Domestic Violence and Abuse

Domestic violence is the abuse of one partner within an intimate or family relationship. It is the repeated, random and habitual use of intimidation to control a partner. The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual. Domestic violence and abuse affects a large number of people, with an estimated 7.1% of women and 4.4% of men aged 16 to 59 had been a victim of domestic abuse past year according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) for 2012-13, with 30.0% of women and 16.3% of men have been victims at some point since the age of 16. If that prevalence rate is applied to all of those aged 16 and over in Devon that would equate to 23,400 women and 13,400 men experiencing domestic violence in the past 12 months, and 98,800 women and 49,700 men experiencing domestic violence since the age of 16.

The costs of domestic violence and sexual abuse are extensive to the public purse. In Devon, Home Office research estimates that domestic violence costs the statutory agencies over £70 million (Walby S. The cost of domestic violence, 2009):

Exposure to domestic violence represents a serious risk to both adults and children. The Children and Adoption Act 2002 broadened the definition of significant harm to include ‘any impairment of the child’s health or development as a result of witnessing the ill-treatment of another person such as domestic violence’. As well as the impact on adults, national research by the NSPCC( has found nearly a quarter young people witnessed at least one type of domestic violence during childhood. The research found

  • 0% of under 11s, 17.5% of 11–17s and 23.7% of 18–24s had been exposed to domestic violence between adults in their homes during childhood.
  • 2% of the under 11s and 2.5% of the 11–17s reported exposure to domestic violence in the past year.

According to the national Confidential Inquiry into Maternal and Child Health in 2007, nearly three quarters of children with a child protection plan live in households where domestic abuse occurs. 624 Devon children and young people were subject to a child protection plan in March 2014 (up from 446 in March 2013). In 2013-14 domestic violence was the most common risk factor identified during social care initial assessments. In sample of 101 plans in March 2010 65% of children with a child protection plan either were at the time, or had previously lived in a household, experiencing domestic violence.

The Police record data on the number of children and young people who were present at reported domestic abuse incidents. Children were at around 40% of domestic abuse incidents although there is variation over time and across the districts. The majority of incidents will not be recorded here as they have not been reported to the police.

Table 8.11, Number of reported domestic violence and abuse incidents (last 5 years)

Domestic Violence Incidents9,1518,7988,9579,23610,334
Domestic Violence Crimes2,3522,4152,7282,9943,457
Number of incidents with Children and Young People Present4,2593,4183,6493,5843,737
% incidents with Children and Young People present47%39%41%39%36%

Source: Devon and Cornwall Police ‘Crimed’ Domestic Violence Incidents Data record on CIS with Mo Code DV1

Devon specialist domestic violence services supported 226 children and young people in 2012-13 a large increase from 165 clients in 2011-12. 154 children and young people spent time living in a refuge in 2012-13. 73% of the children in the refuge were under the age of 7. Their reporting shows 96% of children had been exposed to domestic abuse with 54% having been direct victims of abuse themselves. Between April and October 2014 the parents of 807 children and young people from 389 families received support from Devon domestic violence and abuse support services (SPLITZ).

In 2013 805 cases, assessed to be at very high risk, were taken to Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs) in Devon compared to 621 in 2012. 27% of these were repeat attendances. There were 1,009 children and young people associated with these cases in 2013.

The impact of domestic violence and abuse on an individual child will vary according to the child’s resilience and the strengths and weaknesses of their particular circumstances. On both a national and local level (four out of the last seven serious case reviews in Devon found domestic violence as a contributory factor) there is evidence serious injury or death can occur as a consequence of domestic violence. Children and young people will be distressed by living with domestic violence and may show a range of mental and physical symptoms. In younger children they may show developmental regression including bed wetting or temper tantrums. They may also become anxious and complain of stomach-aches. Older children react differently with boys much more outwardly distressed such as being more aggressive and disobedient, increasing likelihood of risk taking behaviours in adolescence including school truancy and start to use alcohol or drugs. Girls are more likely to internalise issues by withdrawing from social contact and become anxious or depressed. They are more likely to have an eating disorder, or to self-harm. Children of all ages with these problems often do badly at school. They may also get symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, for example have nightmares and flashbacks, and be easily startled.

In the longer term children who have witnessed violence are more likely to be either abusers or victims themselves echoing the behaviour which was normalised within their household. The repetition of violence is not a forgone conclusion but even for those who break the cycle, children from violent families often grow up feeling anxious and depressed, and find it difficult to get on with other people.