Approximately 2 million adults experience domestic abuse every year, with around a 65% to 35% split between women and men respectively.The financial cost of supporting these victims is £66 billion per year in England and Wales alone, for bodies such as the NHS and social services. The emotional and physical cost is of course impossible to quantify.
As such, preventing domestic abuse is of huge importance, not only for victims and survivors and the services that support them, but for the improvement of family relations too and the protection of children who may witness domestic abuse. Reducing the pressure on an overstretched criminal justice system which is having to deal with perpetrators of abuse is also crucial at a time of overcrowded prisons and under-resourced probation services.
So how can collective action be taken, by all stakeholders working in and around preventing and tackling domestic abuse, to reduce and ultimately end this crime?
Programmes for Perpetrators
Following a highly criticised delay in the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill in 2019, the newly appointed Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, is preparing for a reintroduction of the Bill in 2020. With the December 2019 Queen’s Speech highlighting the focus on perpetrators as a way to better protect victims, the Home Office has announced that the 2020 iteration of the Bill will be strengthened, in part, by including programmes for perpetrators.
A key aim of these programmes is to facilitate behaviour change, for example through mental health assessments and one-to-one counselling, supporting perpetrators of violence and abuse to control impulses, build better relationships, and ultimately understand the impact of their abuse. Where needed, agencies offering support on alcohol and drug misuse should be included.
A successful example of this approach is the Drive pilot scheme, developed by Safe Lives, Respect and Social Finance, which led to sustained reduction in abuse when trialled among 506 perpetrators in two areas in England and Wales over three years.
Actions from Employers
While domestic abuse charities and health and social care workers are in a prime position to work directly on tackling domestic abuse, prevention has to start much earlier and reach a far wider base. With 33% of all domestic violence homicides happening on workplace grounds, employers of all kinds have a duty to raise awareness of abuse, encourage an environment in which victims and survivors feel able to talk about this, and also better understand the patterns of perpetrators.
Not only can businesses actively help tackle this “silent epidemic” for the good of society, but by doing so can often contribute to saving £2 billion annually, which is the cost of domestic violence and abuse to businesses.
Supporting employers to be pro-active in this space is the 16 days of action campaign, which offers key themes for organisations to consider highlighting, including depression and domestic violence in the workplace, and how to get buy-in from senior staff, as well as a helpful toolkit that offers a step-by-step guide on how employers can tackle this issue.
Organisations are advised to contact their local authorities for a full list of service providers in the local area that they can work with more closely on both prevention and providing support for staff.
Policy Changes for Schools and Police
As part of taking a more holistic approach to preventing abuse, the government has introduced compulsory Relationship Education, Relationship and Sex Education, and Health Education. From September 2020, age-appropriate relationship education will be taught in all primary and secondary schools in England and Wales.
The aims of this is to develop more awareness and understanding among young people of what healthy relationships look like, and be able to identify warning signs of potential abuse early enough to stop actual abuse occurring.
Furthermore, when abuse has occurred and is being responded to, those responding agencies, particularly across the criminal justice system, will be given more training on appropriate methods for dealing with different situations that can help prevent future abuse happening. Alongside this, guidance is to be developed for police on serial and repeat perpetrators, and developments will continue around improving methods for collecting, reporting and tracking domestic abuse data.
Time to Act
With so much advice and guidance now available and being developed for roll out in 2020, including the expected passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill, it is clear that now more than ever is the time to take collective action in tackling domestic abuse and violence. This can no longer be left solely to agencies such as social services and small charities, who are underfunded and under-resourced, despite managing to conduct excellent work every day for those in need.
Ending domestic abuse requires collective action between responding agencies, businesses, schools and the public; across regions, across the UK, and across the world.
Reflect today on what you, your team, your agency, your network can do to help.
This article was written by Lauren Powell, Portfolio Lead, IG Criminal Justice Hub