Posted on September 26, 2012 at 10:30 am

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Government changes the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control and recognise 16/17 year olds
Yesterday, Wednesday 19th September 2012, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that victims of domestic violence and abuse aged 16 and 17 will be recognised under a new cross-government definition. The Deputy Prime Minister also announced that the definition of domestic violence will now include ‘coercive control’. (The previous definition defined domestic violence as a single act or incident).

The new definition recognises that patterns of behaviour and separate instances of control can add up to abuse – including instances of intimidation, isolation, depriving victims of their financial independence or material possessions and regulating their everyday behaviour. The new definition will be implemented by March 2013.

The Government also announced today a Young People’s Panel set up by the NSPCC which will work to inform the Government’s ongoing work to tackle domestic violence. The panel will comprise up to five members aged between 16 and 22, who will work with Government on domestic violence policy and the wider work to tackle violence against women and girls.
The new definition of domestic violence and abuse now states:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or 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 sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:
• pschological
• physical
• sexual
• financial
• emotional
In the announcement, the government defines controlling and coercive behaviour in the following way:

“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 definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.
Women’s Aid welcomes that Government has listened to the voices of domestic violence professionals from across the voluntary and statutory sectors. We particularly welcome that the definition of domestic violence now encompasses the high levels of young people aged 16-18 who are experiencing abuse in their intimate partner relationships and that the definition recognises the enormous impact of coercive control. Women’s Aid has always recognised coercive control when working with victims or perpetrators since this is what underpins all domestic violence behaviours whether physical, sexual, psychological or financial .
The challenge now is to ensure that police officers are able to identify coercive control and take appropriate action for both adult survivors and 16 – 18 year olds. This will require the development and implementation of procedures accompanied by comprehensive training for police officers which will require resources and leadership from the police to support this work.

The forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in November 2012 add to this challenge. It is vital that every Police and Crime Commissioner in England chooses to prioritise domestic violence and that sufficient resources are allocated from each PCC budget to ensure police respond appropriately to domestic and sexual violence victims in local areas.

Police and Crime Commissioners are also responsible for provision of victim services and consulting with victims on this. Women’s Aid strongly believes that for effective responses to domestic violence in their area PCCs must commission refuge and outreach services in order for adult and child survivors in their area to be able to access safety and support, irrespective of any justice processes. Over half of the services in the Women’s Aid national network have had their services for young people cut and there is real need to provide safe services for young victims and programmes for young perpetrators to stop the domestic violence and ensure they can have healthy adult intimate partner relationships in the future.

Domestic violence has always been grossly underreported so if this is implemented properly it could help build public confidence in the police and result in more victims reporting the domestic violence and more perpetrators can be held to account and stopped from using domestic violence. Women’s Aid will continue to work with Government and police nationally and locally to increase the safety of adult and child survivors and support the implementation of this revised definition.