Domestic abuse: the facts, the figures and what housing can do to help
As CIH president Alison Inman reveals she has chosen Women's Aid as her charity of the year, Elinor Crouch-Puzey, from domestic abuse charity Standing Together, takes a detailed look at the issue and what housing providers can do to help.
What is domestic abuse?
The government defines domestic abuse as: any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional.
This includes so called 'honour based violence ‘(HBV), female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage (FM).
Family members are defined as mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, and grandparents, whether directly related, in laws or stepfamily.
This definition is clear that it is a systemic, deliberate and ongoing use of abuse to gain power – this is what sets domestica abuse aside from other forms of violence – for example situational couple violence which isn’t routed in a perpetrator’s need to gain and maintain control.
What are the key statistics on domestic abuse?
• Worldwide one in three women have reported experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime
• An EU study found 13 million women reported experiencing physical violence in the last 12 months
• Two women a week in England and Wales are murdered as a result of male violence
• 62% of children living with domestic abuse are directly hurt by the perpetrator
• 40% of people living with domestic abuse have an ASB complaint made against them compared to 9% of all other tenants
• Of the 121 women who came into and exited services in 2015. 22% had a secure tenancy on arrival while only 13% of service users had a secure tenancy after leaving emergency accommodation
• Four times more likely to have NoSP – 63% v 15% of all tenants
Why is it gendered?
Domestic abuse is a cause and consequence of gender inequality. It is experienced disproportionately by women because of gender inequality and power dynamics between men and women. This doesn’t mean that men cannot experience abuse or that women cannot perpetrate, but as Refuge explains ‘Research shows that the violence experienced by women is different in nature, severity and consequence from the violence experienced by men. The intensity and severity of violence used by men is more extreme and more likely to include physical violence, threats and harassment. Female victims of domestic violence experience more serious psychological consequences than male victims and are much more likely to feel afraid of their partners. Women are four times as likely to experience potentially lethal violence and five times as likely to report that they feared for their lives.’
Who does domestic abuse affect?
Domestic abuse cuts across ethnicity, class, socio-economic groups, sexuality and age and there are barriers for anyone disclosing or exiting a relationship where there is abuse, however; there may be additional barriers to disclosing or leaving for some people. For example, people in LGBT relationships may be threatened with being ‘outed’; survivors with an insecure immigration status or who are in the country on a spousal visa may be concerned about deportation if they disclose or leave the relationship and for older people the perpetrator may well be the career as well. Negative assumptions about people who live in social housing can act as a barrier for tenants.
Why doesn’t she leave?
What we should be saying here is ‘why doesn’t he just stop’ – the responsibility for ending abuse lies with the person perpetrating it, not with the person experiencing it. Leaving also does not guarantee safety and an end to the abuse. In fact, many perpetrators will threaten to kill or harm her/the children/himself if she leaves. In fact, statistics show that separation is a very dangerous time, with 75% of domestic homicides happening at the point of separation or in the six months following. Perpetrators will also blame the victim for breaking up the family if she goes or promises to change or survivors want the abuse to stop but not the relationship. There are also practical reasons for not leaving – with the loss of home and secure tenancy a major one. Solace Women’s Aid found that only 13% of women who exited one of their refuges still had a secure tenancy after fleeing domestic abuse. Leaving will almost always bring the uncertainty of insecure housing, loss of community, work and school and it can take a long time to find security and safety (if at all) again.
If she doesn’t want to leave, housing providers can still support her at home, from installing sanctuary works, removing the perpetrator and supporting with civil remedies such as non-molestation orders.
Why does she go back to him?
The reasons for returning are often similar to those for not leaving. Abusers promise to change their behavior, the children miss the other parent, the victim misses her partner. However, a huge factor in returning is often rooted in the structural challenges of leaving. Often survivors and their children are placed in temporary or emergency accommodation and wait a long time for more stable housing (sometimes losing a secure tenancy in the process). Children may have to leave their school and everything they know and the financial impact of being a one-parent family can be overwhelming. Safety is not guaranteed because many go on to experience post-separation violence and harassment.
She hasn’t reported any physical or sexual violence. Is it still domestic abuse?
Perpetrators of abuse use a number of tactics to gain and maintain power and control within a relationship. Physical violence is just one aspect of the abuse; these other tactics can be just as terrifying and damaging as physical violence. So, someone can be living with abuse without violence. Findings from domestic homicides – where the perpetrator has murdered the victim - has also found that jealous surveillance – such as constantly checking up on someone, reading messages, texting and following them is also an indicator of high risk abuse. Therefore, it is important that abuse without violence is not dismissed. From a housing perspective, one of the main indicators of abuse could be rent arrears – studies have found that 60% of people living with abuse had rent arrears.
Can abusers still be good fathers?
Using abuse is a parenting choice. In most households where there is abuse of a parent, the children are directly or indirectly abused as well and 90% of children are in the same or next room when the abuse takes place with 62% being directly hurt by the perpetrator. Domestic abuse undermines relationships between the none abusive parent and the children as perpetrators limit the time they can spend together or uses the children in the abuse. Children are often used to threaten the non-abusive parent against leaving, or threaten to report her to social services. Unsafe child contact is also an opportunity for post-separation violence. Additionally, in 60% of all serious case reviews domestic abuse was known to have been present in the home.
Do men experience domestic abuse?
Abuse can be experienced by men in both heterosexual and gay relationships, women can experience and perpetrate in lesbian relationships and women can perpetrate against men. However, evidence continually shows domestic abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women. Women also experience more abuse, over longer periods of time and this abuse is also far more likely to result in serious harm or death. Women are more likely to experience stalking and post-separation violence. A robust response to domestic abuse must both recognise that anyone can experience abuse but that is it gendered. You can find out more about how to support men experiencing abuse here.
Are people abusive because of drugs/alcohol/stress/growing up in an abusive household?
Domestic abuse is a choice to gain and maintain power and control within a relationship. We often excuse abusive behavior because of substance misuse or past experiences. Substance use is not an excuse for abusive behavior, but acts as a disinhibiter, and can increase the severity of the abuse. There are lots of people who are stressed or misusing substances who do not perpetrate abuse and lots of people without these factors who do. Abuse is also controlled; perpetrators who have been drinking often manage to get home without attacking anyone else before they attack their partner. Misusing substances is also not an excuse for a person’s experiences of abuse. People experiencing abuse can be more vulnerable because of these factors and in turn, abuse can make them more vulnerable to misusing. People living with abuse will often use substances as a coping strategy, in an attempt to block out the abuse. Using substances often compounds mental health needs, leaving people even more vulnerable to experiencing abuse and exploitation. Any support for someone misusing substances and abusing a partner should be holistic – treating the substance misuse and not addressing the abuse leaves us with a sober abuser.
I work in housing, what can I do to help?
Research shows that domestic abuse is known to escalate in severity and frequency over time, therefore, the sooner it is identified and responded to, the better. That’s where housing comes in. Neighborhood officers and repairs teams etc. might be the first to spot that something isn’t quite right and then have the opportunity to raise a concern to their safeguarding teams to provide someone with support, long before the police are called. Housing agencies who have domestic services repeatedly show survivors reporting one and a half years earlier compared to other agencies as they have a unique and close relationship with residents.
Housing is the cornerstone of any community and ensuring safe, thriving communities means tackling domestic abuse. The link between financial abuse and rent arrears is explicit with 60% of survivors being in arrears of £1k or more. Domestic abuse is also a leading cause of homelessness for women in the UK.
I want to do something to help, where do I start?
It can feel daunting (and expensive) looking at overhauling your entire response to domestic abuse – from writing or re-writing policies to training staff. Most providers have a clear and robust response to ASB, but ASB doesn’t kill two women a week. But by implementing a robust response to domestic abuse you can save time on case management. For example, the housing association; Viridian reduced case length from eight months to seven and a half weeks on average by putting in strong interventions around domestic abuse. By ensuring staff were properly trained, miss-diagnosed noise nuisance complaints were identified as domestic abuse a lot sooner. Saving time on taking action and offering the appropriate support sooner.
What if she doesn’t want to go to the police?
Support should still be offered whether there is police involvement or not, including referrals to specialist domestic abuse services and safeguarding or MARAC referrals where appropriate. Practical support around housing should also be offered, including sanctuary schemes, repairs and management transfers. Some policies stipulate that there should be a police crime reference number before repairs can happen or a management transfer take place, however this can put undue pressure on someone who has already experienced trauma and abuse. People who have experienced abuse have had little or no control over many aspects of their lives, providers can risk re-victimising them by insisting they involve the police, again leaving them to feel they have no control over their own decisions. Housing providers also have many powers under ASB such as injunctions, exclusion orders and should seek to use these as appropriate to empower and protect residents
She seems reluctant to consider the options we’ve given…
People experiencing abuse are often expected to fit into a support model, rather than the other way around. Not everyone who experiences abuse wants to move, or stay, or involve the police or be referred to a specialist service – they may have just started the process of coming to terms with their experiences – and the first step was to make a disclosure. Always let them know the door is open and you are happy to make any referrals when they feel ready. However, if you are concerned about serious harm or death you can override consent and make a MARAC and safeguarding referral.
What is a MARAC?
The MARAC is a multi-agency conference where representatives from various statutory and other agencies meet to discuss the 10% highest risk domestic abuse cases. It is a forum not an agency, therefore making a referral does not mean your work with the person experiencing abuse stops. The MARAC meets between every three weeks to a month and actions are set for each agency working with the person experiencing abuse or perpetrator with the intention of reducing risk. Referrals can be made either following completion of the risk indicator checklist or professional judgement. More detail can be found here.
What can/should we do without consent?
Best practice suggests consent should be sought before making any referral, however if this is not possible and there is concern about serious harm or death a referral can be made to the MARAC or adult/children safeguarding without consent.
Elinor Crouch-Puzey is housing development manager at Standing Together.