Young victims of domestic violence to be recognised in revised legal definition

By Joe Lepper and Lauren Higgs

| 19 September 2012

The legal definition of domestic violence is to be widened to include teenagers, so that 16- and 17-year-olds can access support to escape abusive relationships, the government has announced.

Plans to change the legal definition of domestic violence follow a government campaign to prevent abuse in teenage relationships. Image: Home Office/posed by models

Currently the official definition of domestic violence is limited to people over the age of 18 who are in abusive relationships. But from March next year, the definition will be expanded so that it covers teenagers and victims of psychological abuse such as “coercive control”.


Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said government wants to take the lead on exposing “the true face of domestic violence”.

“Suffering at the hands of people who are meant to care for you is horrific at any age,” he said. “But it can be especially damaging for young people – the scars can last a lifetime.

“Campaigners, councils, the police – the people on the frontline – have called for this new definition so that they can do their job and provide victims with the right support.

“The coalition is joining forces with them to send a message loud and clear: even if you're young, even if what you experience isn't one single act of violence, you do not have to put up with abuse. There is help out there for you. And to the perpetrators the message is equally simple: what you're doing is wrong and won't be tolerated.”

Meanwhile, the plight of teenage victims of domestic abuse has been highlighted in new research by the charity Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse.

The charity analysed 183 domestic abuse cases where the victim was under 18 and found that a fifth were pregnant when the abuse took place.

In six out of ten cases victims were at risk of serious harm or murder and in three quarters of cases they were punched, slapped or kicked. 
A similar proportion (78 per cent) were the victim of controlling behaviour such as threats to kill or being isolated from their family.

Just under half (44 per cent) of cases involved broken bones or strangulation and 22 per cent had been sexually abused or raped. 
A quarter of victims had self-harmed and a similar proportion had mental health issues. Around a fifth had threated to or attempted suicide.

The charity is calling for domestic violence support workers to be trained to work with victims of all ages, and for such support to be better signposted.

Diana Barran, chief executive of the charity, said: “The young women in our research were at high risk of serious harm or murder. There is a clear need for support in this area and it is essential that independent domestic violence advisers are funded to work with victims of all ages.”

Maria, 18 – whose name has been changed to protect her identity – got into a relationship with an abusive partner when she was 13. 
“On one occasion he held a knife to my throat, another time he broke my wrist and another time he strangled me until I passed out,” she said.

“He also started to rape me. I really felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, especially as he threatened to sexually abuse my nieces if I did. I was terrified that he would do to them what he was doing to me.”

A recent British Crime Survey found that 16- to 19-year-olds were the group most likely to suffer abuse from a partner, with 12.7 per cent of women and 6.2 per cent of men in this age group suffering abuse, compared to seven per cent of women and five per cent of men in older groups.

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