Stop Adult Abuse Week

Domestic abuse and mental capacity

Children and Consent

There is a strong, evidence-based link between domestic abuse and child abuse. Exposure to domestic abuse is always abusive to children, although the impact on them may vary. Where adult safeguarding and domestic abuse are being addressed and children are involved or present, professionals have a duty to refer to children’s services, even if the adult victim chooses not to, or is not able to, accept help for him or herself.

Why don’t they just leave? – myth busting

Effective work with victims of domestic abuse requires an understanding of the reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, and why they may not seek or respond to offers of help.

Some barriers to seeking help arise from the emotional and psychological impact of domestic abuse. Others may be practical or social/cultural.

They may include:

  • Fear of the abuser and/or what they will do (this may be realistic based on past experience and threats that have been made)
  • Lack of experience or knowledge of other victims who have dealt with abuse successfully
  • Lack of experience of positive action from statutory agencies
  • Lack of knowledge/access to support services
  • Lack of resources, financial or otherwise
  • Previous experiences and/or a fear of being judged or not believed
  • Love, loyalty or emotional attachment towards the abuser, and hope that they will change
  • Feelings of shame or failure
  • Pressure from family/community/friends
  • Religious or cultural expectations
  • Previous experience and/or fear that people from their community (e.g. LGBT, BAME) will be poorly understood or ignored
  • Fear of agency pressure to pursue a criminal case
  • The long term effects of abuse such as prolonged trauma, disability resulting from abuse, self-neglect, mental health problems
  • Numbness or depression rising from their circumstances
  • Low self-esteem/self-worth
  • Drug and/or alcohol addiction (and fear that this will be used against them)
  • Anticipated impact on children and/or dependent adults
  • Fear of single parent stigma
  • Fear of losing contact with children, dependent adults and other relatives and friends

Think Family

Think Family works. Research suggests that a multi-agency ‘Think Family’ approach can be effective in helping families, even for those who have not benefited from traditional service approaches. The summary of the Centre For Excellence and Outcomes research report on supporting families with complex needs is summarised as follows:

  • Multi-agency, flexible and coordinated services, with an underpinning ‘think family’ ethos, are most effective in improving outcomes. This includes staff in adults’ services being able to identify children’s needs, and staff in children’s services being able to recognise adults’ needs. Such services are viewed positively by families and professionals alike.
  • Early intervention prevents problems becoming entrenched; the practical help, advice and emotional support which many parents value can often be given without referral to specialist services. Children and young people also prefer an informal approach.
  • In order to access services, parents must feel reassured that they are not being judged or stigmatised, and be helped to overcome their fears of having their children removed.

Research has identified that families want services that are multi-disciplinary and which do not withdraw when the crisis is over but continue to prevent or reduce the circumstances that can result in further crisis. The most effective multi-disciplinary work retains a family focus, builds on the strengths of family members and provides support tailored to need.

Think Family: It is recognising that families are complex systems and if family members want to make changes that are helpful and long lasting this need to be done with all members of the family as a whole. We need to recognise how the needs and outcomes of each person in the family affect each other. If the work is only with one person in the family, there will only be limited changes to the whole system/family. Families are individual and will have their own culture and ways of working. It is important to learn from families how they work and change the way we work with them accordingly.

Think Family strengths: A common theme for all think family situations is the need to acknowledge and build on the resilience and social capital that already exists in family and their wider support networks. Practitioners need to work in a way that empowers and facilitates service users to develop mechanisms and approaches that can help sustained change after intervention from agencies has ended.

Key messages for professionals and the public:

Coercive behaviour

It is a criminal offence in England and Wales for someone to subject you to coercive control. If you experience this kind of abuse you can report it to the police. You may also be able to apply to the Family Court for protection.  

What is coercive control?

Coercive control is when a person with whom you are personally connected, repeatedly behaves in a way which makes you feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared.

The following types of behaviour are common examples of coercive control:

  • isolating you from your friends and family
  • controlling how much money you have and how you spend it
  • monitoring your activities and your movements
  • repeatedly putting you down, calling you names or telling you that you are worthless
  • threatening to harm or kill you or your child
  • threatening to publish information about you or to report you to the police or the authorities
  • damaging your property or household goods
  • forcing you to take part in criminal activity or child abuse

Some of the behaviours in this list can be other offences as well as coercive control, so your abuser can be arrested for more than one offence for the same behaviour.  For example, if your abuser broke your phone as part of their coercive control then they could be arrested and charged for coercive control and also the offence of criminal damage.

Your abuser will be guilty of the offence of coercive control if

  • they are personally connected to you, and
  • their behaviour has had a serious effect on you, and
  • your abuser knew or ought to have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on you. 

What does serious effect mean?

Your abuser’s behaviour is considered to have a serious effect on you if:

  • on at least two occasions you have feared that violence will be used against you, or
  • you have felt serious alarm or distress and it has had a substantial effect on your usual day to day activities. The behaviour has had a  substantial effect on you if it has caused you to change the way you live. For example, you may have changed the way you socialise, your physical or mental health may have deteriorated, you may have changed the way you do household chores or how you care for your children. If you have changed the way you live in order to keep you or your children safe from harm, it is possible that the behaviour you are experiencing is coercive control.