1. Definition

The definition of domestic abuse and violence use across government departments is:

‘Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, 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. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

Controlling 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: 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.

This is not a legal definition.’ (Home Office, 2013)

This definition also includes ‘honour’ based violence (see ‘Honour’ Based Violence), female genital mutilation (see Female Genital Mutilation) and forced marriage (see Forced Marriage).

The majority of domestic abuse or violence is committed by men against women, however victims do not solely come from one gender or ethnic group. Men are abused by female partners, abuse occurs in same sex relationships, by young people against other family members or partners (teenage domestic abuse and violence is the most common), as well as abuse of older relatives or those with physical or learning disabilities. Domestic abuse and violence occurs irrespective of social class, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or sexual relationships or identity.

1.1 Coercive or controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship

See also Coercive Control

The Serious Crime Act 2015 criminalises patterns of coercive or controlling behaviour where they are perpetrated against an intimate partner or family member. This behaviour, when viewed in isolation, may appear unexceptional but the cumulative impact on the victim’s everyday life will be significant, causing the victim to feel fear, alarm or distress.

It is important to ensure this offence does not impact on ordinary power dynamics in relationships. As such, the repeated or continuous nature of the behaviour and the ability of a reasonable person to appreciate that the behaviour will have a serious effect on its victim, are key elements.

2. Concerns of Domestic Abuse or Violence

On average victims experience on average 50 incidents, and over a two and a half year period, before seeking support (see SafeLives).

The overall aims of those professionals responsible for safeguarding adults who are experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse and violence are:

  • to support victims to get protection from violence by providing relevant practical and other assistance;
  • to identify those who are responsible for perpetrating such abuse, so that there can be an appropriate criminal justice response;
  • to provide victims with full information about their legal rights, and about the extent and limits of statutory duties and powers;
  • support non-abusing parents in making safe choices for themselves and their children, where appropriate.

Professionals from any agency may receive a disclosure from a victim or perpetrator about domestic abuse or violence , or suspect that such behaviour may be taking place. They should, therefore, be familiar with signs of domestic abuse or violence, and know how to respond to such a disclosure. The Safeguarding Adult Board and individual partner agencies as appropriate should ensure that training in relation to domestic abuse and violence is provided for staff.

Concerns may also be reported by a member of the extended family, friend or neighbour for example. Such information must be responded to in accordance with these procedures.

Professionals in contact with adults who are threatening or abusive need to be aware of the potential for that individual to be also abusive in their personal relationships. They should, therefore, assess whether domestic abuse and violence is occurring within the family environment.

3. Conducting Assessments

See also SafeLives: Resources for identifying the risk victims face. This includes the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment (DASH) checklist.

When conducting any assessment, professionals need to consider offering adults with whom they are working the opportunity of being seen alone to enable them to ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic abuse or violence . This may include asking direct questions about domestic violence or abuse and asking whether domestic abuse and violence has occurred whenever adult abuse is suspected. This should be considered at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention.

When assessing domestic abuse or violence and the needs of the adult living with domestic abuse and violence , the following questions should be considered:

  • age and vulnerability of the adult;
  • the adult’s description of the effects of the abuse upon them;
  • frequency and severity of the abuse, how recent and where it took place;
  • any weapons used or threatened to be used;
  • whether the adult victim has been locked in the house or prevented from leaving;
  • has there been any actual or threatened abuse of animals used to threaten the adult;

The professional should decide, based on the assessment and their professional judgement as to whether there is a threat to the safety of the adult or anyone else in the home environment. If so it should be decided if the threat is imminent. If so the police should be informed immediately by telephoning 999. If there is a non-imminent threat to the adult, the professional should raise an alert. See Stage 1: Alert and Safeguarding Enquiries.

The Police are often the first point of contact for adults experiencing domestic violence or abuse. However the Ambulance Service and Accident and Emergency Departments may also often be involved as a first point of contact.
Professionals should ensure that they make a full record of all discussions, including with whom they take place and any actions taken including referrals to other agencies. They should also inform their line manager who should sign off the discussions / actions (see Record Keeping).

4. Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme was rolled out across England and Wales in March 2014. The individual can ask police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. This is known as the ‘right to ask’. If records show that an individual may be at risk of domestic violence from a partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. A disclosure can be made if it is legal, proportionate and necessary to do so. This enables an agency to apply for a disclosure if the agency believes that an individual is at risk of domestic violence from their partner. Again, the police can release information if it is lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so.

5. Professional Safety

Care must be taken to assess any potential risks to professionals, carers or other staff who are providing services to a family where domestic abuse or violence is or has occurred. In such cases a risk assessment should be undertaken. Professionals should speak with their manager and follow their own agency’s guidance for staff safety. Such issues should also be discussed as part of the professional’s regular supervision.

6. Domestic Homicide Reviews

DHRs are not inquiries into how the victim died or into who is culpable and are not specifically part of any disciplinary inquiry or process. The rationale for the review process is to ensure agencies are responding appropriately to victims of domestic abuse and violence by offering and putting in place:

  • appropriate support mechanisms;
  • procedures;
  • resources and interventions with the aim of avoiding future incidents of domestic homicide and violence.

A DHR will also assess whether agencies have sufficient and robust procedures and protocols in place, which were in turn understood and adhered to by staff. The DHR process is similar to that of adult reviews and children’s serious case reviews. The main purpose is to learn lessons.