Domestic Violence Against Women in the UK

For this essay I am going to look at Domestic Violence against women and what the State is doing to protect them. Domestic Violence is now a well-known global occurrence affecting not only women but also their children too. Violence against woman has been around since the dawn of time. We have all seen cartoon pictures of the caveman dragging his mate behind him by her hair. It was just something that men did. Woman had no protection against men especially if they were married to their attacker.

For the first 75 years of the 20th century women were seen as meek and subservient to their men and were also owned by those men. Men had a social right to keep their women under control. Things began to change from the late 1960’s early 1970’s. As feminism became more popular the feelings that men owned their women began to subside. But this change in society did not so much to change the occurrence and violence of violence in the home.

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So what exactly is domestic violence? “ Domestic Violence is usually defined as physical, emotional, sexual and other abuse by someone (usually but not always a man) of a person (usually not always a woman) with whom they have or have had some form of intimate relationship such as marriage, in order to maintain power and control over that person. It may include threats to kill or harm the woman and/or her children or other family members” (Barron 1992)

Lists of typical injuries sustained by victims include: This list could go and on. Injuries do not have to include physical but also mental. The cause of domestic violence against women can never fully be documented. There is the Liberal approach that violence against women is a rare occurrence and that it is only a small number of men who will abuse. They blame social backgrounds that form a cycle of abuse. If the father used violence against the mother then the child will see it as normal. They also feel that to push a man as far as to commit an assault sexual frustration should also be taken into consideration. But the criticisms against this approach include the notion that not all men who come from a broken home go out and commit rape and systematic abuse. They see that the women have to take part of the blame by the way they act or dress.

Class is another main approach in trying to decipher why men use violence against women. Violence is attributed to the lower/working classes or black social groups. Sylvia Walby has attacked this approach by saying that this is not the case. Not all under educated, low paid or low status men go out and rape and abuse.

Radical feminists see domestic violence as a widespread and classless act. They see that men are expected to take the lead in a situation, they are supposed to be strong and macho. They go to war and fight for their countries. Their strength is something to be looked up to not down on. Their strength is their basis of power. The critics against this approach say that is does not take into account class or race. Male violence is a form of social control and the state does not make an attempt to control and eradicate it. The sate is run by men, for men, to protect men.

Figures to show the extent of male violence against women is difficult to truly estimate due to the large number of abuse cases that are never reported to the police. Statistics that have been documented are alarming to say the least.

  1. 1 in 4 women may experience violence in their relationships with men (Women’s Aid Federation {England} report 1992)
  2. Severe, repeated and systematic violence occurs in at least 5 of every hundred marriages in the UK: Between 40% and 45% of murdered women are killed by their male partners; Between 1 and 2 women are murdered by their male partners every week; More that 25% of all violent crime repeated to the police is domestic violence of men against women, making it the second most common violent crime. (Hague & Malos 1993)
  3. 100,000 women per year seek treatment on London for violent injuries received in the home (Punching Judy, BBC1 TV Programme 1989)
  4. 30,000 women and children stay in refuges in the UK every year; In Wolverhampton, 1 in 6 women had suffered some form of domestic abuse; One quarter of all assaults are in domestic circumstances (Domestic Violence – Report of an Inter-Agency Working Party 1992)
  5. In Edinburgh Scotland out of 3020 cases of violence reported to the police, three quarters of those were wife assault.

These figures from all over the country are only the reported cases of abuse.

So we can see that domestic abuse makes up a very large proportion of what cases the police are dealing with. But how affective are the policies in place for victims and attackers at the moment.

The Home Office issued a circular on Inter-Agency co-ordination on domestic violence in 1995. This was issued to relevant public agencies such as the police and social services. The recommendations included the need for refuge involvement in Inter-Agency co-ordination, which is widely accepted as essential. Refuges are at the forefront of domestic abuse. They are the ones who see what domestic abuse can do to a woman and her children first hand. They are uniquely able to monitor the impact of the entire policy framework (housing, benefits, civil and criminal law, police practice etc) on women and children in the middle of the war zone of domestic abuse.

Inter-Agency projects involved many agencies including Women’s Aid, other women’s community organisations, police, local authority, probation, Crown prosecution, Victim Support, Health services and solicitors. In January 1995 there were at least 79 established inter agency projects that had been in existence for more than a year, at least 25 projects that were more or less established and had been in existence for more than 6 months, and at least 55 projects in the process of setting up. (Hague and Malos 1995)

In 1990 the Home Office issues a circular (C/60/90) to all police forces requiring them to develop an effective response to domestic violence. Since then many police forces have set up Domestic Violence Units to respond to victims and assist them in pursuing criminal prosecution, civil protection measures or moving them to a refuge or other place of safety.

So is the State doing anything to protect women from violence within the home? The Violence against Women Initiative is part of the £250 million Crime Reduction Programme which the Home Secretary announced in the summer of 1998. The CRP is evidence led programme that aims to reverse the long-term rise in crime by identifying and piloting a range of cost effective approaches to reducing crime.

£6.3 million has been made available to local agencies/multi-agency partnerships to develop and implement local strategies for reducing two types of violence experienced by women: Domestic Violence and Rape and sexual assault by known perpetrators. Now at least the state is actually admitting that domestic violence is something that cannot be kept swept under the carpet any longer.

The 1993 Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Report on Domestic Violence has helped to bring domestic abuse out into the open. It findings noted that domestic violence is not limited to any particular class or social group as some approaches have. From April 1999 a new definition of domestic violence came into effect for use in police returns to the HMIC (her majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary).

This definition was intended for statistical purposes only, and was designed to allow easier comparison of domestic violence statistics between police forces and to give a better understanding of the nature of information being collected. Organisation were encouraged to make their own definitions according to local needs and circumstances and Forces remain free to use whatever definition they wish for local record keeping. The definition reads:

“The term ‘domestic violence’ shall be understood to mean any violence between current or former partners in an intimate relationship, wherever and whatever it occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse”. This at least widens the goalposts when dealing with domestic abuse as before the police were reluctant to get involved within domestic disputes. Before, domestic violence was seen as a crime less worthy than others assaults. In July 1990, guidance was issued to the police in England, Wales and Scotland (1991 Northern Ireland) for dealing with incidents of domestic violence. The guidance emphasised:

  • The over riding duty to protect victims and children from serious attack
  • The need to treat domestic violence as seriously as other forms of violence
  • The use and value of power of arrest
  • The dangers of seeking reconciliation between assailant and victim
  • And the importance of record keeping to monitor the policy in practice

With more effort being made on the side of the police with the set up of more Domestic Violence Units within stations, some headway is being made in protecting women and their children. The DVU officers are there to put women at ease, giving support and advice and helping them get in touch with relevant outside agencies. The DVU practices and procedures are examined within forces by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Where there are instances of poor practice, reccommendations are made. In the Home Offices study in 1995 it particulary commended the work carried out by the Domestic Violence Units and its officers. They may not be able to protect women from the crime of violence but they are there to listen and advise after the event. (Grace 1995)

The Crown Prosecution Service was responsible for a review on criminal proceedings in England and Wales in 1993. With this was published and easy to follow guideline on how to deal with domestic abuse cases. This was later updated in 1995. It emphasised the desirability of prosecuting cases of domestic violence and made particular mention of how the CPS should proceed if a woman decides she wants to withdraw her support for prosecution. (which is in fact a major problem in charging men with domestic violence).

Only this week new proposals have been made by Jack Straw to deal with the withdrawing of support from the victim. If these guidelines go through it would help in the fight against violence as, even if the victim decides not to pursue her attacker, the police can follow through the charge with or without her help. This, in short means that even if the man sweet talks his wife/girlfriend etc into dropping the charges the police can go ahead and charge him anyway. This will help the courts in the sentencing of violent men.

The CPS is involved in Home Office-led pilots of “One Stop Shops” for victims of violent crime where they can be kept up to date with the progress of their case, and Victim Statements, which allow the victim to provide information on the impact which the offence has had on them. Domestic violence is included as a case category within these pilot schemes. Many CPS areas also have representatives who participate in local domestic violence forums; also, the CPS victims/witness care national training programme is currently being developed in consultation with Victim Support and will include the specific needs of victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is also central to the Probation Service’s core functions of crime reduction, public protection and victim contact. It is also a critical factor in Family Court Welfare work and any other work requiring child protection procedures. The probation service recognises the importance of this and undertakes work both directly with perpetrators and in support of those who have survived violence. In 1996 ACOP Position Statement about domestic violence recommended that individual services adopt a policy on domestic violence which:

  1. Affirms that domestic violence should be treated as seriously as any other violent behaviour;
  2. Promotes the development of a distinctive and effective community programme for perpetrators;
  3. Commits the service to working in a way which will promote the safety of survivors and children and highlights the importance of working in partnership with other agencies; and
  4. Recognises that the abuse of male power and control is a central feature to much domestic violence

The Home Office, with HM Inspectorate of Probation, is currently developing a training pack on domestic violence to inform the work of the probation service and assist officers in dealing with offenders who have a background in perpetrating domestic violence. Also, the Probation Service is currently working on developing an accredited national programme of perpetrator programmes. This will include a number of programmes for the perpetrators of domestic violence which will be piloted through the Home Office “Pathfinder” initiative.

There has also been a forward thinking change within Part IV of the Family law Act 1996 that deals with domestic violence. The Lord Chancellor implemented this change in October 1997. The Act now requires the police and court to attach the power of arrest to an occupation order or non-molestation order if the respondent has used or threatened violence against the applicant or child concerned unless it is unnecessary for their protection.

Formerly only current spouses and cohabitants could apply for a remedy against domestic violence, but the Act now also covers spouses, former cohabitants and a number of other categories of people within a broadly defined domestic or family relationship. This made it possible for girlfriends’ current or past to have the same protection as wives.

The safety of fleeing victims of violence is also an important factor when looking at how the state is helping to deal with violence. At the moment many of the “safe houses” for battered women are solely charity based. This means that if the money stops coming in from benefactors then the house has to close. There is a report due for release in spring 2000, which will hopefully tackle this problem. Within this review it is hoped that state funding will be released to help house victims as well as giving them the support they need to survive their ordeals.

Finally addressing offending behaviour is something we must touch upon. There has been an evaluation carried out on two courts ordered treatment programmes for men who had been found guilty of violence against their female partners. (“Change” & Lothian Domestic Violence Probation Programme). The evaluation compared treatment programmes with either more traditional criminal justice sanctions.

The research, though base on a small number of men, found that all criminal behaviour justice interventions (fines, community service, prison) appeared to have positive effects on the behaviour of the men convicted of violence against their female partner. However, the two Scottish re-education programmes were the most successful in reducing violence and associated coercive behaviour. The full report into this was published in 1996 (Research Evaluation of Programmes of Violent Men).

In conclusion to the barrage of information given in this essay I have come to see that pre 1980 society or the state did not see a problem with domestic violence. It was just something that happened within some marriages and was coped with. The police were not interested in getting involved in domestic disputes, the courts didn’t really seem to have any set rules in how to deal with violent men and there was no outside help there for women who had to live with the threat of violence on a daily basis. Now there are Domestic Violence Units and officers in most of the countries police stations who have been trained to deal with female victims.

The Government is trying to set policies to protect women from their violent partners and give them the help they need. Refuges are a more frequent occurrence than say 20 years ago. Women do have the support they need when either they get hit just once too often or too badly that they have no choice but to seek help or end up another fatality statistic. But all these Acts and reviews and safe houses do not protect the women in their own homes. Some men still feel it is their right as husbands or partners to lash out at women if they feel like it. All the policies in the world are not going to help the women at that moment in time. But saying that, she does not have to suffer for years on end because she has nowhere to go and no help available.

Domestic violence is a crime, but it a crime that still goes on today. The state can only protect and provide to a certain extent, the rest is up to society to educate the youth of today and tomorrow that violence towards another, especially a women is not a mans right. It cannot be tolerated or accepted. The state can only go so far, the rest is up to better education from a young age.


  1. Barron et. al. 1992 WAFE Evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee Enquiry into Domestic Violence Bristol: WAFE
  2. Woman’s Aid Federation (England) Report 1992
  3. Hague & Malos 1995 Against Domestic Violence: Inter Agency Initiatives Bristol SAUS
  4. Punching Judy BBC Television Programme 1989
  5. Domestic Violence – Report of an Inter Agency Working Party 1992
  6. Mooney J 1994 The Hidden Figures: Domestic Violence in North London London Islington Police & Crime Unit
  7. Inter-Agency Circular; Inter Agency Co-Ordination to Tackle Domestic Violence Home Office, 1995
  8. Grace S 1995 Policing Domestic Violence in the 1990’s Home Office Research Study
  9. British Crime Survey 1996 The Home Office
  10. Dobash/Dobash/Cavanagh/Lewis 1996 Research Evaluation of Programmes for violent Men Scottish Office Central Research Unit
  11. Dobash/Dobash/Cavangh/Lewis 1996 Re-Education Programmes for Violent men – an Evaluation Home Office Research Findings No 46
  12. Domestic Violence & Repeat Victimisation Home Office Police Research Briefing Note No 1/98
  13. The Family Law Act Part IV 1996

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Domestic Violence Against Women in the UK. (2018, Jun 26). Retrieved from