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CAADA calls for more funding for young domestic abuse victims

New CAADA research(1) reveals the severity of teenage domestic abuse and the vulnerability of these victims living in the UK today. As the government announces that the definition of domestic violence will be changed to include teenagers and the use of ‘coercive control' in a relationship, the charity welcomes proposals but says that more funding is urgently required to enable services to cater for these highly vulnerable victims.

CAADA collected data on 183 cases where the victim was under 18, from a range of specialist domestic abuse services across England and Wales across a two year period. The data shows that these teenage victims experienced at least the same level of violence as adult victims, one fifth of victims were pregnant and many endured additional problems which increased their vulnerability:

  • The majority (62%) of the victims were at risk of serious harm or murder, with 76% experiencing physical abuse such as punching, slapping or kicking, 44% experiencing physical abuse of a high severity such as broken bones or strangulation and 52% reaching the MARAC(2) threshold.
  • 78% experienced controlling behaviour, such as threats to kill, threats to expose sexual activity, isolation from family and friends or being put down in public.
  • 53% had been stalked or harassed, for example receiving obsessive texts, constant phone calls and threats.
  • 22% had experienced sexual abuse, for example rape, sexual assault or unwanted touching.
  • The victims are twice as likely as adults to receive abuse from multiple perpetrators, with 14% reporting more than one abuser.
  • 27% of the victims had self harmed, 25% had experienced mental health issues and 21% had threatened or attempted suicide.
  • 20% of the victims were pregnant.
  • 18% had financial problems.

Information on the referral routes taken by these younger victims demonstrate that they were more likely to be identified by the police, children's safeguarding and health agencies and only 1% would self refer to a specialist domestic abuse service. Victims who attended A&E because of injuries went to hospital on two times as many occasions as their adult counterparts.

Diana Barran, Chief Executive of CAADA said: “Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA) warmly welcomes government proposals to change the current definition of domestic violence. In particular we welcome proposals to amend the definition to include teenage victims and to widen the definition to include to coercive control.

“The current Home Office definition of domestic violence indicates that abuse only happens between adults aged 18 and over. But this definition does not reflect reality: teenager victims exist and our data shows that they are amongst the most vulnerable in the UK today. The young women in our research were at high risk of serious harm or murder, over a quarter had self harmed and one in five were pregnant. There is a clear need for support in this area and it is essential that independent domestic violence advisors are funded to work with victims of all ages.

“We also welcome broadening the definition to include coercive control. The current definition refers to ‘any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse'. Domestic abuse is not about one off incidents. It involves a pattern of behaviour often including physical, sexual and psychological abuse, of which coercive control forms a part. We know from our work with high risk domestic abuse services that a defining feature of the most dangerous cases is controlling behaviour, and that this behaviour is exhibited by abusers more frequently than other types of abuse. By changing the definition we will shine a light on the many victims who are constantly being controlled by their partners, and who may not realise that they are living with domestic abuse, but who are nonetheless at serious risk. Furthermore, we can raise the significance of control as a risk factor in Family Court cases involving contact and residency of children.”

Maria* (18 yrs old) was 13 when she met her abusive ex-boyfriend. After two years of violence and sexual abuse she summoned up the courage to tell her teacher and speak to the police. “ When we started going out together, I knew he had anger management problems but he was very persuasive and I didn't really feel like it was something I could get out of easily. Quite quickly he became emotionally abusive, calling me ugly, fat, stupid. As it was my first relationship I thought it was normal behaviour.”

“Then the physical abuse started. One 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. 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.”

The abuser was found guilty of rape and assault and is now serving a prison sentence. Although she is pleased that justice has been served, the abuse has left Maria with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and she has been unable to resume school or get a job since the court case. “ I'm 18 now and I still get nightmares all the time. My mum has had to stop work to look after me. We have moved home to be away from his family, who have continued to harass us.”

“I'm getting better help now that I'm 18, including a therapist who specialises in supporting victims of sexual abuse. I think the government should drop the age limit but they should really make the definition applicable to a younger age than 16. After all, any teenager could be affected by domestic abuse – I was 13. If the services were in place I might have got the help I needed at a much earlier age.”

(1) CAADA Insights factsheet on teenage domestic abuse
(2) A Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) is a regular, voluntary partnership meeting where information on the highest risk domestic abuse cases is shared between local agencies. To date, CAADA has trained and provided policy support to over 260 Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs). CAADA has also trained over 1400 Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs).

FIND OUT MORE

For more information please visit the Home Office website, or read our press release.

This article was taken from www.caada.org.uk – http://www.caada.org.uk/news/caada-enews-Sep2012-dv-definition-change.html