Policing and Domestic Violence in UK


Arguably, the stipulated laws and policies against domestic violence and abuses have significantly failed in the protection of the victims against the perpetrators of these atrocities. According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) (2014), in 2012/13 there were seventy-seven women who were reportedly murdered by their domestic partners or former partners. Additionally, a quarter of the young population between the age of 10 and 24 years in the United Kingdom (UK) reported having experienced domestic abuse in one way or the other during their childhood (HMIC, 2014). In another research by World Health Organization (WHO) (2014), it was noted that there were a similar proportion of women or higher who were either physically or sexually abused worldwide. The study estimated that 70% of all women had experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. Moreover, 88% and 92% of the women reported having been sexually abused and harassed publicly, respectively, according to a study conducted in New Delhi (UN Women, 2013) Astonishingly, Walby et al (2009) lamented that the rate of prosecution domestic violence perpetrators remains relatively low in the UK.


Domestic violence has steered controversy not only in the UK but also across the globe from the definition and naming, to the spectrum to which it encloses. The agreed terminology is mostly only acceptable among developmental agencies, organization and political spheres such as police, social and health services, and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some of the most commonly used terms include domestic violence, domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, and violence against women and girls (Coker, 2016). Domestic abuse/violence is a broad concept incorporating many forms of physical violence, sexual abuse, psychological torture, and economic dependence (Kulkami, 2012)

Brief history of Domestic Violence/abuse in UK

It is evidently from the literature that domestic violence/abuse has persisted over the centuries and decades, but laws enacted prohibiting its occurrence is a recent phenomenon (Choi, 2009). Until the 20th century, the violence, abuse, and mistreatment were acceptable in the dominant male society (Walker, 1985). Recently, the attitude has changed, and once tolerated act by the community is now widely regarded as unjust and barbaric act. In the 18th century, British common law allowed husbands to beat their wives (Buzawa, 2012). Further, the rape in marriage was not a criminal offense until 1991 in the UK. The violence and rape in marriage were considered a private affair, which ought to be contained within and by individuals privately (Hoyle, 2008). According to Buzawa (2012), historically, societies perceived male as the patriarch, therefore, had a right to use force against women and children in the family when he felt fit.

Since the 1970s, human rights, government agencies and NGOs activist particularly the female affiliated groups such as UN Women, have changed and transformed the violence from the private affair to public matter (Choi, 2009). In the UK, for instance, the group established a nation-wide refuge and shelter, public education campaigns, legal forums, supporting facilities and commodities to the victims. Furthermore, the groups have managed to change the perspective of the society on the nature, extent, and impact of the violence. Nevertheless, the greatest achievement was the recognition and classification of the act as criminal activity by the government (Weldon & Htun, 2013).

Concept of Domestic violence

The nature, scope, comprehensive definition of what domestic violence entails and the commonality of the act has been a common debate among the feminine groups, the government, and its agency, NGOs, policy makers, practitioners and researchers (Hamilton et al. 2013). Since its criminalization and classification as a social problem, there exists a problem in identifying the scope, response, the charges involved. Most of the agencies and police have their encounter of the vice (Bettinson & Bishop, 2015).

The UK government classifies domestic violence and abuse as; “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behavior, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality, encompassing but not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and/or emotional” (Gov. Uk, 2016). Consequently, the government has urged and encouraged humanitarian, law enforcement and activist against these atrocities to have their classification and scope of the violence (Choi, 2009). In writing, choice (2009) attested the issue to the complexity of the family structure and the hideous nature of the act, which has meant that it is being ignored or isolated as a result. The domestic violence is rooted deeper than the act itself, or the interpersonal interaction between the victim and perpetrators rather encompasses social culture and traditional beliefs and attitude towards women and the entire institution of marriage (Weldon & Htun, 2013).

As stated before, the act of domestic violence/abuse is not gendered nor is it restricted to any particular group. According to Walker (1979), the victims are found in all spheres of life including age group, race, ethnicity, education level, socioeconomic, religious and recently the gender. A Recent study by Essex (2013) showed that 21% of the domestic violence victims are male.

Although most communities and governments consider domestic violence demeaning and inhumane, the tacit toleration of the activity persists and is still a common problem (Muftić & Cruze, 2014). The abuse is evident by the recent video where a man was recorded by closed circuit TV (CCTV) badly assaulting his then girlfriend in stairways (Silva, 2017). Although the footage steered social outrage, the nature and extent of the violence, particularly against women in the society, was clearly depicted.

The study by Garcia-Moreno et al., (2007), found that the reported prevalence of domestic violence by partners or individuals in one’s lifetime especially physical and sexual or both varied between 15-75%. According to the study, women were more likely to be experience physical or sexual assault compared to men. The finding confirmed that the domestic violence against women is still widespread

Laws and Domestic Violence

The government has made a significant step towards eradication of domestic violence menace from the society. Since the late 1970s, the governments of UK and its respective agencies have put in place some bills, laws, and policies safeguarding the lives of domestic abuse victims (Gov_uk, 2016).

The recent passing into law the Serious Crime Act 2015 s76 by UK government that includes the offence of controlling or coercive behavior towards intimate or family member stamped the commitment of the government to the fight against the problem (Bettinson, 2015). However, the extent of the police responding in a casual manner to the call of the domestic violence negates the essence of the law, as noted in the report by HMIC (2015). The report further highlighted the suggestion that the police are not entirely conformed to the laws relating to domestic violence since most of them are not clearly stipulated or defined.

Historically in the UK, as noted by Bettison (2015), the prosecution of domestic violence perpetrators for their crime within the context has encountered many barriers including the response of the police to this offense and poor training and tools to fight the vice. In a study by Macy et al. (2010) on the challenges, the agency faces regarding their capacities on the social change, attested the community norms and the tension between the society and the service providers.

Agencies Involved and Policing

According to UN Women (2017), in majority of countries, less than 40% of the victims (Women) of domestic violence seek help of any kind. Although the majority of those who have tried help went to family members rather than formal reporting and mechanism such as police, health services or feminine groups.

Pahl (2016) in his book described the difficulties faced by the victims of the domestic offense who sought refuge in the government agency. By contrast, though, 31% of the women who tends to remain in the violent relationship experienced more abuse from the same perpetrators. Pahl (2016) attributed the tendency of most women to stick to the same relationship to the handling of the case by the police, with some still having the mentality that it is a private matter while some do not know the act that constitutes domestic abuse. In light of the previous research to relating case of stalking and consequent experience of domestic offenses and violence committed by a former partner, Weller et al. (2016) noted that police officers and detectives normally have prior knowledge on the stalker however, the offices may show bias due to the former relationship between the two (Stanko,2013). Furthermore, Weller et al. (2016) associated the described case to policing experience terming it has a protective factor toward biases relating to a prior relationship.

Andrews and Miller (2013), based on the research hypotheses that most of the domestic violence are women-oriented, explored whether increasing the women representation in the police force could result in the arrest of more offenders. Through the lens representative bureaucratic theory, which posits that the police department will be more responsive to the public if the officers reflect the demographic characteristics of the people they serve (Muftić &Cruze, 2014). The finding by the research showed a gendered performance in the policing by achieving the gender equality in organizational settings whereby female officers are likely to push for arrest and prosecution of male offenders in cases of domestic violence.

Furthermore, criminalization of domestic violence in the UK has created a symbolic form of condemnation and standing against the offense. According to Hester (2013), using criminal justice to tackle the menace is not, however, straightforward as it seems. There exist some problems including the fact that England justice system is incident based, and the decision about the arrest, charges, and later prosecution of the offender is assessed to the incident report of the police (Campbell et al. 2012). Further, HMIC (2014) noted the confusion by majority of officers with some legal requirements when dealing with a domestic case such as ‘positive action.’ Thus, in contrast, most of the domestic abuse is an extensive progressive behavior spanning over some weeks or even years. Additionally, as described by Cretney and Davis (1995), England adversarial system makes it difficult to deal with cases where the two conflicting parties know each other, in this instance, the perpetrator, and the victim.

Finally, in writing, Hester (2013) also attested the lack of specific crime of domestic violence in the UK. Notably, the charges of the arrests may vary from general assault, unlawful wounding, harassment, violence against a person to attempted murder. The actual charges for domestic violence vary by the arresting officers and area. Therefore, a police officer may face confusion in classifying domestic violence especially in conflicting accounts and counter allegations from both parties. HMIC (2014) attributed the difficulty to poor training and awareness as well as parallel accounts by the perpetrator and the victim.

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As ascertained by research, domestic violence continues to be a problem socially even after a decade of condemning, advocating against and criminalizing the act. It should be highlighted that the violence is not gendered by rather symmetric and historically women have encountered a much large share of the offense even condoned by law. Research have demonstrated that this kind, though controversially defined with no clear or precise scope and extent, it is culturally rooted (Coker, 2016). Therefore, its fight should be based on its grass root, which entails changing people’s mentality on perception of their manhood, patriarchy, and authority.

Passing and enacting laws that ban, prohibit, or criminalize the violence particularly against women is the major step by the government and other agencies promoting human rights and privilege. However, having laws and policies that are concretely defined is essential for the law enforcer and prosecutor. Policing in the case of UK lacks a comprehensive understanding of the laws against domestic violence due to its conflicting nature. Therefore, engaging the officers’ response, empowering their efforts, removing the concept that violence is a private affair and most importantly, clearly defining what constitutes domestic violence is a significant start in eradicating the menace.

Dig deeper into Parliamentary Sovereignty and Statutory Interpretation with our selection of articles.


Andrews, R. & Johnston Miller, K. (2013). Representative bureaucracy, gender, and policing: the case of domestic violence arrests in England. Public Administration, 91(4), 998-1014.

Campbell, R., Patterson, D., & Bybee, D. (2012). Prosecution of Adult Sexual Assault Cases. Violence against Women, 18(2), 223-244

Coker, D. (2016). Domestic Violence and Social Justice: A Structural Intersectional Framework for Teaching about Domestic Violence. Violence against Women, 22(12), 1426-1437.

Cretney A & Davis G (1995). Punishing Violence. London: Routledge.

Garcia-Moreno, C., Jansen, H., Ellsberg, M., Heise, L., & Watts, C. (2007). Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the WHO Multi- Country Study on Womenʼs Health and Domestic Violence. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 109(1), 198

Gov.UK,. (2016). Domestic violence and abuse - GOV.UK. Gov.uk. Retrieved 11 March 2017, from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-violence- and-abuse

Hoyle, C. (2008). Negotiation Domestic Violence: Police, Criminal Justice and Victims, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Kulkarni, S., Racine, E., & Ramos, B. (2012). Examining the Relationship Between Latinas' Perceptions About What Constitutes Domestic Violence and Domestic Violence Victimization. Violence and Victims, 27(2), 182- 193.

Muftić, L. & Cruze, J. (2014). The Laws Have Changed, But What About the Police? Policing Domestic Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Violence against Women, 20(6), 695-715.

Pahl, J. (2016). Private violence and public policy: The needs of battered woman and the response of the public services (1st ed.). London: Routledge.

Ragavan, M., Bruce, J., Lucha, S., Jayaraman, T., Stein, H., & Chamberlain, L. (2016). The Health of Women and Children after Surviving Intimate Partner Violence. Violence against Women.

Silva, C. (2017). The shocking domestic violence video the victim wants people to see. The Independent. Retrieved 11 March 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/domestic-violence-video- victim-mark-power-birmingham-west-midlands-police-footage-attack- a7622206.html.

Stanko, E. (2013). Intimate Intrusions (Routledge Revivals): Women's Experience of Male Violence (1st ed.). Oxon: Routledge.

Walker, L. (1979). The Battered Woman, London: Harper and Row Publishers,

Weller, M., Hope, L., & Sheridan, L. (2012). Police and Public Perceptions of Stalking: The Role of Prior Victim-Offender Relationship. Journal Of Interpersonal Violence, 28(2), 320-339.

WHO,. (2017). Violence against women. World Health Organization. Retrieved 11 March 2017, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/.

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