A wider definition of domestic abuse will help social workers safeguard more adult victims

Social work organisations respond to a Home Office consultation on strengthening the law around domestic abuse

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REX/ A. Gelebart/ 20 minutes/SIPA

A new offence around domestic abuse should widen its definition to include abuse by any family member, according to the Association for Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS).

The Home Office consultation on strengthening the law on domestic abuse closed last week and was responded to by social work organisations including ADASS and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).

The consultation proposed a new prosecutable offence of “coercive and controlling behaviour” be introduced  to empower victims of non-violent domestic abuse to pursue a conviction.

A joint response to the consultation by ADASS and the Local Government Association (LGA) welcomed the prospect of new laws to strengthen professionals’ response to domestic abuse, but said the consultation document is “inconsistent regarding whether the proposed offence would apply just to people in intimate relationships or more widely.”

Adi Cooper, joint chair of the ADASS policy network on adult safeguarding, said strengthening the law would help social workers on the ground by giving them a “formal sanction to refer to in terms of their day to day case work.”

Extending the definition to include all family members would enable more adult victims of abuse to be safeguarded, she said.

But women’s charity Refuge expressed concern in its consultation response that intimate partner violence being grouped together with family violence obscures the fact that “domestic violence is largely a problem of male violence against women,” its response said.

The charity said government should make sure existing legislation is being properly implemented and resourced instead of creating a new offence.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) supports the idea of creating a recognisable offence around abuse. Professional officer Nushra Mansuri said: “If professionals see it as something lesser, it trivialises it. By saying, this is an offence, it gives it more weight.”

BASW recommended setting out a matrix to demonstrate “the differences in sanctions where similar offences have been committed to domestic abuse, but not by intimate partners to intimate partners, as this would clearly highlight the disparities that exist.”

But the biggest barrier to preventing domestic violence is still the lack of resources, Mansuri said.

Lack of funds means currently social services will only intervene in domestic violence cases where child protection issues arise, or where the adult victim is already known to social services for other reasons, setting the threshold to get help too high, Mansuri said.

In its response, BASW said: “the rationing of resources has also inevitably led to individual agencies and multi-agency forums creating…’a hierarchy of seriousness’ which means that cases categorised as ‘low risk’ are very unlikely to access statutory services unless they escalate.”

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One Response to A wider definition of domestic abuse will help social workers safeguard more adult victims

  1. Anonymous November 2, 2014 at 6:27 am #

    It is not the law that needs changing, it is the knowledge and understanding of front-line Police, Social Workers, Solicitors, Barristers and the Judicial System that needs changing, until there is greater clarity as to what constitutes domestic abuse, there is little point governing the laws on the issue for the simple fact that it will not be implemented. At its basic level “until we understand it, we cannot act on it”.

    Professionals struggle with domestic abuse because it cannot be seen, there are no external bruises and therefore the forensic evidence for prosecution is lacking. How can you evidence something you cannot see…………???

    Some years ago I had the honourable opportunity of attending the Freedom Programme with Pat Craven and Lavina Moore. Pat Craven is the author of The Dominator. Pat Craven was a Probation Officer for over twenty years, she worked specifically with perpetrators of domestic abuse and violence. She realised that she could use her learning and knowledge to empower and educate women who had experienced domestic abuse and violence. I have a real issue with the terms “victims and survivors”, in that, it suggests the perpetrators have great power and control – They do not it is the woman that reclaims her power and control by reclaiming her life.
    The course was funded (£300) by the Local Authority and held over three days, it was available to all frontline social workers working within children’s services. What was exceptional about the three days which completely changed my practice, insight and how I worked with women who had suffered domestic/abuse and violence. For the three days, domestic abuse and violence unified all who attended as women, there was no issues of power and control, despite half of the attendees being child protection and family support social workers. The other half were women who had freely chosen to attend for their own personal reasons and, for some, to share their own story of abuse.
    In my view what is lacking is a clear understanding of what domestic abuse looks like so I thought I would share some learning to assist people’s understanding.

    Domestic abuse does not feature in isolation it is accompanied by an extremely high level of emotional and psychological abuse which has far reaching implications and internal injuries. An analogy is this: Domestic violence is violence, sexual violence (rape), the perpetrator will punch, head butt, kick, spit, bite namely on the face so the women has to walk around showing it of – he feels proud look at what I have achieved. Those that know him and share similar attitudes which are supportive of violence and abuse will commend him. I on the other hand do not. The message here is that with domestic violence you can see it, it is visible and can be photographed for evidential purposes which is used to support a prosecution.

    Domestic abuse is in part this, Harassment – He calls repeatedly on the home/mobile to the degree that it becomes controlling, the woman eventually has to unplug or turn of the phone. When there is no reply after 30 calls, he threatens to turn up at her property because this allows him to impinge on her and the children’s lives further. Now he can attend and be verbally and emotionally abusive – his presence is felt but he hasn’t even arrived. The fear and trepidation that he threatens to attend makes her flee her home and over a long and sustained period the threats have a detrimental impact on her mental health, but that also of the children’s mental health. When he calls he shouts at her, name calling, intimidation, threats, abuse. This is also followed up by texts and emails – The phone becomes the transporter of domestic abuse.

    He threatens to report her abusive behaviour to the police and social services, he tells her that she is lucky he is her ex-partner because he has friends that “are really abusive”. The irony is that he does not get his own behaviour is abusive. He may attempt to publicly annihilate her on social media, he uses the judicial system to support his abusive behaviour and often he wins because he is articulate and there is little understanding or recognition of domestic abuse by way of harassment, emotional and psychological abuse to her and her children.

    Domestic abuse is abuse, it should not have to widen its definition to include abuse by any family member because any person can experience abuse and any person can be a perpetrator. It does not need to be defined in law, it is simply common sense.
    The law can be strengthened however, until front line professionals have greater understanding and clarity, the law will not be implemented because people do not understand domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can feature in any one person’s relationship, with a partner, sister, brother, parent, aunt, uncle – Better time and resources would be spent training professionals on the issue which, is also the view of Women’s Refuge Charity, rather than the points raised by the ADSS and BASW.

    BASW said: “the rationing of resources has also inevitably led to individual agencies and multi-agency forums creating…’a hierarchy of seriousness’ which means that cases categorised as ‘low risk’ are very unlikely to access statutory services unless they escalate.” I have not been able to identify what research BASW has based this on.

    The whole point is completely missed by Parliament, ADSS and BASW, a lot of women suffering domestic abuse hardly realise it, some (not all) professionals are not able to identify it is happening because there are no external bruises. Women going through this experience often feel like they are going mad (literally) – because that is the impact of domestic abuse. To reassure any person in this situation, you are not going mad but you are experiencing domestic abuse.