The problem of domestic violence is one that impacts and shapes every society, and the United Kingdom is no exception. What can make the matter different than other countries, however, is how the UK culture deals with the issue and what resources are put in place to address the problem.
Domestic Violence Statistics in the UK
UK domestic violence statistics are easy to measure, unfortunately. Enough cases have occurred with enough tracking that figures and ratios can be developed for clear measurement of how pervasive domestic violence can be, including severe cases of it. These statistics include:
- In 1998, two murders occurred every week that could be tied to domestic violence and involving a current or past partner as the culprit.
- 25 percent of women have had to deal with some kind of domestic violence (yelling, embarrassment, pushing, physical violence, mental abuse etc.) in their lifetime as of 2002. By 2013, according to national government estimates, the figure had risen to a total of 1.2 million women in the UK.
- The government also confirmed 330,000 women in 2013 had been victims of sexual assault in their own homes but these cases are hard to prove as they are “within the marriage”. There is still plenty of cultural resistance to getting in the middle of what seems like a marital spat.
- Between 5 and 10 percent of women in the UK were victims of physical domestic violence in the same year.
- Among all crimes in the UK, domestic violence had the highest rate of repeated attacks in 2002.
- UK police agencies are flooded with calls about domestic violence, but only a little more than one out of three incidents are actually reported.
- As of 2002, 8 out of 10 victims are women, but even men can be victims.
Unfortunately, adults are not the only group that deals with domestic violence. Children are very much exposed to the violence and problem, both as witnesses as well as victims themselves. Kids in the UK are present in 9 out of 10 households with a case of domestic violence, and half the cases involve direct abuse of children as well. In the worst situations, one third of the first instances of domestic violence start with pregnancy in the family, and violence is still a top reason for fetal death in the UK.
The Cost of Domestic Violence Cases
Domestic violence doesn’t just stay at home. The problem hits everyone’s bank accounts as well. This is not just the household. The cost of dealing with the financial impact of household violence can be as much as £15.7 billion annually. This expense includes £3.8 billion spread between health services, emergency housing, civil litigation costs for required family law hearings, criminal justice resources expended, and social services for those in need. Much of the cost has to do with the fact that the high majority of domestic violence victims are reliant on their partners for income, support, lodging, and financial resources. When they leave the violent home, they take themselves and the kids; that’s it. Homeless people could likely have more resources to survive than a victim who has just left a high-risk home. No surprise then, victims come into the system needing just about everything to get by, recover, and start a new life.
Other components of the £15.7 billion include £1.9 billion for economic loss, which is often associated with reduced purchasing power and even loss of jobs or income earning. The victims become reliant on the public system just to function until life gets stable again. The remainder of the expense, which is the largest component, is associated with the actual human physical and emotional harm done to victims. And all of the above costs end up being charged to the public which means taxpayers ultimately foot the bill.
Efforts to Stop the Problem
The UK government has not been idly looking at the problem over the years. Recognizing the severity of domestic violence and its pervasive resistance to stop the problem, the government has been dedicating millions of pounds towards education, treatment, prevention, criminal justice resources, and more efforts. In 2015, £40 million was dedicated to local support efforts alone.
The shaming and publicizing of perpetrators has also been a major area of concern. Under Clare’s Law, criminal justice agencies and law enforcement are now allowed to provide names and identification to the public of culprits who have had a previous history of domestic violence. This allows innocent people to get a better idea of who they might be dealing with or dating before getting into a bad situation. Additional laws in 2014 also made it a requirement that perpetrators need stay away from their home for as much as 28 days. This gives the victim time to reassess the situation and decide what to do next without immediate fear of retaliation in the home.
Identifying Domestic Violence
Behind the scenes, an increased amount of training has been committed to helping law enforcement identify and deal with domestic violence. Much of this effort is centered through the government National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People, which aims to always have criminal justice focus on the needs of the victim. Support systems have also been augmented by around £1.2 million since 2012 to make available specialists who are trained to deal with the needs of women and girls in domestic violence situations.
There has also been the passage of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act in 2014. This Act made it possible to legally press criminal charges against those who force women and girls into forced arranged marriages. Finally, numerous studies and efforts are being performed to identify and determine the prevalence of forced genital mutilation, a carryover of cultural domestic violence brought into the country with immigration and hard to prevent because families hide it and protect the practice. This is despite the fact that the Female Genital Mutilation Act was enacted and became effective in 2004, making forced genital mutilation illegal.
The Risk of Retaliation
Retaliation is also a major problem with domestic violence. Even where victims can be removed from a violent environment and immediately protected, they still have the risk that the perpetrator could come back or find them later for a subsequent attack. To deal with this issue, and recognizing that existing laws were not enough, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was updated in 2012 with additional changes under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. These changes focused on stalking specifically, a common problem of domestic violence perpetrators who continue to seek to cause harm after their original arrest and separation from a victim. Increased criminal definitions and penalties were added for increased punishment and deterrence.
Fallback and Loss of Progress
Unfortunately, the efforts above may be now seeing retrenchment and pullback. Community care grants are seeing £150 million less in funding. Many community care grants were scrapped altogether and shut off. With funds in tighter distribution, many local offices raised the bar that a victim needed to pass to be eligible for support as well. Victims are now finding they have to prove that they are at “significant risk” for their personal safety in order to be eligible. If they can find help from family or friends, that reduces their eligibility. It’s now becoming a bureaucratic hurdle to prove oneself as a bona fide victim under such conditions.
As a result, if a woman with children can’t confirm there is a safe zone on the other end of an escape where she can make sure there will be security, she won’t leave a violent home. Regardless of all the messaging or the number of repeat attacks, she will stay put in most cases to protect the children and keep a roof over their head. Critics of support programs then argue these victims don’t need the services badly enough then since they stayed home. If they really needed help, they wouldn’t hesitate to go. This opinion frequently comes from those who have never experienced domestic violence themselves. So they make decisions and criticism based on distanced judgments versus personal experience.
In 2015, an additional £347 million disappeared from the welfare assistance fund that local agencies rely on heavily for financial support. These are funds that go towards emergency rent and food for victims who have just relocated. The removal and cut of these resources will exacerbate the problem of victims staying in violent homes. The results will very likely be a spike in more cases of violence, harm, medical attention and even murders, and this is up from the 2 women killed weekly already.
The Recovery Process
There are plenty of domestic violence stories, but what misses the headlines and newspapers is the recovery stories. These recovery chapters don’t have all the bells and whistles that get attention and reporter interest. As a result, recovery programs often work behind the scenes and with little fanfare doing tremendous work in helping victims recover their lives again.
The recovery process starts after a victim has stabilized her situation. This means housing is predictable, there is a source of income or financial support, the kids are realizing some kind of normality again with life and school, and rent is taken care of. The perpetrator is either arrested, jailed or permanently stopped from any further attacks or harassment. This is the point when the victim can finally stop, let down the shoulders, and start trying to recover. It’s not a short process; recovery from physical and mental abuse can take years to complete. This is also the point when an emotional letdown can also occur, which can seem overwhelming. The grief, hurt, pain, betrayal and sadness can seem insurmountable. And it’s often when mental support is needed the most for victims, adult and children who feel the pain of others as well as their own.
The healing process can’t be rushed. It takes significant time to adjust and get comfortable with life again. Little issues can often trigger memories and flashes of emotion, much the same way that soldiers suffer from post traumatic stress disorder after being in battle. These recurrences can come out at the oddest, most unpredictable times. Some yelling, a TV show, a touch on the arm all can trigger a reaction from a primal place inside a victim. These ebb over time, but it takes patience and recognizing these reactions are part of recovery. It’s important for victims and supporters to be realistic about how fast a person can recovery. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Domestic violence in the UK is at a crossroads. Great strides have been made to define what is domestic violence, prevent it, educate people, and train counselors. However, cutbacks are giving up ground that has taken years to reach. Without a re-commitment to attention on all aspects of the issue, domestic violence statistics are likely to rise again.