Domestic abuse – telling the untold story

The scale and impact of domestic abuse is extensive. More than two women a week die as a result of their abuse and, at an estimated annual cost of £5.5 billion to the British economy, it is not a problem policymakers can afford to ignore. University of Essex PhD researcher Ruth Weir is collaborating with the Whole Essex Community Budget Programme (WECB) on innovative new research to help identify those at risk of domestic abuse and put more effective services in place to support them. She assesses the evidence.

photo credit: West Midlands Police

With only a fifth of victims reporting their abuse to the police, it is believed to be one of the most under-reported crimes with little known and understood about what sorts of people are most at risk or vulnerable. Do they have the same demographic, social and geographic characteristics? Are those who report to the police similar in profile to those who do not report?

Abuse has a wide range of effects on its victims and their families, ranging from poor educational attainment to social isolation and, in the most serious cases, death.  Children can suffer as a direct or indirect result of domestic abuse occurring in their house.

Understanding the extent of abuse

Crime surveys, such as the Crime Survey in England and Wales (CSEW),  have provided greater insight into domestic abuse. The CSEW shows that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience abuse in their lifetime, with female victims (27% compared with 10%) more likely to report what is happening to them to the police.

Whilst crime surveys are thought to give a more accurate estimate of the true extent of domestic abuse than recorded crime data, they are still believed to underestimate the number of victims. Issues include surveys being restricted to those aged between 16 and 59  and only being carried out with people in their own homes, excluding hard to reach victims living in alternative accommodation, such as refuges, hotels, travellers’ sites, prisons, with friends or homeless people.

Other research suggests that some groups are less likely to report than others. Recent research by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found that services were not always appropriate for LGBT victims and there was sometimes a reluctance to report to the police through fear of further discrimination because of their sexuality.

The work being under taken in Essex to reduce domestic abuse has led to an exciting opportunity to carry out some collaborative research which will lead to some real outcomes for victims of abuse and a greater understanding of the true extent of the problem.

Pooling resources

The Whole Essex Community Budget Programme was one of four government pilot areas for the Department for Communities and Local Government Initiative. The main aim of the initiative was to bring together a broad range of partner agencies to agree common outcomes and pool resources and to work together to achieve them.

One of the five projects being run in the area is Reducing Domestic Abuse. The key aims of the project are to:

  • reduce the number of repeat domestic abuse incidents
  • increase engagement with domestic abuse victims
  • increase referrals to specialist domestic abuse services
  • improve the safety of victims
  • reduce the costs of domestic abuse
  • have a clear approach to early invention work in the voluntary sector

The research is linking and modelling data from a variety of agencies to identify what things might help identify who is at risk of domestic abuse and why. Data is being collected from a routine questioning project in maternity and accident and emergency services, from housing providers, refuges and the voluntary sector.

The research will inform the design of more relevant and effective services for domestic abuse victims and aims to help early identification and intervention.

Tangible policy benefits

Essex Police, Essex County Council, Southend and Thurrock unitary authorities councils have recently launched the “Tweet your Feet” campaign, the largest domestic abuse campaign in Essex. The aim is to encourage more domestic abuse victims to seek help and support. The campaign also encourages the public to ‘stand together’ against domestic abuse by tweeting a picture of their feet to say ‘no to domestic abuse’ in support of victims and survivors.

The recent focus on domestic abuse in Essex, the multi-agency approach and the pilot initiatives that are ongoing give a unique opportunity to carry out research that has not been possible before in the UK. The collaboration also means that research outcomes can be turned into tangible policy benefits.

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