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Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 provides the first statutory definition of domestic abuse which is defined as:

  • Where the perpetrator and victim are both ages 16 or older,
  • The behaviour is abusive; and
  • The victim and perpetrator have a relationship that makes them “personally connected”.

“Abusive” behaviour is described as:

  • Physical or sexual abuse;
  • Violent or threatening behaviour;
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour;
  • Economic abuse;
  • Physiological, emotional or other abuse.

And the meaning of “personally connected” has been extended to include people who:

  • are or have been married to each other;
  • are or have been civil partners of each other;
  • are or have been engaged to marry one another;
  • have entered into a civil partnership agreement;
  • are or have been in an intimate relationship with one another;
  • have each had a parental relationship in relation to the same child.

The Act also now allows for children to be seen as the victims of domestic abuse – rather than as “witnesses” if they “see or hear, or experience the effects of, the abuse”.

Protected Characteristics in Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 requires that children who live in a home where domestic abuse takes place are recognised as victims in their own right.

Children are affected by many forms of coercive and control beyond physical violence against one of their parents, including:

  • Control of time and movement in the home,
  • Deprivation of resources and imprisonment
  • Isolation from the outside world

More can be read in Dr Emma Katz presentation

Living in a home where there’s domestic abuse is harmful. It can have a serious impact on a child’s behaviour and wellbeing. Children are individuals and may respond to witnessing abuse in different ways. These are some of the effects described in a briefing by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2004):

  • They may become anxious or depressed
  • They may have difficulty sleeping
  • They have nightmares or flashbacks
  • They can be easily startled
  • They may complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches
  • They may start to wet their bed
  • They may have temper tantrums
  • They may behave as though they are much younger than they are
  • They may have problems with school
  • They may become aggressive or they may internalise their distress and withdraw from other people
  • They may have a lowered sense of self-worth
  • Older children may begin to play truant or start to use alcohol or drugs
  • They may begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves
  • They may have an eating disorder

Children may also feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused. They may have ambivalent feelings towards both the abuser and the non-abusing parent.

Parents or carers may underestimate the effects of the abuse on their children because they don’t see what’s happening.

A MARAC, or multi-agency risk assessment conference, is a meeting where information is shared on the highest risk domestic abuse cases between representatives of local police, probation, health, child protection, housing practitioners, Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) and other specialists from the statutory and voluntary sectors.

After sharing all relevant information about a victim, representatives discuss options for increasing safety for the victim and turn these options into a co-ordinated action plan. The primary focus of the MARAC is to safeguard the adult victim.

Information about tools to support referrals and the MARAC referral form can be found in the practitioners tool box

A domestic homicide review is carried out when a person has been killed as a result of domestic violence. It attempts to identify what happened, and what needs to change to reduce risk in the future. This document provides an analysis of what is known about domestic homicide and draws out common themes and trends and identifies learning that emerged across a sample of DHRs.

Alcohol (and other drugs) do not cause domestic abuse. However, both perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse may drink alcohol. This briefing offers some considerations relating to alcohol and domestic violence during the restrictions placed on households.