Thank you to everyone who contributed with their thoughts and views on this consultation. You can add your thoughts on the response on the discussion thread
1. Option 1 – The government’s definition of domestic violence remains the same
The current definition defines domestic violence as:
‘any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse [psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional] between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality’
Do you think the cross-government definition of domestic violence should remain the same?
Please add any comments to support your view:
The current definition encompasses a number of different behaviours, as well as acts of violence. A clear, definitive and tight definition is required, so there is no room for varied interpretation. Members felt that the current definition was adequate, although it was generally felt the term “Domestic Violence” was misleading, whereas the term “Domestic Abuse” was a more encompassing term. “Violence” implies the use of injurious physical force, while “abuse “carries the sense of exploiting and betraying a position of trust and power. The official/legal definition should, as far as possible, accord with the general public’s understanding of Domestic Violence; there has already been substantial diversity by adding the term “financial abuse” to the definition.
2. Option 2 – The definition of domestic violence is amended to include coercive control.
Domestic violence is often underpinned by a pattern of coercive control. Coercive control is a complex pattern of overlapping and repeated abuse perpetrated within a context of power and control. It can be described as a series of repeated incidents which may vary from lesser to greater severity. This could include things like the control of finances, verbal abuse or isolation which may include control over whom a person can see or where they can go. Psychological control is a unique factor that sets domestic violence apart from other types of crime. Such control could also include a person being forced to change their behaviour as a result of fear.
Do you think that coercive control should be included in the definition of domestic violence?
Please add any comments to support your view:
Wikivorce had wide-ranging responses from members of both genders who responded to this question.
Members who responded “no” to this question voiced grave concerns over the proposed inclusion of coercive behaviour:
1 – - It was felt by a number of our members that the consultation (and the Home Office vision “Ending Violence against Women and Girls”) is gender-biased against boys and men. The definition “seeks to include a list of other behaviours - honour crimes, forced marriage, female genital mutilation - of which only women can be the victims and - by implication - only men the perpetrators”. A consultation that is free from gender-specific crimes would have been more appropriate, and one that acknowledged the suffering of male victims and aimed at redressing the current funding and front-line support imbalance for male victims in comparison to those for female victims, and therefore providing those male victims with the support/risk assessments and refuge accommodation that is currently extremely and woefully inadequate. According to the Home Office’s own figures, year on year, male victims represent about 40% of all Domestic Violence victims, changing the definition would only impact on the relevant percentages. (this doesn’t seem to read correctly)
2 - Coercive behaviour is NOT an act of violence, and such an inclusion would not only diminish and undermine the suffering caused by actual acts of violence , but would also mean that individuals would be labelled as violent when in fact, they had committed no violent act at all. This could have serious implications for those who have to resort to court action to seek contact with their children (mostly fathers) and would give leverage to those maliciously seeking to remove an unwanted spouse/partner from the family home and/or to wilfully and maliciously prevent contact between a parent and child by making false allegations of coercive control.
3 – The inclusion of coercive behaviour would dilute the seriousness of a criminal act, namely domestic violence.
4 – The term “coercive behaviour” is open to interpretation and is subjective; and there is confusion as to how a definitive definition can be reasonably (and without gender-bias) reached, so that there is no room for varied interpretation by the Judiciary, the public, victims and front-line practitioners.
5 – The Courts would be seriously impacted in the rise in number of domestic violence cases where “coercive behaviour” has been cited, and valuable court time, and funding, would be spent on sorting out “he said/she said” disagreements, without any real proof or actual evidence. This would also seriously impact on the resources and time required to deal with cases of genuine Domestic Violence. Concern was raised over the specialised Domestic Violence courts, which, to some, appear to by-pass due legal process.
6 – Concerns were raised over why the Government would seek to change the definition of Domestic Violence that the Government itself uses, rather than the legal definition. Why would more than one definition be required? One legal definition, applied universally by all agencies, Government departments, the Judiciary, and front-line practitioners, and one that is not based on gender is required.
7 – The current Government definition already includes “threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional). This current definition is varied enough to cover a whole range of different behaviours.
Members who responded “yes” argued the following points:
1 - Coercive control is “hidden” and often those who are victims do not realise the extent of the controlling and coercive behaviour until after they have left the relationship.
2 – Coercive control as a form of psychological abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse, and can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects.
3 – “An important issue is the implications of the definition for what happens in court. If the current proposals go through, we do need people who have been victims of coercive control to be able to get legal aid in divorce. How, otherwise, will they be able to get through the court process when faced by an intransigent abuser? As litigants in person they would be on their own faced with someone who had already controlled their lives for years.”
Do you think extending the definition would be helpful to victims as well as front line practitioners?
Please add any comments to support your view:
Extending the definition, which already includes “abuse [psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional]” is not required to aid victims, and could actually cause further confusion over what the Government definition of Domestic Violence is.
3. Option 3 – The government’s definition of domestic violence is extended to 16-17 year olds and Option 4 – The government’s definition of Domestic Violence is extended to all those under 18
At present, domestic violence committed against a person under 18 would be considered child abuse by most services. Whilst this may be appropriate for children experiencing parental or family based violence, there is the suggestion that the nature of teenage relationships is often more similar to relationships between adults and as such could be considered as an extension of adult domestic violence.
It is important to consider that people can be married aged 16 in England and Wales, provided they have consent from their parents or guardians, and many teenagers under the age of 18 are also parents.
Do you think the government’s definition of domestic violence should be extended to include 16-17 year olds?
Our members believed that the current protection and risk-assessments available to 16 and 17 year olds in intimate (and consensual) relationships are inadequate and that extending the definition to include that age group would mean those 16 and 17 year olds affected by partner inflicted domestic violence would receive the relevant support, risk assessments and access to services.
However, it was felt by some members that more research and statistical collecting was required to further understand the extent of domestic violence suffered by 16 and 17 year olds in an intimate relationship, and so that the appropriate services/support could be made available to both victims and perpetrators.
Should the government’s definition of domestic violence be extended to include all those under 18?
Our members felt that those minors living in the family home, and who are subjected to acts of domestic violence, either as a witness or as a first degree victim are afforded the necessary and appropriate protection under the current Child Abuse legislation.
IMPACTS ON SERVICES
We recognise that lowering the age criteria of the definition may have an impact on domestic violence services as they may be required to cater for age groups that had previously been excluded. It is recognised that there will inevitably be an overlap in
some services – for example, both sexual and domestic violence services already deal with cases of relationship abuse that include sexual violence. In addition, there may also be child exploitation issues within a domestic violence situation. It is also recognised that there
are often multiple issues experienced by either party in a relationship, or within families, where domestic violence is occurring, which could encompass issues such as substance misuse or mental health problems. This raises the question about how local agencies can work together to ensure the most appropriate response for the young person concerned.
SUPPORT SERVICES AVAILABLE FOR VICTIMS AND PERPETRATORS UNDER THE AGE OF 18
Currently, many refuges can only offer accommodation to victims who are aged 18 or over and this can act as a barrier for those who are trying to leave their current home in order to escape abuse. As the current definition of domestic violence is only applicable to those aged 18 or over, those under 18 may not be recognised as a victim, meaning a referral to specialist domestic violence services may not take place. In addition, the costs of accommodating those aged under 18 in specialist housing such as a refuge may not be covered by local authorities as they would be viewed as outside of the remit for domestic violence services.
REFERRALS TO MULTI AGENCY RISK ASSESSMENT CONFERENCES (MARACS) AND INDEPENDENT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ADVISER (IDVA) SERVICES
The MARAC is a multi-agency meeting that focuses on the safety of high-risk domestic violence victims. MARACs share information to build a picture of the victim’s situation and jointly devise a risk management plan to reduce harm faced by the victim and their families. The guidance for referrals to MARAC states that in cases involving 16-17 year olds professional judgement will be required to decide whether the MARAC or safeguarding route is more appropriate. IDVA services are officially available to those aged 18 or over, however, cases involving 16-17 year olds may also be referred to these services in some instances. Existing research indicates that MARACs (and IDVAs) have the potential to improve victims safety and reduce re-victimisation.
Question: If the definition were to be widened, what would the likely impacts be on services?
If the definition were to be widened, what would the likely impacts be on services?
Concerns were raised again about the impact on the Courts, should the definition be widened.
“The Courts would be seriously impacted in the rise in number of domestic violence cases where “coercive behaviour” has been cited, and valuable court time, and funding, would be spent on sorting out “he said/she said” disagreements, without any real proof or actual evidence. This would also seriously impact on the resources and time required to deal with cases of genuine Domestic Violence. Concern was raised over the specialised Domestic Violence courts, which ,to some, appear to by-pass due legal process.”
Please state any ideas or suggestions that you might have for delivering savings or other benefits in relation to the four options outlined in this consultation?
Extending the definition would certainly not produce any savings, quite the opposite. There would be a huge increase in litigations, including those that are false and malicious in nature. Educating non-violent abusers about their behaviour, and a Zero Tolerance approach to domestic abuse would be a start in preventing instances of Domestic Violence. Research into understanding why Domestic Violence happens is required – only once we have a true and gender-neutral perspective and understanding of why Domestic Violence occurs can we hope to reduce the incidences.