Currently, under UK law, there is no specific offence of ‘domestic abuse’ or ‘domestic violence’. The different forms domestic violence can take are considered crimes in themselves, such as assault, criminal damage, rape, harassment and more, but the protection of the law is dependent on many things like the specific type of violence, circumstances involved, and the responses of criminal justice agencies. This means that a number of domestic violence and abuse victims miss out on receiving much needed justice and support, leaving them vulnerable to repeated patterns of abuse.
Ministers are now considering making domestic abuse an official law in order to eliminate any ambiguity about the definition, leaving no doubt about police powers to intervene, allowing for more accurate measurement of domestic abuse, and improving recognition of domestic abuse as a criminal act.
The responses to domestic violence and abuse have improved over recent years, and have also risen in the political agenda, however, domestic abuse is still significantly underrepresented legally, and the criminal law system is failing victims. A number of statistics taken from Women’s Aid paints an alarming picture of domestic abuse crime:
- In 30% of domestic violence incidents reported to the police, no action is taken.
- In a further 38% of cases, they give a warning, only.
- On average, 26% of reported incidents results in arrest - and just over a quarter of these lead to a charge (7% of all reported incidents.)
- 4% of reported incidents results in a conviction.
- Bindovers and fines are the most common sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence - and only one in 200 offenders receive a custodial sentence. (0.5% of recorded incidents).
One of the key things that the current criminal justice system does not take in to account, is that domestic abuse is generally a pattern of behaviour; on average, a victim will experience more than 35 assaults before reporting it to the police, and it is therefore unrealistic to charge perpetrators on an incident by incident basis. Victims of domestic abuse often state that the ongoing emotional and psychological abuse becomes the most debilitating aspect, causing long term damage to confidence and self esteem. Creating domestic abuse as a crime in its own right will mean that victims’ lived experiences of domestic abuse are properly recognised and taken in to consideration.
Making domestic abuse a crime will help to stigmatise the crime, and the victims’ case will not be hidden behind other charges, but named for what it is. This is turn will raise the profile of domestic abuse permanently in the public eye; media will report crimes and charges as ‘domestic abuse’, rather than ‘assault’ or ‘harassment’, and information and education about domestic abuse will need to be more readily accessible to everyone.