1. Definition

1.1 Domestic abuse

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

It is the behaviour of one person towards another where:

  1. both people are aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other (see below); and
  2. 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.

Economic abuse is any behaviour by a person that effects 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 such abusive behaviour towards a child who is under the age of 16 is child abuse, not domestic abuse (see Safeguarding Children Partnership procedures).

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

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

1.4 Personally connected

The Act introduces 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.

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

2. Victims and Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse

The majority of domestic abuse 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 is the most common), as well as abuse of older relatives or those with physical or learning disabilities. Domestic abuse occurs irrespective of social class, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or sexual relationships or identity.

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

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 are:

  • to support victims to get protection from abuse 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 South Tyneside Safeguarding Children and Adults Partnership and individual partner agencies as appropriate should ensure that training in relation to domestic abuse is provided for staff (see Safeguarding Training for Staff and Volunteers).

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 is occurring within the family environment.

3.1 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. This may include asking direct questions about domestic 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 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;
  • 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 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 a concern. See Stage 1: Concerns.

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 Case Recording chapter).

Under the Act 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 (see Homelessness: Legislation and South Tyneside Services chapter).

3.2 Police Action

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. All domestic abuse falls under the remit of the Northumbria Police Service, including cases involving 16 – 17 year olds.

Where an offence has been committed officers should arrest the suspect where there are reasonable grounds to suspect their involvement in the alleged crime and the conditions under Section 24 of PACE are met. The exercise of arrest powers will be subject to a test of necessity based around the nature and circumstances of the offence and the interests of the criminal justice system. An arrest will only be justified if the constable believes it is necessary for any of the reasons set out in Section 24(5).

Failure to arrest in appropriate circumstances may result in a neglect of duty or other failure in standards. Officers must fully justify any decisions not to arrest and clearly document their decision. This challenges, and holds, perpetrators to account for their actions. However, positive action also requires enhanced levels of victim care. The police strategy is that the safety of victims is paramount, particularly where children are involved and referral to independent advocates is part of police procedures.

4. Legal Protection Options

4.1 Civil protection injunctions

The Act introduces two new civil protection injunctions:

  • a Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) – for immediate protection following an incident;
  • a Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO) – flexible, longer-term protection for victims.

See also Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) guidance (Home Office) Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) guidance (gov.uk)

5. MARAC Process

Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs) are meetings where information about high risk domestic abuse victims (those at risk of serious harm or death) is shared between local agencies. Domestic abuse is a very complex issue and one agency alone cannot solve all the related problems and manage the associated risks in all cases.  By bringing all agencies together at a MARAC, a risk focused, coordinated safety plan can be drawn up to support the victim. (See also Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference chapter.)

In South Tyneside, the MARAC meets fortnightly, and is chaired by a Detective Inspector from the Police’s PVP (Protecting Vulnerable People) Unit. To make a referral into the MARAC, a Risk Indicator Checklist (RIC) needs to be completed.

6. Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

See also Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme factsheet (UK Government)

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (also known as Clare’s Law) was first introduced in 2014 but has now been given a legal basis under the Act. There are two elements: the Right to Ask; and the Right to Know.

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. This is the Right to Ask. If records show that an individual 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.

7. 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 domesticabuse 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 (see Supervision).

8. Positive Outcomes

Positive outcomes for those affected by domestic abuse are achieved in many ways including:

  • successful prosecution;
  • reducing cases of repeat victimisation;
  • prevention through other means such as the Sanctuary scheme, civil remedies, re-housing; and
  • pro-active operations and referrals to support agencies.

Appendix 1: Legal Perspective of the Domestic Abuse Act

In summary, the DAA aims to protect those persons who experience domestic abuse and strengthen measures to deal with those who bring about domestic abuse The Act is wide-ranging for two reasons:

  • it expands the legal definition of domestic abuse to include emotional abuse, coercive or controlling behaviour and economic abuse;
  • it recognises children as victims if they see, hear, or experiences the effects of abuse.

1. Definition

The definition of domestic abuse has been extended beyond physical and sexual abuse to include 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. Any child witnessing domestic abuse is likely to suffer from a psychological perspective as a result of witnessing that abuse.

3. Revenge porn

Revenge porn is a criminal offence that includes:

  • threats to share intimate images or videos intending to cause distress;
  • non-fatal strangulation i.e. any act restricting a person’s ability to breathe;
  • Consent to serious harm for sexual gratification is no longer a criminal defence. A “rough sex” defence is no longer available.

4. 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.

5. Domestic Abuse Protection Orders

Victims of abuse may apply for Domestic Abuse Protection Orders which go beyond the non-molestation or occupation injunctive orders. These orders can impose electronic monitoring requirements and include positive obligation orders to address particular behaviours, such as anger or addiction.

6. Office of the Domestic Abuse Commission

Office of the Domestic Abuse Commission 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.