Women’s Aid responds to the latest ONS stats on domestic abuse

On the International Elimination of Violence against Women day, new data is released showing women are most affected by domestic abuse

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on domestic abuse in England and Wales bulletin is released today. As well as looking at domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020, this year, the ONS is also looking at data during the first national lockdown. The bulletin also includes analysis of domestic homicides for the year ending March 2017 to the year ending March 2019.

Estimated prevalence statistics  
An estimated 1.6 million women have experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020 with young women aged 16-24 years continuing to be the age group at most risk. The ONS only collects data on victims up to the age of 74, however domestic abuse affects all age groups, including older women.

The official prevalence data has important information missing. While the prevalence estimates show the sex of the victim, they do not show the sex of the perpetrators. The estimates do not tell who is experiencing abuse as part of pattern of coercive control, or who is experiencing repeated abuse. The estimates do not tell us who is harmed and how severe it was (physical or psychological). It is vital to describe context and impact. For instance, the perpetrator who encounters resistance to the abuse could be counted as a victim. We know from other research that once all this important information is included, the gendered nature of the crime becomes increasingly clear.

We welcome the ONS’s ongoing review into how experiences of coercive control can be incorporated into prevalence estimates.

Domestic abuse related prosecution data
The domestic abuse-related prosecution data published today (for the year ending March 2020) by ONS show strong gendered differences, with men being majority of defendants (92%) and women being majority of victims (77%, compared with compared with 16% who were male). The sex of the victim was not recorded in 7% of prosecutions. If these missing data were excluded from analysis, then it would be 82% female victims and 18% male victims.

Coercive and controlling behaviour prosecutions
These data again highlight the gendered nature of domestic abuse with the overwhelming majority of defendants prosecuted for coercive and controlling behaviour in the year ending December 2019 being men (97%, where the sex was known).
As in previous reports, the ONS has not given the sex of the victims. However, it is clear from other data and research that this is a crime perpetrated by men against women.  Analysis of Merseyside Police domestic abuse data has shown that 95% of coercive control victims were women.

Domestic homicides data 
The analysis of domestic homicide figures published today by ONS show the gendered nature of domestic abuse in stark terms. The data shows a three-year period from the year ending March 2017 to the year ending March 2019. The majority of domestic homicide victims (killed by ex/partner or a family member)  were female (77% or 274 victims). For most of the 274 female victims of domestic homicide, the suspect was male (263; 96%).

Impact of Covid-19 on domestic abuse ONS bulletin  
There has generally been an increase in demand for domestic abuse victim services during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the ONS data. This reflects what we know from specialist domestic abuse services in our federation. The pandemic may have worsened existing abuse but does not cause it – only perpetrators are responsible for their actions. The Women’s Aid report, A Perfect Storm, found that over 60% of survivors living with their abuser reported that the abuse they experienced got worse from March – June 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the significant impact of power dynamics in domestic abuse; we see abusers adapting both lockdown restrictions and the virus itself to assert control and induce fear. A Perfect Storm found that 67% of women currently experiencing abuse said that Covid-19 had been used as part of the abuse they experienced – such as refusing to adhere to public health guidance, forcing survivors into total isolation and stopping them from leaving.

Nicki Norman, acting chief executive at Women’s Aid, said 
“Women’s Aid has been working with the ONS and other experts in the sector on improving how the Crime Survey for England and Wales captures experiences of domestic abuse. It is imperative that statistics on domestic abuse must always make clear the sex of the perpetrator and of the victim. In addition, data on abusive or violent behaviours in a domestic setting should always be captured alongside information on the context of the abuse and its impact.

Any analysis of data cannot ignore the wider implications of unequal distribution of power in UK society. The pandemic has shone a light on both the existence of structural inequalities in the UK and the impact these inequalities have on the experiences of the people they discriminate against. The experiences of Black and minoritised women and disabled women in responses to Covid-19 and domestic abuse must also be taken into account.

Finally, we are deeply saddened by the data on domestic homicides. We know that each statistic represents huge suffering for the late victim and their bereaved families and friends. We urgently need sustainable funding to support our national network of life-saving domestic abuse services. Our research shows that only £393 million per year is needed to deliver the services which women and children need to be safe and free from abuse.”

Read more: Why data matters when talking about domestic abuse 

© 2020 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

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

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