POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Policing Domestic Abuse

Published Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Domestic abuse refers to a range of behaviours – psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional – that are directed towards partners, ex-partners or family members. This POSTnote examines the prevalence and nature of domestic abuse and the policing response. It examines how the policing response could be informed by research about the effectiveness of current and alternative approaches, and the possible benefits for victims, their families and offenders.

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Background

Domestic abuse itself has not been a criminal offence, so single incidents are prosecuted under a range of offences, such as common assault or rape. However, the Serious Crime Act (2015) introduced the new criminal offence of coercive control, which entails repeated controlling or coercive behaviour between two ‘personally connected’ individuals. Individuals will be prosecuted for multiple abusive behaviours that as single instances may appear minor.

It is difficult to measure the prevalence and nature of domestic abuse, but estimates can be made from a national survey of victimisation (the Crime Survey of England and Wales) and Police Recorded Data.

  • domestic abuse was estimated to account for 11% of reported crimes in 2015 (April - June)
  • police forces receive calls about domestic abuse related incidents every 30 seconds 

Domestic abuse has both short and long-term impacts, on both victims and their families. Children are particularly vulnerable; witnessing abuse can be as damaging as being abused directly.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Police Interventions

Several police forces are evaluating existing practices as well as alternative approaches to improve their service to the public. The College of Policing's What Works Centre and the National Police Chiefs Council help with this and publish information about effective approaches and guidance. Interventions include:

  • victim focussed approaches involving assessing the risk of re-victimisation or second responder programmes
  • offender focussed approaches such as the use of conditional cautions, the use of technology such as GPS tagging to monitor an offender's movement, or perpetrator programmes that focus on behaviour change to reduce re-offending
  • improved training for police officers so that they have a better understanding about the complex nature of abuse, and the nature and scale of domestic abuse in their local area

You can read more about all of these, and many other research projects that the police are trialling in the POSTnote.

Overview

  • The prevalence of domestic abuse is difficult to measure, but English, Welsh and Northern Irish police receive calls about DA-related incidents every 30 seconds.
  • In 2014, a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse, deemed police responses to domestic abuse “not good enough”, and found that responses across forces were inconsistent.
  • A re-inspection by the HMIC that was published on 15 December 2015, Increasingly everyone's business: A progress report on the police response to domestic abuse, found positive changes, but concluded that there is still room for improvement.
  • Being the victim of, or witnessing domestic abuse, can have serious long- and short-term physical, psychological and social effects.
  • There are numerous police interventions that are victim-focused or perpetrator-focused currently in use or being trialled. 

POSTnotes POST-PN-0515

Authors: Sarah Bunn; Genevieve Waterhouse

Topics: Crime, Crimes of violence, Criminal law, Research and innovation, Science, Sexual offences

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.