Domestic violence definition to include victims aged under 18

Campaigners have hailed government proposals to widen the definition of domestic violence to include victims aged under 18 and those who have experienced ongoing controlling behaviour from partners.

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Campaigners have hailed government proposals to widen the definition of domestic violence to include victims aged under 18 and those who have experienced ongoing controlling behaviour from partners.

The Home Office today published a consultation on establishing a new cross-government definition of domestic violence.

Currently the term applies to victims aged 18 or above, and the government is seeking views on whether it should be extended to 16- and 17-year-olds, or to all those aged under 18.

It is also canvassing opinion on whether the definition of domestic violence should include coercive control, which the Home Office describes as a “complex pattern of abuse using power and psychological control”, including control over finances, verbal abuse or isolation, and involving repeated incidents that differ in severity.

The current government definition defines domestic violence as “incidents of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse”, but home secretary Theresa May admitted that this does not effectively cover coercive control.

Campaigners have long argued that coercive control underpins most cases of domestic violence and is a key risk factor for murders.

“We know from our work with high risk domestic abuse services that a defining feature of the most dangerous domestic violence cases is controlling behaviour, and that this behaviour is exhibited by abusers more frequently than other types of abuse,” said Diana Barran, chief executive of Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse. “By changing the definition we will shine a light on the many victims who are constantly being controlled by their partners, and who may not realise that they are living with domestic abuse, but who are nonetheless at risk of serious harm or homicide.”

She also welcomed plans to lower the age of domestic violence victimhood. The 2009-10 British Crime Study found that 12.7% of women and 6.2% of men aged 16-19 had experienced some form of domestic abuse in the previous year, while a 2009 NSPCC study of young people aged 13-17 found 33% of girls had experienced some form of sexual abuse in partner relationships and 25% had experienced physical abuse.

The Home Office consultation also pointed out that people aged under 18 made up a large proportion of forced marriage victims.

The changes were also backed by St Michael’s Fellowship, which provides support to young parents.

“At St Michael’s Fellowship we see many young women in violent and controlling relationships, who struggle to recognise their situation for what it is,” said Sue Pettigrew. “We know that many young people define domestic violence only as physical violence, so this announcement is an important opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that abuse can take many forms.”

The consultation closes on 30 March 2012.

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