How common is domestic abuse?

How common is domestic abuse?

We know through our work over the last 40 years with survivors and local services, that domestic abuse is very common.

Any woman can experience domestic abuse regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, class, disability or lifestyle.

Domestic abuse can also take place in lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender relationships, and can involve other family members, including children.

Key statistics

  • On average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales.[1]
  • Domestic abuse-related crime is 8% of total crime. [2]
  • On average the police receive an emergency call relating to domestic abuse every 30 seconds.[3]
  • Domestic cases now account for 14.1% of all court prosecutions, and the volume of prosecutions rose this year to the highest level ever of 92,779 . 92.4% of defendants were male and 7.6% were women. 84% of victims were female and 16% were male. [4]

Coercive Control

On December 29th 2015 a new criminal offence of domestic abuse “coercive and controlling behaviour” came into force.

  • 95 out of 100 domestic abuse survivors in one study reported experiencing coercive control.[5]
  • In a survey of over 450 domestic abuse practitioners, 62% believe there needs to be improved understanding of the traits and techniques of coercive and controlling behaviour among frontline officers.[6]
  • Three quarters of forces (34 forces) include coercive control as part of their domestic abuse training.[7]
  • The 2014/2015 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 63% of female partner abuse victims had experienced non-physical abuse (emotional or financial) in the last year.[8]

Measuring the scale of domestic abuse

Statistics are extremely valuable when trying to understand the scale of domestic abuse but it is important to remember that they often cannot give us the full picture.

Domestic abuse is a largely hidden crime, occurring mainly in homes behind closed doors. As such, it can be difficult to record the context in which abuse is being perpetrated, or accurately measure the impact of the abuse on those who experience it.

Women are often afraid or unable to report or disclose domestic abuse to the police [9] and may under-report domestic abuse in surveys, particularly during face-to-face interviews[10]

Where do domestic abuse statistics come from?

Broadly speaking, there are two ways of collecting statistics.

  1. One is to use data that have been collected for another purpose – for example, figures for recorded crime, or for prosecutions, or for numbers of court orders applied for and made.
  2. The other way is to ask people directly about the issue – for example, their experiences of certain kinds of crimes.

Data that has been collected for a different purpose – often by a government agency or other official body – may be seen in some respects as more “objective”; however, they are subject to whatever classification criteria that body is applying.

For example, the process by which an incident of domestic abuse becomes recorded as a “crime” involves several stages, starting with the decision by the victim whether or not to report an incident, followed by the responses of the police (e.g. whether or not to record the incident), the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, and so on.

Asking people about their experiences may result in information that is better suited to a particular purpose – but is also subject to various limitations:

  • It is more time consuming – and hence more expensive
  • What questions are asked and how they are asked lead to different responses – some being more reliable and more meaningful than others
  • Results will be based on a sample of the population rather than everyone, and will therefore be subject to some degree of sampling error
  • Sometimes the sample will be based in one geographical area, or include a particular kind of person only, and will not therefore be universally applicable.

How reliable are domestic abuse statistics?

When looking at any statistics, there are two issues to consider:

  1. Reliability – i.e. are these results replicable? – would another person or organisation asking exactly the same questions, or collecting the same kinds of information, come up with the same figures?
  2. Validity – i.e. are they meaningful?

Factors which can affect both reliability and validity include:

  • the definition of domestic violence and/or abuse which is used
  • how information is collected who or what, and
  • how many people or organisations are included who is collecting the information, and for what purpose.

Most domestic abuse statistics (e.g. crime figures) are based on specific incidents and kinds of behaviour.

However, in Women’s Aid’s view, domestic abuse has to be seen within a context of power and control, which is usually (though not always) gender-based.

Repeated and escalating abuse which takes place within a context of fear and intimidation does not easily show up in an incident-based form of statistical record; and emotional abuse – which may be perpetrated in various ways, and with various degrees of subtlety – may be completely disregarded, particularly when the focus is on crimes.

How is information collected?

Information about people’s experiences of domestic violence may be collected in different ways:

  • By written questionnaire which may be posted or emailed to a sample of potential respondents. This procedure is rarely used in domestic abuse research, and is likely to result in a low response rate, under-reporting, and low validity and reliability.
  • By written questionnaire which may be accessed via the internet, or a magazine, newspaper or other publication. In this case, respondents are self-chosen, and there is no way of judging whether or not their experiences are typical of the population as a whole.
  • By asking in a telephone interview: privacy cannot be assured, and it can be dangerous for respondents (who may therefore tend not to disclose domestic abuse.)
  • By asking them face to face – as in the Crime Survey for England and Wales. Both validity and reliability are improved, as is the response rate; but under-reporting is common.
  • Self-completion, after contact has been made face to face, and privacy assured. This is the preferable method, as it maximises both the respondent’s safety, and the reliability of the data: many victims of domestic abuse are reluctant to disclose the abuse they have experienced in face to face interviews.

Why accurate statistics matter

There is no reliable prevalence data on domestic abuse, but the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) offers the best data available.

The 2013/14 CSEW found that, overall, 28.3% of women (an estimated 4.6 million women) have experienced domestic abuse since the age of sixteen.[11]

However, official reporting of the Crime Survey of England and Wales underestimates the extent of domestic abuse and underestimates its impact on women and men.

This is because when measuring the scale and frequency of abuse experienced by survivors, the researchers capped the number of incidents they would record at five. This meant that if over five incidents of abuse occurred in a series, they were recorded just as five.

When this cap is removed, and the full extent of repeat incidents is revealed, there is a 60% increase in violent crime.[12]

This increase is concentrated on violent crimes against women (70% increase) rather than crimes against men (50% increase) and on violent crime related to domestic abuse (70% increase).[13]

Further information and support

If would like more information about domestic abuse go to:  The Survivor’s Handbook

Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership with Refuge)


[1] Office for National Statistics citing Homicide Index, Home Office (Published Online: Office for National Statistics, 2015 – Go to the first bulletin table and click on the tab labelled Figure 2.5)

[2] HMIC, Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse (Published online: HMIC, 2014), p. 28

[3] HMIC, Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse (Published online: HMIC, 2014), p. 5.

[4] CPS VAWG report 2014/15

[5] Kelly, L; Sharp, N and Klein, R, Finding the Costs of Freedom How women and children rebuild their lives after domestic violence (London: Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit), p.19

[6] HMIC, Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse (Published online: HMIC, 2014), p. 47

[7] HMIC, Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse (Published online: HMIC, 2014), p. 46

[8] Office for National Statistics Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2013/14. Chapter 4: Intimate personal violence and partner abuse (Published online: Office for National Statistics, 2016) Table 4.36

[9] CPS VAWG report 2014/15

[10] HMIC, Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse (Published online: HMIC, 2014), p. 31

[11] Office for National Statistics Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2013/14. Chapter 4: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences – Intimate Personal Violence and Serious Sexual Assault (Published online: Office for National Statistics, 2015), P. 3.

21,355 completed the Intimate Personal Violence (IPV) Module of the Crime Survey of England and Wales in 2013/14. See the ONS methodological note here.

[12] Office for National Statistics Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2013/14 (Published online: Office for National Statistics, 2015)

[13] Walby, S, Jude Towers, J, and Francis, B The decline in the rate of domestic violence has stopped: Removing the cap on repeat victimisation reveals more violence. Research briefing: Violence and Society (Published online: UNESCO, ESRC and Lancaster University, 2014), p. 1

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Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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