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The paper primarily focuses on those aged over 16 in England. Section 9 signposts support available in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

The paper does not detail support for victims during court proceedings or police-led procedures.

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21, expected to gain Royal Assent in April 2021, is currently progressing through Parliament. There are two Library papers on the Bill’s content: Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 (CBP8787) and Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21: Progress on the Bill (CBP 8959).

What is domestic violence and abuse?

There is currently no statutory definition of domestic violence and abuse, although the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 will, when in force, introduce a definition. A cross-Government definition was implemented from 2013. This definition covers those aged 16 and above and defines domestic violence and abuse as:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

“Abuse” can be psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional in form and can involve controlling or coercive behaviour:

Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

How prevalent is domestic abuse?

The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that in the year to March 2020, 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the previous year: 1.6 million women and 757,000 men. This is equivalent to around 5.5% of the 16-74 age group. A higher percentage of adults experienced abuse by a partner or ex-partner (4.0%) than by a family member (1.9%).

The SafeLives charity estimated that, on average, it takes three years for those experiencing domestic abuse to contact support services in England and Wales, and 6.5 years for those aged over 60. Abuse may also start, continue, or increase in severity on and after separation.

The Office for National Statistics has published indicators on the prevalence of domestic violence and use of domestic abuse services during the coronavirus pandemic, but noted that “it cannot be determined whether this increase [in police recorded crime] can be directly attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Overview of Support

Victims of domestic abuse may require support from multiple agencies. These agencies might include housing authorities to access temporary accommodation, followed by long-term help in setting up a new home, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) services and benefits to establish an independent income, and NHS services for health and counselling. Local authorities and educational institutions can play important roles through safeguarding and preventing abuse. 

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 & expected strategies in 2021

The Impact Assessment on the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 says the UK Government intends the legislation to “underpin a lasting culture change” that will lead to “improved support for all victims of domestic abuse and the children who are affected by it” and a “reduction in prevalence, offending and reoffending”. The intended effects are to reduce the emotional and social costs to victims and their families and the financial costs to both the public and private sector.

The UK Government intends the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, a position which will be given statutory footing by the Bill, to help improve the quantity and quality of services. The Bill would also introduce a requirement on local authorities to publish a strategy for the delivery of support within its area.

NHS England and NHS Improvement has committed to publishing a four-year plan on domestic abuse and supported a Pathfinder pilot to better identify domestic abuse victims in the health system.

The UK Government intends to publish a new Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy “early” in 2021, followed by consultation on a Domestic Abuse Strategy once the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 receives Royal Assent. The previous strategy was launched in 2016 and refreshed in 2019 “to re-affirm commitments to tackling violence against women and children.”  

A call for evidence on the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy was launched on 10 December 2020, the purpose of which is to:

…understand the true scale of violence against women and girls crimes and their impact, the measures which may help identify and prevent these crimes, the extent to which current legislation and services are being used effectively to tackle them, and to identify examples of best practice.

Submissions are accepted up to 19 February 2021.

Other relevant Library publications: 


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