Cross-government definition of domestic violence: Resolution’s response to the Home Office
Option 1 – The government’s definition of domestic violence remains the same
Do you think the cross-government definition of domestic violence should remain the same?
There has long been a difficulty for practitioners resulting from the fact that various different government departments had different definitions of domestic violence/abuse. The current
definition is addressed at page 6 of the consultation as
“any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse [psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional] between adults who are or who have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. For the purpose of this definition, abuse also includes honour based violence, FGM and forced marriage”.
This definition is confined to adults, being those persons over the age of 18. Just over 10 years ago, we had no understanding or even definition of the term “honour based violence”. Similarly, terms such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage have become part of our legal definition of domestic abuse over the last 10 years or so. It would be helpful if any statutory definition included a term of words to the effect that
“the behaviours listed in this definition are not to be considered to be exhaustive”.
Even in the last 5 years or so new forms of abuse have emerged such as visa abuse, 21st century slavery, some forms of trafficking, which are easily brought within the current definition of domestic violence/abuse.
Following Baroness Hale in the case of Yemshaw v London Borough of Hounslow  UK SV3, we would refer the government back to our international obligations and CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination) with particular reference to Article 1 and general recommendation 19.
Do you think the current definition of domestic violence is properly applied by government departments, Local Government, and frontline practitioners?
Government departments: No, do not apply the definition properly
One of the most significant examples of the government’s failure to consistently apply the current definition of domestic violence is demonstrated by the approach to legal aid reform. Whilst we welcome the long awaited recent decision to widen the definition in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, the narrow proofs the Ministry of Justice intend to required before a victim of domestic abuse will receive legal aid to deal with issues arising on separation and divorce will not provide adequate protection for victims and their children, risking undermining the proper application of any definition of domestic violence and understanding of domestic abuse or its impact upon its victims.
Local Government: No, do not apply the definition properly
In the experience of our Domestic Abuse Committee members, local government takes the lead from national government on the issue when it comes to properly applying definitions of
Both yes and no.
Some have worked extremely hard to properly apply the definition, others have not.
Do you think the current definition is understood by victims, perpetrators and front line practitioners?
No, not understood
We have responded to the recent Home Office consultation on disclosure in domestic abuse cases by stating that many adults living in the UK today live in conditions where they are not even aware of what their legal rights are. We speak particularly of victims who may be living in the UK as dependant spouses of British Citizens, those with learning disabilities and those with mental health problems. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
If they do not know their rights then they are not able to identify that they are being abused. It is one of our obligations under CEDAW that we raise awareness about our international obligations in relation to what we consider to be abuse and in particular abuse against women and what remedies are available. In reality very little is done in terms of public awareness.
Whereas many do fully understand that physical abuse is unacceptable/criminal, many perpetrators feel a sense of entitlement to bully, coerce, control their partners/family members/children. Education and guidance concerning relationships if applied appropriately in schools without any faith exemption would assist this enormously.
Front line practitioners/General public/Local Government:
Again, strong governance and awareness raising will assist greatly but in particular there is a lack of awareness and understanding about the power differentials between the abused and the abuser. This can be demonstrated when questions such as “why didn’t you just leave?” are asked. This could be in relation to the provision of services/funding of services or support for the same.
No, not understood
Please see our comments on the intended legal aid reforms above. In our view, spending limited funding on a proposed disclosure scheme rather than funding legal aid and services for victims demonstrates an abject lack of understanding and joined up thinking.
Option 2 – The definition of domestic violence is amended to include coercive control
Do you think that coercive control should be included in the definition of domestic violence?
We would refer to our answer to the first question in relation to option 1 above. There are many types of behaviour that could come under coercive control but we would not see this as necessarily being a panacea. Control in abusive relationships is an insidious form of abuse and can take many forms including visa abuse, 21st century slavery, constant surveillance and monitoring of movements and contact with people outside of the relationship, and many others. We would be more in favour of a flexible rather than a rigid definition.
Do you think extending the definition would be helpful to victims as well as front line practitioners?
Many victims do not recognise that they are victims because as we know, they normalise their experience. We also know that in some cases excessive control of women including physical and other types of violence and abuse is a means of preserving family and community honour. Many women coming into the UK as wives have no idea at all that what they are experiencing is not condoned by the government or this society. The important thing is that the definition needs to be flexible and open ended. Narrowing/limiting the definition of domestic violence/abuse will only lead to further confusion of the kind which allows abuse to go unrecognised, unreported and in some cases as above, supported.
Option 3: The government’s definition of domestic violence is extended to 16 -17 years olds and
Option 4: The government’s definition of domestic violence is extended to all those under 18
Do you think the government’s definition of domestic violence should be extended to include 16 – 17 years old?
For all the reasons mentioned in pages 12 to 14 of the consultation, it is important that this age range is included. People can marry at the age of 16 with parental consent and set up home. We have not currently identified any reason why “intimate relationship” could not include the age group 16 to 17.
Should the Government’s definition of domestic violence be extended to include all those under 18?
There is sufficient protection for children under the Children Act 1989 with sufficient public law safeguards.
The age of sexual consent is 16 and it would seem that this demarcation is appropriate.
If the definition were to be widened what would the likely impact be on services?
The reality is that the existing services are already catering for victims who may be said to come in to the wider definition, be they in the 16 to 18 age group or those experiencing forms of non-physical abuse. Many refuges are already providing outreach and indeed in house refuge spaces for those under the age of 18 fleeing all forms of domestic abuse including forced marriage. More financial assistance, training and support is necessary to those and all other front line services as was recognised by the Home Affairs Select Committee Report on domestic violence in 2008 and the HASC Report of 2011. That training need is still unmet.
We are impressed by the case study outlining services for victims under the age of 18 which is commissioned by the Blackpool local authority. We would welcome this type of service provision being rolled out to all areas.
The establishment of the Sojourner Project for abuse victims who are on 2 year spouse visas has been welcomed, but the government has so far not heeded requests for the scope of the project to be widened to victims of visa abuse, namely those women who have come into the country as dependent spouses, who have exceeded the 2 year period of their visa but not had their visa extended by their husband/in laws by way of an application for indefinite leave to remain. These are without doubt some of the most vulnerable to domestic abuse/violence. They have no legal status, no recourse to public funding and no awareness of the legal rights and protections available to them. Should they choose to leave a situation (many case examples can be provided of women in this situation) then there is literally nowhere for them to go because refuges simply cannot afford to fill refuge space with people who have no ability to pay. Either women are forced to stay in abusive situations, or refuges are forced to run at a loss by taking them and providing for their basic subsistence needs as well as accommodation. This is an untenable situation for the refuges and for the women themselves. No government strategy to tackle abuse can rightly ignore the plight of these victims.
How can services for those under 18 work together to better provide for victims with multiple issues?
The example of the children’s IDVA service is an excellent one. Multi agency conferences are well used to protecting vulnerable children and adults. Strong governance on this issue with an inclusive outlook in terms of the definition of abuse and a will to tackle it will greatly assist.
Work in schools must tackle difficult issues such as relationships without allowing any exemptions on religious basis. By allowing such exemptions, faith schools are able to avoid lessons about relationships, sex and violence and other difficult issues such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage. It may well be very young people who need this information the most. Again strong governance requires all schools to provide this information including information about help services, third sector services such as Women’s Aid, government agencies such as the FCO’s Forced Marriage Unit and social services assistance.
Please state any ideas or suggestions that you may have for delivering savings or other benefits in relation to the four options outlined in this consultation?
We would strongly recommend that no money is wasted in terms of enhancing disclosure regarding domestic abuse. Resolution has responded to that consultation separately with our reasons for this.
The reasons for the government to rethink its intended approach to the scope of the domestic violence gateway for the purposes of eligibility for legal aid in private family law matters are now well documented. As well as undermining government efforts elsewhere to tackle abuse and provide protection, we fear that high risk victims no longer eligible for legal help will result in victims being forced to represent themselves in family law proceedings involving their abuser in an already overburdened family court system and/or other financial or social costs emerging elsewhere.