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ONS examines data on partner abuse in the UK

The Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has, I think for the first time, published an article examining data on ‘partner abuse’ in the UK from the last three years, to help develop insight into which women are most at risk of experiencing abuse by a partner or former partner.

Before I look at the article, I think it would be useful to explain exactly what ‘domestic abuse’ (I will use that term, which is the most commonly used one) means, as I think the issue of abuse is still misunderstood, or interpreted too narrowly, by many.

Domestic abuse is not just physical violence by one partner against the other. It is much more complex than that. The ONS article does explain what they mean by ‘partner abuse’, but I think it might be more useful here to look at what the Government is now saying on the subject.

The Government’s recent domestic abuse consultation, which is seeking views on measures to be included in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, proposes a new statutory definition of domestic abuse as follows:

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 sexual orientation.

The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

• psychological
• physical
• sexual
• economic
• 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.

As will be seen, ‘domestic abuse’ covers a wide range of behaviours by the abuser. Indeed, it may be that the abused party may not even be aware that the behaviour they are enduring actually amounts to abuse.

OK, having got that out of the way, on to the ONS article. For space reasons I’m not going to go through its findings in detail (you can read the article here), instead just setting out some of the main points, which include:

• That young women (between 16 and 24 years old) were more likely to have experienced abuse in the last 12 months than older women (aged between 45 and 59 years old). No reasons for this are suggested.

• That women who had a long-term illness or disability were more than twice as likely to have experienced some form of abuse in the last 12 months than women who did not. Perhaps this is not entirely surprising – anyone in such a vulnerable position is sadly more likely to be a victim of abuse and less able to resist abuse.

• That women living in households with an income of less than £10,000 were more than four times as likely to have experienced abuse in the last 12 months than women living in households with an income of £50,000 or more; and similarly that women living in social housing were nearly three times as likely to have experienced abuse in the last 12 months than women who were owner-occupiers. Horrific figures, but again, perhaps this is not surprising, as clearly economic difficulties may be a factor leading up to abuse.

• Lastly, that married women are less likely to have experienced abuse than women with any other marital status. Unsurprisingly, women who were separated were significantly more likely to have experienced abuse.

Glenn Everett, Deputy Director of the Well-being, Inequalities, Sustainability & Environment Division at the ONS, commented on the findings:

“Today’s analysis gives insight into the characteristics of women and girls who are more likely to experience partner abuse. It also tells us about the types of households they live in. This can help to inform policies and services aimed at ending violence against women and girls.”

The findings are indeed interesting, even if most of them are surely quite predictable. Whatever, hopefully, they will be useful.

However, two things should be stressed.

Firstly, despite the above findings, domestic abuse can take place in any family, anywhere. In particular, wealth or social status is no protection against the scourge of abuse.

Secondly, men, of course, can be victims of domestic abuse as well, as I have discussed here previously.

Finally, if you are the victim of domestic abuse in any of its forms, you should seek help as soon as possible. For more information, see here

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. James Franklin says:

    John, pleased you mention that men can be victims of domestic abuse. It would nice to have a report on this, and how the authorities routinely shy away from recording it, especially where it falls under s76. SCA 2015, where the Police routinely dismiss reports when relationships have ended as not covered by the Act.

  2. John says:

    Open the accusatory flood gates; further empower women to abuse men’s relationships with their children (and in turn abuse their own children), all green lighted by the inappropriately titled Justice System. As far as I can see anything a British female doesn’t like to hear is catalogued as abuse in this glorious world of double standards..

  3. Mr T says:

    This really does need to change.

    Where are the men?

    We need to move away from the drama triangle method of labelling people and the Courts also need to follow suit.

    We need a massive eduction of everyone as to what healthy and unhealthy behaviours are! So many female perpertrators not only get away with it but end up manipulating other women into thinking they’re the victims of abuse! When in reality they’re completely ignoring their own part and abusive behaviour. The worrying thing is this is essentially where women go, Women’s Aid who are a law unto themselves.

    When you’ve got a Court system that is not fit for purpose behind it where women’s unproven exaggerated or manipulated claims are just blindly believed its just a one way system to persecute men, some of which will have been subjected to years of abuse in relationships and end up being abused after, sometimes via the police and the Courts, the CMS, they end up not seeing their children as a result of these lies it’s absolutely disgusting and to no surprise the suicide rate is so high.

  4. Helen Dudden says:

    Can some abusive relationships, be the result of the failing relationship? A lot gets said, and this I feel is when Parental Alienation starts. Your father said, or your mother said. I don’t feel it’s as easy, as someone is wrong or someone is right. We all know how children have come off so badly, when things go desperately wrong. That’s why I agree the first year is the time to get building foundation’s for future behaviour. I think we can agree, emotional pain is difficult to control, I read an article that men find it more difficult than women. If that’s true or not, we do have the obligation to protect, and help those who struggle.

    • Mr T says:

      Whilst I agree it will be a failing relationship Helen it doesn’t excuse the abuse and exploitation of the system by mostly women afterwards.

      Be an adult. Facilitate your children’s need above your own greed for child support money or whatever else issues you have.

      The system needs massive reforms to balance it out.

      Shared parenting presumption and enforcement of it needs to be the top priority.

      We need to get family matters out of the courts away from CAFCASS and the cancer that is Women’s Aid breeding and passing off just about any minor event as domestic abuse to get funding for jobs for single mothers.

      The CMS needs to be ditched in an age where women are equal jobs and financially. This alone would stop a lot of greedy parents from facilitating the conflict and abuse by proxy via the courts and other related services.

      There are however those at one end of the spectrum of behaviours that do need to be prosecuted and I don’t’ mean out of malice. The pathological ones that refuse to get help or facilitate contact.

      • Helen Dudden says:

        You can’t try to put a general view on things. In a personal experience, it was a female member. But there men who control, this is how broken relationships can end. Not all, some. The situation is often highly emotional. I not excusing abuse or domestic violence, but the system can be too slow and too complex. As I stated, children get caught in the middle of a very emotional situation. I would add the situation can be worse with cross border issue’s. Costing many thousands of pounds, this in turn produces many problems, no funding, no justice.
        Could an abusive relationship be a symptom, not the cause in some cases.

        • Mr T says:

          It’s not the relationship it’s the disordered people within them be it one or both. This is where the focus needs to be.

          Shared parenting – enforce contact.

          Secondary get them help either one or both. This also needs enforcing.

  5. spinner says:

    “which women are most at risk” – Yet some people still try to claim that this industry isn’t institutionally sexist.

  6. Helen Dudden says:

    I would like to add, children are open to abuse. Either mentally or physically. We have all heard about Alienation this is a form of mental abuse. Men can find the emotional pain difficult, as I stated. As a woman, I am aware, there are other women who are not so overcome by a relationship breakdown. You can’t generalise, nothing is that clear. As I wrote previously, who did what to whom, first. Relationships are built on emotions, this can be good or indifferent.

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