1. Introduction

This chapter is a summary of the main parts of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. For further information please see the Domestic Abuse Statutory Guidance (Home Office).

2. Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (DAA) provides a definition of domestic abuse.

It is the behaviour of one person towards another where:

  • both people are aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other (see Section 2.2, Personally connected); and
  • the behaviour is abusive.

Behaviour is defined as abusive if it consists of any of the following:

  • physical or sexual abuse;
  • violent or threatening behaviour;
  • controlling or coercive behaviour;
  • economic abuse;
  • psychological, emotional or other abuse.

It does not make any difference whether the behaviour is a single incident or consists of a number of incidents over a period of time.

In relation to stalking, the current situation is that where there is an ongoing relationship, the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour should be considered – Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship (Crown Prosecution Service). Stalking and harassment offences may be appropriate if the victim and the perpetrator were previously in a relationship but no longer live together. This will change when the DAA statutory guidance is published.

Economic abuse is any behaviour by a person that negatively impacts the other person’s ability to:

  • obtain, use or maintain money or other property (such as a mobile phone or car and also include pets);
  • buy goods or services (for example utilities such as heating, or food and clothing).

Under the Act, abusive behaviour towards a child who is under the age of 16 is considered child abuse, not domestic abuse (see (see the LLR Safeguarding Children Partnership procedures). Children are also recognised as victims of domestic abuse if they see, hear, or experience the effects of the abuse, and are related to the victim and / or perpetrator of the domestic abuse, or if the victim and / or perpetrator have parental responsibility.

Domestic abuse also includes so called ‘honour’ based abuse (see Honour Based Abuse chapter) Forced Marriage (see Forced Marriage chapter) and female genital mutilation (see Female Genital Mutilation chapter).

2.1 Controlling and coercive behaviour

Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship: Statutory Guidance Framework, Home Office

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. This also applies to people who are no longer in a relationship, but were previously.

Abusers and victims do not have to live together; this ensures that the law gives protection to those who do not live with their abuser or those who leave abusive partners, but who continue to be victims of controlling or coercive behaviour once they have left.

2.2 Personally connected

The Act introduced the term ‘personally connected’. This applies to people who:

  • are married to each other;
  • are civil partners of each other;
  • have agreed to marry one another or have a civil partnership (whether or not they are still planning to);
  • are or have been in an intimate personal relationship with each other;
  • have, or have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child;
  • are relatives.

3. Victims and Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse

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

4. Working with People where there are Concerns of Domestic Abuse

4.1 Conducting assessments

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

When carrying out assessments, professionals should consider seeing adults – with whom they are working –  alone, so they can ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic abuse. This may include asking direct questions about domestic violence or abuse and asking whether domestic abuse has occurred whenever adult abuse is suspected. This should be considered at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention.

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

  • age and vulnerability of the adult;
  • the adult’s description of the abuse and its effects on them;
  • frequency and severity of the abuse, how recent and where it took place;
  • whether there were any children or other adults who either witnessed the abuse or was in the property at the time;
  • 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, whether there is a threat to the safety of the adult or anyone else in the home environment.

If the threat is imminent, 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 chapters.

The police are often the first point of contact for adults experiencing domestic 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 chapter).

Under the DAA the local authority has a duty to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation. In addition, all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance.

4.2 Trauma

The adults we work with may have experienced domestic abuse as a child, therefore it is important to consider how domestic abuse may affect them as an adult too.

Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing.

Adults and children who experience domestic abuse, are survivors of traumatic experiences.

We know that relationships shape us. Our early experiences guide our future relationships, designing our patterns and expectations for interactions. They determine what we believe we deserve, what is acceptable, and what is good for us. For those who have had experiences of violence or abuse, the recurring patterns of its existence can sometimes be traced throughout their life stories.

Trauma occurs when a stressful experience (such as being abused, neglected, or bullied, or witnessing any of these experiences) overwhelms the child’s natural ability to cope. These events cause a ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response, resulting in changes in the body such as faster heart rate and higher blood pressure as well as changes in how the brain perceives and responds to the world. In many cases, a child’s body and brain recover quickly from a potentially traumatic experience with no lasting harm.

However, for other children, trauma interferes with normal development and can have long-lasting effects. Exposure to trauma causes the brain to develop in a way that will help the child survive in a dangerous world. The stress hormones produced during trauma interfere with the development of higher brain functions responsible for thought and language.

While experience may alter the behaviour of an adult, an experience literally provides the structural framework for an infant and child. A child’s healthy attachment development is dependent on his or her needs being met consistently by a sensitive and consistent caregiver. The existence of violence, aggression, abuse, neglect and hostility within the family situation can cause serious disruption to this process and impact on children’s ability to regulate.

Fortunately, even when children experience a traumatic event, they don’t always develop traumatic stress. Many factors contribute to symptoms, including whether the child has experienced trauma in the past, and protective factors at the child, family, and community levels can reduce the adverse impact of trauma.

Some factors to consider include:

  • Severity of the event: How serious was the event? How badly was the child or someone they care about physically hurt? Did they or someone they care about need to go to the hospital? Were the police involved? Was the child separated from their caregivers? Were they interviewed by a social worker, police officer, or counsellor? Did a friend or family member die?
  • Proximity to the event: Was the child at the place where the event occurred? Did they see the event happen to someone else or were they a victim? Did the child watch the event on television? Did they hear a loved one talk about what happened?
  • Caregivers’ reactions: Did the child’s family believe that he or she was telling the truth? Did caregivers take the child’s reactions seriously? How did caregivers respond to the child’s needs, and how did they cope with the event themselves?
  • Prior history of trauma: Children continually exposed to traumatic events are more likely to develop traumatic stress reactions.
  • Family and community factors: The culture, race, and ethnicity of children, their families, and their communities can be a protective factor, meaning that children and families have qualities and or resources that help buffer against the harmful effects of traumatic experiences and their aftermath. One of these protective factors can be the child’s cultural identity. Culture often has a positive impact on how children, their families, and their communities respond, recover, and heal from a traumatic experience. However, experiences of racism and discrimination can increase a child’s risk for traumatic stress symptoms.
  • Age: Younger children are more vulnerable. Even infants and toddlers who are too young to talk about what happened retain lasting “sense memories” of traumatic events that can affect their wellbeing into adulthood.
  • Frequency: Experiencing the same type of traumatic event multiple times, or multiple types of traumatic events, is more harmful than a single event.
  • Relationships: Children with positive relationships with healthy caregivers are more likely to recover.
  • Coping skills: Intelligence, physical health, and self-esteem help children cope.
  • Perception: How much danger the child thinks he or she is in, or the amount of fear the child feels at the time, is a significant factor.
  • Sensitivity: Every child is different—some are naturally more sensitive than others

4.3 Working with perpetrators

On average victims live with abuse for between 2 to 3 years before seeking help, and experience 50 incidents of abuse before receiving effective help (see SafeLives).

The overall aims of those professionals responsible for safeguarding adults who are experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse 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 suspect that such behaviour may be taking place. They should, therefore, be familiar with signs of domestic abuse, and know how to respond to such a disclosure. The Safeguarding Adults Board and individual partner agencies as appropriate should ensure that training in relation to domestic abuse is provided for staff.

Concerns about domestic abuse 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 is occurring within the family environment.

It is important that all practitioners hold perpetrators to account for their behaviour and ensure that the safety of the victim are always considered when making any decisions. Practitioners should be mindful that risk may increase after perpetrators leave the family home (separational abuse). The potential for behaviour change in perpetrators must be considered as part of any assessment.

Work needs to be undertaken which focuses on the power dynamics within the relationship. Anger management courses are rarely an appropriate response to domestic abuse as anger management is never the sole solution to domestic abuse. Support should also be offered simultaneously to victims to ensure that any intervention does not increase the risks to them or others.

Perpetrators of domestic abuse are often very adept at manipulation and presenting a very different image in public or to workers. They may attempt to groom workers to switch attention to the behaviour of the victims from their behaviour and its consequences. Some may present as very amicable and caring, others as hostile and aggressive.

Workers need to be aware that children can be used (often intentionally) to retain control over victims and to continue the abuse. This presents the risk of further harm to the children as they are placed at the centre of the conflict.

Workers should not attempt any form of informal mediation or reconciliation with the perpetrator, victim, family or community members.

A serial perpetrator is defined as a person who is, ‘…alleged to have used or threatened violence against two or more victims who are unconnected to each other and who are or have been intimate partners of the perpetrator (as opposed to repeat offending against the same victim or persons in the same household).’ A repeat perpetrator is defined as someone who has committed ‘two or more incidents of domestic violence against an intimate partner.’

Serial or repeat offending will be considered in any action by the police.

Some perpetrators are sentenced via the courts to a community sentence or term of imprisonment which requires them to be under the supervision of the National Probation Service (NPS). The NPS will hold important information in relation to a perpetrator and there is a focus on risk assessment, risk management and intervention, whether as a single agency or through multi-agency groups such Safeguarding, MAPPA (see Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements chapter), MARAC (see Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference chapter) or Integrated Offender Management (IOM). If a perpetrator has received a prison sentence of 12 months or above, the NPS will have offered statutory victim contact to a victim of that offence. In addition, some perpetrators are sentenced via the courts to attend perpetrator programmes. The victim of a perpetrator on a programme will be offered contact by a women’s safety worker in the NPS.

Without taking a whole family approach and working with perpetrators of domestic abuse, we are not breaking the cycle of abuse, with either victims returning to abusive relationships and risking being exposed to abuse again, or perpetrators moving onto new relationships and a new victim and family being exposed to their abusive behaviours (see Whole Family Approach chapter).

Interventions should be offered at an early stage when a perpetrator may be most motivated to change their behaviour. Even where a perpetrator leaves a family or is excluded this remains important given the likelihood of either their return or their future involvement in a new household is very high.

Traumatic experiences are never an excuse for perpetrating abuse, most people who have been exposed to trauma never go on to cause harm. However, a trauma informed approach for those perpetrating abuse means understanding how past traumas may impact on their behaviour and ability to engage in behaviour change work.

4.4 Confidentiality and information sharing

See Information Sharing chapter

Clarity about information sharing is essential and all agencies, including all refuge projects and non-statutory services, should ensure that in sharing information they do so in line with agreed local protocols.

Practitioners should consider their efforts might trigger an escalation of abuse and should only raise the issue with the child or adult victim when they are safely on their own. It is essential when working with victims to be realistic and honest about the limits of confidentiality.

4.5 Good practice: recording and professional curiosity

See Record Keeping chapter

It is essential to keep a clear record of your involvement with any service user who may have disclosed domestic abuse, or where abuse was suspected. Record keeping should include evidencing adherence to proactive information sharing and rationale for resulting actions.

Practitioners should also evidence proactive information sharing and adherence to multiagency procedures.

In the event of a Safeguarding Adult Review or Domestic Homicide Review, agencies are required to demonstrate defensible decision making and account for their role in the identification and management of risk (see Safeguarding Adults Reviews chapter).

Nurturing professional curiosity and challenge are a fundamental aspect of working together to keep children, young people and adults safe.

Professional curiosity can require practitioners to:

  • think ‘outside the box’, beyond their usual professional role, and consider families’ circumstances holistically
  • show a real willingness to engage with children, adults and their families or carers.

Practitioners will often encounter a child, young person, adult or their family when they are in crisis or vulnerable to harm. These interactions present crucial opportunities for protection. Responding to these opportunities requires the ability to recognise (or see the signs of) vulnerabilities and potential or actual risks of harm, maintaining an open stance of professional curiosity (or enquiring deeper), and understanding one’s own responsibility and knowing how to act.

Curious professionals will spend time engaging with families on visits. Do not presume you know what is happening in the family home – ask questions and seek clarity if you are not certain. Do not be afraid to ask questions of families and do so in an open way so they know that you are asking to keep the child or adult safe, not to judge or criticise. Be open to the unexpected and incorporate information that does not support your initial assumptions into your assessment of what life is like for the child or adult in the family.

4.6 Disclosures or observations

Practitioners in all agencies can identify or receive a disclosure from a child, victim or abuser about domestic abuse. However, we know that children in particular, but also some adults, rarely disclose abuse and neglect directly to practitioners and, if they do, it will often be through unusual behaviour or comments. This makes identifying abuse and neglect difficult for professionals across agencies. We know that it is better to help as early as possible, before issues get worse. That means that all agencies and practitioners need to work together – the first step is to be professionally curious.

Practitioners should be alert to the signs that a child or adult/s may be experiencing domestic abuse, or that a partner / family member/s) may be perpetrating domestic abuse. A ‘disclosure’ or comment may be elicited during routine questioning or be unprompted. Practitioners should never assume that somebody else is addressing the issue of domestic abuse. This may be the child, adult victim, or perpetrator’s first or only disclosure which enables an assessment of the risks of harm to be initiated.

Practitioners will work with many victims who are experiencing domestic abuse and have not disclosed. Practitioners should therefore, in conducting assessments and undertaking visits or consultations, consider the need to offer children and adults the opportunity of being seen alone and ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic abuse.

Concerns about domestic abuse may also be reported to a practitioner by a third party such as extended family member, neighbour or community member. Information from the public, family or community members must be taken sufficiently seriously by practitioners in statutory and voluntary agencies and responded to in accordance with these procedures.

Practitioners who are in contact with people who are threatening or abusive to them need to be mindful that these individuals may also be abusive in their personal relationships and include this in their assessment.

Behaviour which may indicate domestic abuse:

  • injuries without explanation (normally people will volunteer an explanation);
  • injuries which are minimised or concealed;
  • a partner who is unwilling to allow a patient or client to be alone with practitioners;
  • appointments being cancelled or not attended;
  • a patient or client who appears passive and dominated by their partner;
  • anxiety, depression and being withdrawn, particularly if this is not usual for the patient or client.


See Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) chapter

6. Legal Protection Options

See also Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme factsheet (gov.uk)

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS, also known as Clare’s Law) is made up of two elements: the Right to Ask; and the Right to Know.

See also Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) guidance – (Home Office)

Under the Right to ask, a person or relevant third party (for example, a family member) can ask the police to check whether a current or ex-partner has a violent or abusive past. If records show that a person may be at risk of domestic abuse from a partner or ex-partner, the police will consider disclosing the information.

Right to know enables the police to make a disclosure on their own initiative if they receive information about the violent or abusive behaviour of a person that may impact on the safety of that person’s current or ex-partner. This could be information arising from a criminal investigation, through statutory or third sector agency involvement or from another source of police intelligence.

This scheme adds a further dimension to the information sharing about children where there are concerns that domestic violence and abuse is impacting on the care and welfare of the children in the family.

Members of the public can make an application for a disclosure, known as the ‘right to ask’. Anybody can make an enquiry, but information will only be given to someone at risk unless there are stated concerns about mental capacity. The scheme is for anyone in an intimate relationship regardless of gender.

Partner agencies can also request disclosure is made of an offender’s history where it is believed someone is at risk of harm. This is known as ‘right to know’. This still goes to ‘the person at risk’ and is not shared with anyone else. Following a DVDS disclosure, Leicestershire Police may consider completing a child at risk PPN, this will be to ensure that partner agencies are identified that a disclosure has been made. Partner agencies should consider, that when they have information that suggests someone is a DA perpetrator that they should complete a request. This is because if they suggest it to the ‘person at risk’ and they do not complete the application they and their children could be left at risk of serious harm. In some circumstances it will be necessary for practitioners to encourage someone to complete the application for themselves to demonstrate the ability to safeguard themselves and others but where risk is pre-identified through existing knowledge professionals should consider making the referrals themselves. Leicestershire Police will communicate with the relevant professional when the disclosure has been made or not made (particularly in cases of non-engagement).

As a caveat, the DVDS should not be considered by professionals to be an alternative to obtaining police information for the purpose of child safeguarding. Whilst it remains entirely appropriate for practitioners to make ‘right to know’ applications and to inform individuals about Clare’s Law, so that they may use the relevant police information to safeguard themselves (and by association their children), its core purpose is not to inform child protection enquiries. In these scenarios social workers should consider traditional methods of information sharing within child safeguarding – such as by way of police checks, or data subject requests where legal proceedings have commenced. As always, lawful requests for police information should be considered in the context said information will be used and how it will inform safeguarding of vulnerable children and families.

If a potentially violent individual is identified as having convictions for violent offences, or information is held about their behaviour which reasonably leads the Police and other agencies to believe they pose a risk of harm to their partner, the Police will consider disclosing the information. A disclosure can be made if it is legal, proportionate and necessary to do so.

For further information see Request information under Clare’s Law: Make a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) application – Leicestershire Police.

7. Professional Safety

It is important to assess any potential risks to professionals, carers or other staff who are providing services to a family where domestic abuse is suspected 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.

8. Domestic Homicide Reviews

A Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) is a multi-agency review of the circumstances in which the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a person to whom they were related or with whom they were, or had been, in an intimate personal relationship, or a member of the same household as themselves.

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 by offering and putting in place:

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

Where a victim took their own life (suicide) and the circumstances give rise to concern, for example it emerges that there was coercive controlling behaviour in the relationship, a review should be undertaken, even if a suspect is not charged with an offence or they are tried and acquitted. Reviews are not about who is culpable (Domestic Homicide Reviews: Statutory Guidance, Home Office).

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 child safeguarding practice reviews. The main purpose is to learn lessons.

Appendix 1: Legal Perspective of the Domestic Abuse Act (DAA)

In summary, the DAA aims to protect people who experience domestic abuse and strengthen measures to deal perpetrators of domestic abuse. The Act is wide-ranging for two reasons:

  • it contains an agreed legal definition of domestic abuse;
  • it recognises children as victims if they see, hear, or experiences the effects of abuse.

1. Definition

The definition of domestic abuse includes economic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour. Common examples of economic abuse are:

  • preventing a partner from working or training;
  • building up debts in a partner’s name;
  • ensuring a partner’s salary is paid into a joint account to which they do not have access;
  • Coercive and controlling behaviour covers post-separation abuse in children and financial proceedings.

2. Children

Children who see, hear or experience the effects of abuse are recognised as victims. The actions and words of an abuser may impact the person to whom they were aimed, but they may also impact children living in the same house. This reflects the devastating impact that domestic abuse can have on children who are exposed to it in their own home.

3. Revenge porn

So called ‘revenge porn’ which is the offence of sharing private sexual photographs and films with the intention of causing distress has been expanded by the Act and to also cover threats to share such material online or by forwarding to other people.

4. Creation of new offences

Non-fatal strangulation is now a criminal offence, for which someone could receive up to five years in prison. This usually involves an abuser strangling or deliberately obstructing the victim’s breathing to try to control or intimidate them.

The Act also states that:

  • a person is unable to consent to harm being inflicted on them that results in actual bodily harm or other more serious injuries or their own death, for sexual gratification;
  • a defendant cannot rely on a victim’s consent to inflicting such harm, claiming in their defence it was ‘rough sex gone wrong’.

5. Victims giving evidence in court

Victims will no longer be directly cross-examined by perpetrators in the family court and victims will be provided with access to special measures to prevent intimidation.

6. Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner

Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner has been established in law to stand up for victims, raise public awareness and hold local authorities and another statutory agency to account in tackling abuse.

7. Case Law

Court of Appeal Case: Re H-N and Others (Children) (Domestic Abuse: Finding of Facts hearings) [2021] EWCA Civ 448 [2021] All ER (d) 11 April

The Court of Appeal heard four appeals each concerning cases involving allegations of domestic abuse. The allegations included rape, physical emotional and financial abuse and wider patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour. The Court concluded there were two intimidating and highly abusive incidents. The first judge in the lower court had failed to recognise the seriousness of the father’s part in the incidents, specifically his references to dying and killing.

There was general guidance given as to how the family court should deal with these allegations:

(i) Scott schedules: there should be a move away from the use of Scott schedules which identify by way of a table incidents tied to a particular date and time. Scott schedules often fail to identify patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour where each incident has a cumulative effect on victims.

(ii) Fact-finding hearings: the family court should consider whether a fact-finding hearing is a necessary and proportionate means when balanced against the nature of the allegations and the impact on the children.

(iii) Coercive and controlling behaviour: there should be greater awareness surrounding coercive and controlling behaviour and more focused training for the relevant professionals.

(iv) Criminal concepts: family courts should use criminal law concepts but should avoid analysing the evidence by a direct application of the criminal law to decide whether or not an allegation is proved. For example:  domestic abuse involving a physical injury. Violence may have been found to occur, but the family court need not apply a criminal analysis that would amount to actual bodily harm or having grievous bodily harm.