The UK Government definition of domestic violence and abuse is:
“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:
Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”
Domestic violence has a significant impact on the health and well-being of victims both in the immediate and longer term, continuing even after the relationship has ended. The psychological consequences of violence can be as serious as the physical effects. Exposure to violence leads to poorer physical health overall compared with women who have not experienced violence, and it increases the risk of women developing a range of health problems.
Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence grow up in an environment that is unpredictable, filled with tension and anxiety and dominated by fear. This can lead to significant emotional and psychological trauma. They are also at risk of physical harm themselves, either when caught in the middle of an assault or as direct victims of abuse themselves. Dealing with the effects of exposure to domestic violence is a significant element of work around mitigating adverse childhood experiences.
Domestic abuse is recognised as a child protection matter. The definition of ‘harm’ in the Children’s Act includes exposure to witnessing the mistreatment of another. We don’t know exactly how many children in the UK experience child abuse. Child abuse is usually hidden from view. Adults in the child’s life may not recognise the signs that they are being abused and the child may be too young, too scared or too ashamed to tell anyone what is happening to them.
UK research shows that 1 in 5 children experience domestic abuse in the home and 1 in 20 experience child sexual abuse. In Wales, Welsh Women’s Aid estimates 77% of children and young people impacted by abuse may have no specialist support. These figures have likely been exacerbated due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns as Childline, NSPCC Helpline and the Live Fear Free helpline saw an increase in contacts with children present. Cases were often more frequent, severe and complex, resulting in higher referrals to statutory services. Domestic abuse was identified as a risk factor in 59% of serious case reviews undertaken between 2014 and 2017 by social services in England.
A considerable proportion of safeguarding children and adults work relates to the abuse or neglect of people with care and support needs who are living in their own homes. Domestic abuse is most commonly thought of as violence between intimate partners, but it can take many other forms and be perpetrated by a range of people. Much safeguarding is therefore also related to domestic abuse.
An estimated 1 in 4 women experience violence in their lifetime and 1 in 6 men. About 8.5% of women and 4.5% of men report having experienced domestic abuse in the previous year. This is equivalent to an estimated 16,000 female victims and 8,000 male victims in North Wales each year.
Domestic abuse is under-reported. The number of domestic violent crimes with injury in North Wales is much lower than the estimated number of people likely to have experienced the crime.
In 2019 to 2020, one in six of all crimes recorded by North Wales Police were domestic-related and over half of repeat victims of crime were victims of domestic abuse, many of whom had complex vulnerabilities including mental health and substance misuse. The increasing use of Conditional Bail for domestic abuse perpetrators in North Wales is regarded as a reassuring trend and demonstrates that reports of domestic abuse are being taken seriously.
Crime and incident data from North Wales Police shows that domestic crime increased by 15.2% in Conwy during 2020 to 2021 (2,255 incidents, up from 1,957 during 2019 to 2020). In the same period, domestic crime increased by 15.2% in Denbighshire (2,122 incidents, up from 1,871 during 2019 to 2020). Between April to December 2020 there were 812 referrals for domestic abuse support in Denbighshire, compared to 401 during April to December 2019, an increase of 102% of. Initially at the start of the pandemic, there was a decrease in referrals, but this was to do with the fact that victims were at home with the perpetrator and therefore their space to action support was very limited. But since July 2020, there has been a major increase in the number of people seeking support.
Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence amongst children is a significant problem. Rolling regional 12 month MARAC data showed that up to 16 September 2021, there were 2,354 children within the North Wales Police force area living amongst households affected by domestic abuse. As MARAC data pertains to high risk cases and domestic abuse remains an underreported crime, it is likely that the number of children affected by domestic abuse is likely to be higher.
Older people may be more likely to be impacted by lack of mobility, sensory impairments, and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia, which may make them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Research shows that people aged over 60 are more likely to experience abuse either by an adult family member or an intimate partner than those ages under the age of 60.
Our previous well-being assessment found that just under half of cases involved in some way people aged under 16. Around 30% involved children under 5 and that women are more likely to experience domestic violence or be victims of sexual offences than men.
It has previously been estimated that the total costs of domestic abuse in North Wales is £66 million although this is likely to be more. This includes the costs to health care, criminal justice, social services, housing and refuges, legal costs and lost economic output. In addition, the human and emotional costs are estimated at £114 million, based on the notion that people would pay something not to suffer the human and emotional costs of being injured. The overall cost of domestic abuse fell significantly between 2001 and 2008, mostly due to the decrease in the cost of lost economic output, and a decrease in the human and emotional cost, as a result of increased utilisation of public services. The overall rate of domestic violence also fell between 2001 and 2008, concluding that investment in public services was cost effective for the country as a whole, during that time.
There are a number of risk factors that, whilst alone do not cause domestic violence, can increase the chances that abuse may begin, increase the level of risk to a victim, or make a victim more vulnerable to abuse and less able to seek help. There are also some risk factors such as drugs and alcohol that have been shown to increase the frequency or severity of attacks. These include:
“Of particular note in this analysis were indicators of poverty or economic deprivation as feature of the case. The detailed examination of neglect cases revealed the complex ways in which the links between domestic abuse, substance misuse and poverty are 17 often inter-dependent, so that addressing a single issue does not deal with the underlying causes or other issues present. Complexity and cumulative harm was almost invariably a feature of families where children experience neglect.”
North Wales Police, in its strategic assessment (2020), identified that exploitation of individuals and groups is a common feature across its priority areas, which include organised drug supply, child sexual abuse, modern slavery, domestic abuse, hate crime, missing persons, fraud (including cyber-crime), driving under the influence, and rape and serious sexual offences. When examining pathways into serious organised crime, North Wales Police identified that individuals involved in SOC would often be raised in households experiencing on average four adverse childhood experiences, and likely to have experienced parental separation and witnessed domestic violence in their childhood. It was also found to be likely that those individuals’ first introduction to Police and other agencies was due to the possibility of child neglect and abuse.
The North Wales Vulnerability and Exploitation Partnership Board is a strategic network of agencies aligned across all six Local Authority Areas of North Wales (Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham), compromising statutory, non statutory and third sector organisations. The purpose of the strategic partnership is to generate a coordinated, efficient and productive response to tackle Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV) and Modern Slavery, Human Trafficking and Exploitation. We will achieve this by:
Working collaboratively to ensure that individuals within our communities who may be vulnerable and/or subject to exploitation are identified and heard in order to achieve the best outcome for them.
Building trust and confidence through working alongside and within our communities.
 North Wales Police Strategic Assessment 2020 – restricted document.
 North Wales Vulnerability and Exploitation Board (2021). The North Wales Vulnerability and Exploitation Strategy 2021-2024.
Domestic abuse has long been under-reported and the increase in the number of crimes is likely to be due to an increase in reporting rather than incidence.
The number of reported sexual crimes has also seen an increase over the past few years.
The proportion of victims who are female has remained fairly consistent.
Living with domestic abuse and sexual violence creates a distressing, harmful and dangerous environment for children; the long-term consequences of this trauma can last a lifetime. Clearly preventing or intervening as early as possible to stop the abuse and resulting trauma is vital, which is why the VAWDASV (Wales) Act 2015 makes clear that children as well as adult victims should receive protection and support, while aiming to prevent further abuse. Welsh Women’s Aid’s findings have highlight that provision of services for children and young people in Wales is ‘limited, patchy and hugely varied due in large part to unsustainable, inconsistent and in some cases total non-existence of funding towards specialist dedicated services for children and young people.’
 An increasing body of research identifies the long-term harms that can result from chronic stress on individuals during childhood. Such stress arises from the abuse and neglect of children but also from growing up in households where children are routinely exposed to issues such as domestic violence or individuals with alcohol and other substance use problems. ACE Report FINAL (E).pdf (wales.nhs.uk)
If recent trends in reporting crimes persist, reporting of incidences of domestic violence may increase, though it is not clear if recent upward trends are due to increase in occurrences or increase in willingness to report the crimes.
The introduction of the benefit cap and other welfare reforms may make victims more likely to stay with their abuser if they can’t afford to move. Universal credit is paid to one partner which may increase a victim’s financial reliance on their abuser.
Changes to legal aid rules may mean that more victims may stay with the perpetrator because legal aid will not be routinely available in separation, divorce and child contact cases, or for non-British victims not on a spousal visa.
The primary concern when tackling domestic abuse must be the welfare and safety of victims and any affected children. However, consideration also needs to be given to providing help for those who are abusive and violent toward their partners, in particular prevention programmes which deal with behavioural change.
There is also a growing movement to end violence against women, including domestic abuse and sexual violence.
Our analyses will be updated with the latest information from the population needs assessment currently underway.
Given the known impacts of Covid-19 (inequality has been exacerbated, poverty and isolation has increased for some), will there be long term consequences in terms of more families experiencing domestic abuse? Given the links with adverse childhood experiences, is there a risk more children and young people could be at risk of exploitation by organised crime?
Given that domestic abuse is an underreported crime, it is reasonable to assume that these figure are an underrepresentation of the true picture – particularly for vulnerable children and adults.
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