to help them.

My impression is that victims have little understanding, and why should they, of how to be effective. They are unprepared for leaving and unaware of their rights and what’s possible. That’s not a surprise either as they’re often being told they’re hopeless and won’t be able to function independently. It’s really difficult for anyone to find good practical and emotional support and legal advice all at the same time but especially when they’re at their most vulnerable i.e. when they’re leaving their own home and household. In essence some people can summon up the will and energy to leave but they don’t have a proper plan of what to do or any idea how it will shape up if they execute it.

One idea to help with this is to encourage victims to make themselves aware of what’s available to them locally and put a viable plan in place before they leave. To have in mind a list of what to do and in what order. So think about issues like. Where will I go? How will I get money? Where are there lawyers who deal with my kind of case and who’s good? Will I get legal aid? Should I go to the police or lawyers or both? What about the children. How can they be kept safe.  Understand the extent of what has to be done and know exactly what you need to do when you leave.  That way you will be more effective and save yourself from the added psychological damage of failing to escape from the abuse when you finally try.

There’s a video on our ONRECORD YouTube channel  – ‘Domestic abuse: Make a plan in advance’, which will be helpful. It covers some but not all of the things you need to think about. Everyone is different so you’ll need to make their own specific plans.

Finally if you have someone you trust, whether a professional or friend who will help, you should share the plan with them so they are aware of what you’re going to do and will encourage you to put the plan into action and not be tempted to go back.

This article was written by Jill Canvin at ONRECORD, an evidence gathering app. Truth Legal are proud to support the creators of ONRECORD.