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5.13 Domestic Abuse


The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. Click here for further information on the Domestic Abuse Act. This procedure will continue to be updated as the various provisions of the Act come into force.

See also: Domestic Abuse Act: overarching Documents and Factsheets (GOV.UK).

The Government's updated Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Strategy sets out the government's strategy including planned legislative provisions to tackle issues such as child marriage and 'virginity testing'.


For detailed guidance, see Liverpool Safeguarding Children Partnership, Guidance for Safeguarding Children Abused through Domestic Violence/Abuse 2007.

For additional information, please see:

Guide for Local Areas on the Change to the Definition of Domestic Violence and Abuse (March 2013)

Domestic Abuse: A Resource for Health Professionals (DHSC, 2017)

Working With People Who Have Experienced or May Be Experiencing Domestic Violence/Abuse

Home Office Domestic Violence website

NICE Guidance, Domestic Violence and Abuse: How Health Services, Social care and the Organisations they Work with can Respond Effectively

Domestic Abuse: Specialist Sources of Support (GOV.UK)

Royal College of Nursing, Domestic abuse: Professional Resources


Liverpool City Council and Liverpool Domestic Abuse Services


This chapter was amended in February 2022. Section 1, Definition was updated to include the Working Together to Safeguard Children definition and to reflect that, with effect from 29 April 2021, section 71 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 removed the so-called ‘rough sex gone wrong’ defence. Where a person inflicts serious harm (wounding, actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm) on another person, it is not a defence that the victim consented to the infliction of the serious harm for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification.

With effect from 29 June 2021, section 69 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 expanded so-called ‘revenge porn’ to include threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.

Links were also added to: Domestic Abuse: Specialist Sources of Support (GOV.UK) and Liverpool City Council and Liverpool Domestic Abuse Services (see Relevant Guidance above).


  1. Definition
  2. Impact on Children and Young People
  3. Action to Safeguard
  4. Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

1. Definition

Working Together to Safeguard Children defines Domestic Abuse as:

Domestic abuse can encompass a wide range of behaviours and may be a single incident or a pattern of incidents. Domestic abuse is not limited to physical acts of violence or threatening behaviour, and can include emotional, psychological, controlling or coercive behaviour, sexual and/or economic abuse.

Types of domestic abuse include intimate partner violence, abuse by family members, teenage relationship abuse and adolescent to parent violence. Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality or background and domestic abuse can take place inside or outside of the home.

Domestic abuse continues to be a prevalent risk factor identified through children social care assessments for children in need. Domestic abuse has a significant impact on children and young people.

Children may experience domestic abuse directly, as victims in their own right, or indirectly due to the impact the abuse has on others such as the non-abusive parent.

Under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, children are recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, if they see, hear, or experience the effects of the abuse, and are related to the perpetrator of the abuse or the victim of the abuse. Abuse directed towards the child is defined as child abuse.

Where there is domestic abuse, the wellbeing of the children in the household must be promoted and all assessments must consider the need to safeguard the children, including unborn children.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 says that behaviour is ‘abusive’ if it consists of any of the following:

  1. Physical or sexual abuse;
  2. Violent or threatening behaviour;
  3. Controlling or coercive behaviour;
  4. Economic abuse;
  5. Psychological, emotional or other abuse.

and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct. The perpetrator of the abuse and the victim of the abuse have to be aged 16 or over and are ‘personally connected’ as intimate partners, ex-partners, family members or individuals who share parental responsibility for a child. There is no requirement for the victim and perpetrator to live in the same household.

Domestic abuse in teenage relationships is just as severe and has the potential to be as life threatening as abuse in adult relationships. Victims under 16 should be treated as victims of child abuse and age appropriate consequences should be considered for perpetrators under 16. Abuse involving perpetrators and victims aged between 16 and 18 could be both child and domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 uses the term ‘victim’ but not everyone who has experienced, or is experiencing, domestic abuse chooses to describe themselves as a ‘victim’ and they may prefer another term, for example, ‘survivor’.

The statutory guidance Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship defines controlling or coercive behaviour as:

  • 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.

Note: The Government is updating the statutory guidance relating to the controlling or coercive behaviour offence as section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 will be amended by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

Other forms of abuse may be present for example:

Abuse by family members which can involve abuse by any relative or multiple relatives. Abuse within a family set-up can encompass a number of different behaviours, including but not limited to violence, coercive or controlling behaviours, and economic abuse. Abuse by family members also encompasses forced marriage, so called ‘honour’-based abuse and female genital mutilation.

Child-to-Parent Abuse which can include physical violence from a child towards a parent or other family members such as siblings and a number of different types of abusive behaviours, including damage to property, emotional abuse, and economic/financial abuse. Violence and abuse can occur together or separately. Abusive behaviours can encompass, but are not limited to, humiliating language and threats, belittling, damage to property and stealing and heightened sexualised behaviours.

Technological abuse using technology and social media as a means of controlling or coercing victims. This happens frequently both during and after relationships with abusers and is particularly common amongst younger people.

Spiritual abuse using religion and faith systems to control and subjugate a victim often characterised by a systemic pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour within a religious context. A form of spiritual abuse may include the withholding of a religious divorce, as a threat to control and intimidate victims.

See: GOV.UK, Statutory definition of domestic abuse (November 2021) and Working Together to Safeguard Children.

The definition includes 'honour' based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage (see Merseyside Forced Marriage & Honour Based Violence and Pan Merseyside Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Protocol), and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

While the cross-government definition above applies to those aged 16 or above, 'Adolescent to parent violence and abuse' (APVA) can involve children under 16 as well as over 16. See: Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA) Home Office.

See also Working With People Who Have Experienced or May Be Experiencing Domestic Violence/Abuse.

For more details of the national plans to tackle domestic violence and abuse - see: Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Strategy which sets out a life course approach to ensure that all victims – and their families - have access to the right support at the right time to help them live free from violence and abuse.

With effect from 29 April 2021, section 71 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 removed the so-called 'rough sex gone wrong' defence. Where a person inflicts serious harm (wounding, actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm) on another person, it is not a defence that the victim consented to the infliction of the serious harm for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification.

With effect from 29 June 2021, section 69 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 expanded so-called 'revenge porn' to include threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.

2. Impact on Children and Young People

Prolonged and/or regular exposure to domestic violence/abuse is likely to have a serious impact on a child's health, development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the adult victim to protect the child. It will often be appropriate for such children to be regarded as children in need, and in some cases as children suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

As the LA is adopting an ACE model and trauma informed response, I think this needs to be included as DA is one of the ACE's identified.

The amendment made in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to the Children Act 1989 clarifies the meaning of “harm” and makes it clear that “harm” includes impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another.

Domestic violence/abuse can have an impact on the safety and welfare of children in a number of ways, including:

  • Children receiving blows or sustaining injuries during episodes of domestic violence;
  • Children being emotionally harmed by witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of parents;
  • The safety of an unborn child being threatened, where a pregnant woman is assaulted;
  • The experience of violence/abuse having a negative impact on the ability of the adult victim to look after the children.

The impact of domestic violence/abuse on children is exacerbated when:

  • The abuse is combined with substance misuse;
  • Children witness the violence/abuse;
  • Children are drawn into the violence/abuse;
  • Children are pressurised into concealing the violence/abuse.

Even so, children's exposure to parental conflict, with or without exposure to violence, can lead to serious anxiety and distress among children.

3. Action to Safeguard

Where there is evidence of domestic violence/abuse, the implications for any children in the household should be considered, including the possibility of the children being physically or emotionally harmed themselves.

Everyone working with children and families should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic violence/abuse and the Abuse and Neglect of children.

The police are often the first point of contact with families in which domestic violence/abuse takes place. When responding to incidents of domestic violence/abuse, police officers should find out whether there are any children living in the household. They should see any children present in the house to assess their immediate safety. Police officers should refer to Children's Social Care to enquire whether any of the children in the household are already subject of a Child Protection Plan and should make enquiries to establish whether there are any court orders or injunctions in force in respect of members of the household.

Where there is immediate concern about the safety of the child in relation to an incident of domestic violence/abuse, the police can exercise their powers to safeguard, either by removing the abusing adult, or indeed removing the child.

Where emergency action is taken to protect a child, the police should inform Children's Social Care immediately, and a Strategy Discussion, involving the police, Children's Social Care and any other relevant agency should take place.

In circumstances where it has not been necessary to take emergency action to protect a child, but the police have responded to an incident of domestic violence/abuse and a child is a member of the household, the police should refer the matter to Children's Social Care, using the Referral, Investigation and Assessment Procedure.

One serious incident or several lesser incidents of domestic violence/abuse where a child is living in the household should result in Children's Social Care undertaking an Initial Assessment. The assessment should focus on the ability of the non-abusing parent to protect the child from Significant Harm, and the support and services she might need to do so.

The issue of informing the parents of the referral will need to be handled sensitively in such situations, in order that the process of referral and Children's Social Care assessment does not put the non-abusing parent and children at further risk.

In responding to situations where domestic violence/abuse may be present, professionals should:

  • Ask direct questions about domestic violence/abuse;
  • Check whether domestic violence/abuse has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and consider this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention;
  • Identify who is responsible for the abuse;
  • Take into account the possibility of an increased risk of Abuse towards the abused parent or child following intervention;
  • Ensure that both parents are provided with information about their legal rights and the extent of and limits of statutory powers;
  • Assist abused parents and children to get protection from the abuse by providing practical assistance and advice as appropriate;
  • Support non-abusing parents in making safe choices for themselves and their children;
  • Work separately with each parent where domestic violence/abuse prevents abused parents from participating fully;
  • Offer trauma informed responses to DA to adults and children.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 created an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships. Controlling or coercive behaviour does not relate to a single incident, it is a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another. Such behaviours might include:

  • Isolating a person from their friends and family;
  • Depriving them of their basic needs;
  • Monitoring their time;
  • Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware;
  • Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep;
  • Depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;
  • Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;
  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;
  • Forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;
  • Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
  • Threats to hurt or kill;
  • Threats to a child;
  • Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. Threatening to 'out' someone);
  • Assault;
  • Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);
  • Rape;
  • Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.

4. Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

4.1 Domestic Violence Protection Orders

NOTE: Domestic Violence Protection Orders will be replaced by Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and Domestic Abuse Protection Notices under Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This chapter will be updated as the legislative provisions come into force. Click here for further information on the Domestic Abuse Act.

Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) provide protection to victims by enabling the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident.

With DVPOs, a perpetrator can be banned with immediate effect from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days, allowing the victim time to consider their options and get the support they need.

4.2 Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme ('Clare's Law')

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) (also known as 'Clare's Law') commenced in England and Wales in March 2014. The DVDS gives members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, where there is a concern that the individual may be violent towards their partner. This scheme adds a further dimension to the information sharing about children where there are concerns that domestic violence and abuse is impacting on the care and welfare of the children in the family.

Members of the public can make an application for a disclosure, known as the 'right to ask'. Anybody can make an enquiry, but information will only be given to someone at risk or a person in a position to safeguard the victim. The scheme is for anyone in an intimate relationship regardless of gender.

Partner agencies can also request disclosure is made of an offender's past history where it is believed someone is at risk of harm. This is known as 'right to know'.

If a potentially violent individual is identified as having convictions for violent offences, or information is held about their behaviour which reasonably leads the police and other agencies to believe they pose a risk of harm to their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. A disclosure can be made if it is legal, proportionate and necessary to do so.

For further information, see Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.