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.”