Who is missing in the data? What the available data on domestic abuse does and doesn’t tell us about women’s experiences


When it comes to responding to crime, it can be said with certainty that data matters – it matters when it comes to establishing who is most vulnerable, who the likely perpetrators are, what the underlying causes are and what can be gleaned from the data to keep those who are vulnerable, safe. While data on domestic abuse is available, it contains gaps which leave us with questions about the women’s lived experiences, while also often concealing the gendered nature of this abominable crime. What we must remember is that each week, a woman is still being murdered by her abuser and children left motherless because of this heinous crime.  

At the end of last year, the Office for National Statistics published its annual domestic abuse data bulletin, with figures for the year ending March 2023 showing that one in four women (27%) experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. For men, this figure is around one in seven (13.9%). When looking only at partner abuse, the figures are 22.7% for women and 10.2% for men.  

The latest figures also found that an estimated 1.4m women experienced domestic abuse in the previous year, an apparent decrease from 1.7m in the year before, but this is not a statistically significant change. The survey for the most recent year contained an error, which resulted in missing data, and the data comes on the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the ONS did report a significant decrease in the proportion of women aged 16 to 59 years who experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2023 (6.5%) compared with the year ending March 2020 (8.1%). This comparison only relates to women up to the age of 59 years because the upper age limit was only removed in October 2021. This was following successful campaigning from Women’s Aid and others, finally demonstrating that domestic abuse can be suffered by anyone – daughters, mothers, grandmothers. Whilst the ONS reports that this is a statistically significant change with 95% confidence, they do note caution around the data, due to the caveats with data collection in the year ending March 2023. This period also covers the period of the Covid pandemic, which is likely to have had an impact on the figures, although this requires longer term analysis. 

We have previously spoken about the ‘hidden’ gender asymmetry when looking at the statistics. First, it is important to remember that the estimates published by the ONS are taken from the Crime Survey for England and Wales and are not based on reporting to the police. They are therefore the best available statistics on prevalence. However, in our blog we set out how these figures do not capture context, impact and repeat victimisation – whether these behaviours were experienced as a pattern of abuse in a context of coercive control, how they made the victims feel and whether the abuse formed part of a series of incidents. Extensive research shows that these factors are important in understanding the gendered dynamics of domestic abuse, as women are not only more likely to experience domestic abuse, but are also more likely to be subjected to coercive control, and to being seriously physically and mentally harmed or killed. 

Since bringing this to the fore, we worked with a team of leading researchers led by the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol, to develop a measure of prevalence that incorporates coercive control and the impact of abuse. These questions were added to the Crime Survey in April 2023 as part of a split-sample trial until March 2025, and we look forward to seeing the impact this has on the figures that are being reported.  

The latest ONS bulletin also contains data on domestic homicides, which do clearly show the gendered nature of domestic abuse. Homicide Index data from the year ending March 2020 to the year ending March 2022 shows that 67.3% of domestic homicide victims were female. Of the 249 female domestic homicide victims, the suspect was male in a staggering 241 cases. In the majority of female domestic homicides, the suspect was a male partner or ex-partner (74.7%), whereas in the majority of male domestic homicides, the suspect was a male family member (66.1%). 

Furthermore, the total number of women killed by a partner/ex-partner over this three-year period was 186. All of the suspects were male. This is an average of 1.2 women per week killed by a male partner/ex-partner. In previous years, this average has been around 1.5 women per week, but homicide data changes year-on-year, so a longer-term analysis would be needed to establish a trend. Similarly, regardless of whether there is a trend or not, the stark reality remains that each week, a woman is killed by a man – the grief and devastation this leaves is unimaginable, as each woman is someone’s daughter, mother, sister, or cherished friend and each loss is an immense tragedy.  

One glaring gap in this data is victim suicides in the context of domestic abuse, and this is one area that new research is shedding more light on, including the Domestic Homicide Project, which has been looking at deaths in the context of domestic abuse since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Another critical gap is in the experiences of Black and minoritised women. In November 2023, Imkaan and the Centre for Women’s Justice launched a groundbreaking report into the deaths of Black and minoritised women due to domestic abuse. The report highlighted that there is currently no data available on the breakdown of intimate partner killings of Black and minoritised women by men. There are therefore many unanswered questions about the deaths of women experiencing domestic abuse, and particularly those women subject to additional inequalities. 

Since 2020, large scale changes including the Covid-19 pandemic, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the rising cost-of-living pose further questions about changes to perpetration, experiences of abuse and access to support. The need for more and better data on domestic abuse has therefore never been more critical.  

It is also vital to remember that every data point behind every trend relating to domestic abuse should not exist. Women and children should be safe in their homes – that is a basic human right. As long as this data exists, criminals abusing these rights are committing crimes with impunity. We must come together to end this epidemic, once and for all. 

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