Earlier this week the controversial government plan to cut legal aid for domestic violence was revised. The justice secretary, Ken Clarke, announced that victims of domestic violence will now be given greater access to legal aid to fund civil cases against abusive partners.
Quite right. Anyone who witnessed domestic violence in their childhood will tell you that the psychological affects are long lasting and very difficult to overcome. A colleague of mine, Gaia Marcus, wrote a powerful blog on domestic violence, referencing important research by the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College which shows a very strong link between domestic violence experienced by women in pregnancy and a host of long-term, acute social and psychological problems affecting both the mother and child.
The personal, social and economic costs of DV are estimated to be 5.5 billion a year. Nearly 1 million women experience at least one incident of domestic abuse each year. At least 750,000 children a year witness DV. 54 per cent of women victims of serious sexual assault were assaulted by their partner or ex-partner. Victims of DV are more likely to experience repeat victimisation than victims of any other types of crime –76 per cent of all domestic incidents are repeat offenses. And women experience an average of 35 incidents of DV before reporting an incident to the police. More positively, levels of domestic violence continue to come down and have consistently done so since the UK started measuring it (however imperfectly) in 1994.
What are perhaps most interesting and worrying is the emergence of an under reported, under discussed and under researched social problem in the UK. Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has said the UK is at “risk of developing a new culture of domestic violence”. While the numbers of domestic violent incidents has fallen over the past decade, the trend has been bucked by an increase in domestic violence among young people. Young women aged between 16 and 19 are at the highest risk of sexual assault (17.9%), stalking (8.5%) and domestic abuse (12.7%).
Attitudinal research shows teenagers to be more likely than other age groups to excuse and accept domestic violence in their own relationships and others. NSPCC research shows that violence in teenage relationships is indeed more common than previously thought. 25 per cent of girls and 18 per cent of boys surveyed reported that they had experienced some form of physical violence, while nearly 75 per cent of girls reported that they had experienced some sort of emotional violence from partners. More than 75 per cent of girls with an older partner reported that they had experienced physical violence.
It is the responsibility of central and local government to take domestic violence seriously. It is surely also the responsibility of major think tanks and organisations like the RSA to also take domestic violence seriously. The starting point for central and local government should be to safeguard and reform refuge and vital services for women and children at risk of domestic violence at a time of austerity rather than cutting them. The starting point for organisations like the RSA might be to dedicate more brain power and expertise to research and policy work on the drivers behind domestic violence, particularly in the relationships of young people, focusing on how domestic violence in our society can be prevented and tackled more effectively.
In this next blog, I’ll talk about a new project being developed at the RSA which aims to do just that.