How the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is shaping our practice – by Pete Henderson, Talking Life Trainer on Domestic Abuse

In the year 2021 there were 2.4 million victims of Domestic Abuse in England and Wales. Around one third of these were men (CSEW). This is an epidemic and why domestic abuse training is so important.

The Domestic Abuse Act

The Domestic Abuse Act was signed into law on the 29th April. The Act provides protections to survivors of domestic abuse and strengthen measures to tackle those who perpetrate this behaviour.  

The Domestic Abuse Act ensures there is a legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporates a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.

Following this, the Government introduced Statutory Guidance in July 2022 to support practitioners in the identification and response to domestic abuse and promoting best practice. The guidance identifies signs of domestic abuse, explores the impact on children and survivors with differing needs and experiences. It also explores multi-agency response to domestic abuse both to support the survivors of Domestic Abuse and also to hold those who perpetrate this behaviour to account.

Some of the key provisions of the Act are:

  • Statutory gender-neutral definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but also includes coercive and/or controlling behaviour which affects adults and children.
  • Establish in law the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner and set out the Commissioner’s functions and powers.
  • Placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation as a priority without a vulnerability assessment.

Practice Implications for those who perpetrate abuse

Rather than just focusing in protecting victims of Domestic Abuse, we must hold those who perpetrate abuse to account to prevent more victims. The Act is providing this opportunity. For example:

  • Provide for a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to enable restrictions and positive requirements on those who perpetrate Domestic Abuse. This gives police the powers to remove an alleged perpetrator from the property and they can be compelled to undertake, for example, offending behaviour programmes, undertake a mental health assessment or wear a GPS tag.
  • Enable domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody. In practice this means that perpetrators can be asked questions pertaining to risk such as, if they have formed new relationships, had contact with their children, entered an exclusion or consumed alcohol
  • Clare’s law is now on a statutory footing. People have the right to ask whether a current or ex-partner has an abusive past. Police are required to disclose within 28 days to make a disclosure if they feel it is necessary to keep people safe.
  • Prohibit perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the civil and family courts in England and Wales. This ensures that those who perpetrate abuse do not use the court system to continue to abuse the victim.

This, along with other key legislation such as specific offences of revenge porn and non-fatal strangulation, are helping to prevent those who perpetrate abuse from evading prosecution.

This important piece of legislation is shaping our practice. It is vital as frontline practitioners that we recognise the signs and symptoms of domestic abuse so that we can produce reliable risk assessments and offer support and signposting to help prevent future victims.

As a practitioner within the Criminal Justice System, I have seen increasing numbers of convictions for revenge form and coercive and controlling behaviour. Police are becoming more skilled in noticing the signs and symptoms of non-physical abuse and persuing convictions, even if a witness is unwilling or unable to come forward.

Polygraph testing has been piloted for several years and used widely across the Probation Service. This is resulting in many of those who perpetrate abuse to disclose even before they take the test, helping to manage the risks that they pose.

Claire’s Law

More people are using Claire’s Law and the police are responding quickly. There were over 12,000 applications up to March 2021, a huge increase in the year before. Police disclosed information in more than half of these cases. This is enabling people to make informed choices about relationships to better protect themselves, often their children and other vulnerable people in the family.

16 Days of Action

This annual initiative runs for 16 days from 25 November 2022. It is aimed at businesses, to support them to take action against domestic abuse and fulfil their legal obligation to support the safety and wellbeing of their employees. I have worked with a number of private sector organisations to help them assess the risks faced by some of their employees and offer signposting for support.

All of this work underlines the ubiquitous nature of Domestic Abuse. It is an epidemic.

Talking Life’s Domestic Abuse Training

For information on our domestic abuse training to broaden understanding, risk factors and how to respond to domestic abuse, please click here.