3 Context


3.1 At least 1.2 million women and 784,000 men aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in 2010/11 – 7.4% of women and 4.8% of men. (Domestic violence and abuse here is defined as: physical abuse, threats, non-physical abuse, sexual assault or stalking perpetrated by a partner, ex-partner or family member.) At least 29.9% of women and 17.0% of men in England and Wales have, at some point, experienced it (Smith et al. 2012).

3.2 These figures are likely to be an underestimate, because all types of domestic violence and abuse are under-reported in health and social research, to the police and other services.

3.3 Both men and women may perpetrate or experience domestic violence and abuse. However, it is more commonly inflicted on women by men. This is particularly true for severe and repeated violence and sexual assault.

3.4 Lesbian and bisexual women experience domestic violence and abuse at a similar rate to women in general (1 in 4), although a third of this is associated with male perpetrators (Hunt and Fish. 2008). Compared with 17% of men in general, 49% of gay and bisexual men have experienced at least 1 incident of domestic violence and abuse since the age of 16. This includes domestic violence and abuse within same-sex relationships (Stonewall Gay and Bisexual Men's Health Survey 2012). A focus on specific incidents and episodes is of limited value in understanding the experience of domestic abuse.

Associated risk factors

3.5 The risk of experiencing domestic violence or abuse is increased if someone:

  • is female

  • is aged 16–24 (women) or 16–19 (men) (Smith et al. 2011)

  • has a long-term illness or disability – this almost doubles the risk (Smith et al. 2011)

  • has a mental health problem (Trevillion et al. 2012)

  • is a woman who is separated (Smith et al. 2011) – there is an elevated risk of abuse around the time of separation (Richards 2004).

    The risk is also increased if a woman is pregnant or has recently given birth. Although pregnancy appears to offer protection for some women (Bowen et al. 2005) for others it increases the risk (Harrykissoon et al. 2002). In addition, there is a strong correlation between postnatal depression and domestic violence and abuse.

3.6 The majority of trans people (80%) experience emotional, physical or sexual abuse from a partner or ex-partner (Roch et al. 2010).

3.7 Just under 40% (38.4%) of bisexual, gay and lesbian people class themselves as having experienced domestic violence and abuse. However, many more respondents reported behaviours that could be classed as domestic violence and abuse (Donovan et al. 2006).

3.8 The role played by alcohol or drug misuse in domestic violence and abuse is poorly understood. Research has indicated that 21% of people experiencing partner abuse in the past year thought the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol and 8% under the influence of illicit drugs (Smith et al. 2012). People are thought to be at increased risk of substance dependency as a consequence of being the victim of domestic violence (Humphreys et. al. 2005).

Partner abuse among adults

3.9 Partner abuse is the most prevalent form of domestic abuse. At least 26.6% of women and 14% of men have, at some point, experienced this since they were 16 (Smith et al. 2012). The prevalence is consistently higher among people in healthcare settings (Feder et al 2009).

3.10 Women are more likely than men to experience repeated partner abuse, partner abuse over a longer period of time, violence and more severe abuse (Smith et al. 2010). Women's reports of partner abuse are also more likely to indicate that it is part of a system of fear and coercive control (Hester and Westmarland 2005; Hester 2013).

3.11 Men are less likely to report abuse to the police, and more likely to say this is because they consider it too trivial or not worth reporting (Smith et al. 2010).

3.12 Each year since 1995, approximately half of all women aged 16 or older murdered in England and Wales were killed by their partner or ex-partner. Around 12% of men murdered each year from 1995 were killed by their partner or ex-partner (Smith et al. 2012; Thompson 2010).

Partner abuse among young people

3.13 Partner violence is also prevalent in young people's relationships. In the UK in 2009, 72% of girls and 51% of boys aged 13 to 16 reported experiencing emotional violence in an intimate partner relationship, 31% of girls and 16% of boys reported sexual violence, and 25% of girls and 18% of boys experienced physical violence (Meltzer et al. 2009). Some form of severe domestic violence and abuse inflicted on them by a partner (Barter et al. 2009) was reported by 1 in 6 girls.

3.14 In line with research among adults, girls described more abuse, and more severe abuse, more direct intimidation and control, and more negative impacts.

3.15 Young people in same sex relationships were at greater risk than those in heterosexual relationships.

Domestic violence and abuse between parents

3.16 Domestic violence and abuse between parents is the most frequently reported form of trauma for children (Meltzer et al. 2009). In the UK, 24.8% of those aged 18 to 24 reported that they experienced domestic violence and abuse during their childhood. Around 3% of those aged under 17 reported exposure to it in the past 12 months (Radford et al. 2011).

3.17 The impact of living in a household where there is a regime of intimidation, control and violence differs by children's developmental age. However, whatever their age, it has an impact on their mental, emotional and psychological health and their social and educational development. It also affects their likelihood of experiencing or becoming a perpetrator of domestic violence and abuse as an adult, as well as exposing them directly to physical harm (Stanley 2011; Holt et al. 2008).

3.18 There is a strong association between domestic violence and abuse and other forms of child maltreatment: it was a feature of family life in 63% of the serious case reviews carried out between 2009 and 2011 (Brandon et al. 2012).

'Honour'-based violence and forced marriage

3.19 It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of so-called 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage, but we do know that the incidences of both are under-reported. Both can occur in Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and other communities. They are probably more common in some groups, for example, some Pakistani, Kurdish, and Gypsy and Traveller communities, reflecting a more oppressive patriarchal ideology. (Home Affairs Select Committee 2008; Brandon and Hafez 2008).

3.20 Both often involve wider family members and affect men, as well as women: 22% of the 1468 cases looked at by the Forced Marriage Unit involved a male being forced to marry. It is estimated that between 5000 and 8000 cases of forced marriage were reported to local and national organisations in England in 2008. In 41% of cases reported to local organisations the person forced to marry was younger than 18 (Kazmirski et al. 2009).

Abuse of older people

3.21 More than 250,000 older people (aged 66 and older) living in England in private households reported experiencing maltreatment from a family member, close friend or care workers in the past year (O'Keefe et al. 2007). Maltreatment included neglect and psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse.

3.22 Of those experiencing maltreatment, 51% experienced it from a partner, 49% from another family member, 5% from a close friend and 13% from a care worker. Women were more likely to experience maltreatment than men (3.8% of women and 1.1% of men in the past year), and men were more often the perpetrators.

Abuse of parents by children

3.23 The prevalence of abuse of parents by their children is very difficult to ascertain and 'still lies in a veil of secrecy' (Kennair and Mellor 2007). It is 'a pattern of behaviour that uses verbal, financial, physical or emotional means to practise power and exert control over a parent' (Holt 2012). It is more commonly experienced by mothers than fathers – and is more common among single parents.

3.24 It can bring stress, fear, shame and guilt, as well as physical, emotional and psychological harm to the person who experiences it. Those inflicting the abuse may feel inadequate, hopeless and alone (Holt 2012; Kennair and Mellor 2007). A large proportion of those inflicting the abuse will themselves have been physically or sexually abused or have witnessed abuse.

Public sector costs

3.25 The public service burden of domestic abuse is considerable. A high proportion of women attending accident and emergency departments, primary care, family planning, reproductive and sexual health settings are likely to have experienced domestic violence and abuse at some point (Alhabib et al. 2010; Feder et al. 2009). In addition, between 25 and 56% of female psychiatric patients report experiencing domestic violence and abuse in their lifetime (Oram et al. 2013).

3.26 Domestic violence and abuse cost the UK an estimated £15.7 billion in 2008 (Walby 2009). This included:

  • just over £9.9 billon in 'human and emotional' costs

  • more than £3.8 billion for the criminal justice system, civil legal services, healthcare, social services, housing and refuges

  • more than £1.9 billion for the economy (based on time off work for injuries).

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)