Legislation about domestic abuse
Legislation in England, Northern Ireland and Wales states that "seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another person" is a form of harm (Section 120. Adoption and Children Act 2002; Section 28. Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998).
In England and Wales, "controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship" is an offence (Section 76. Serious Crime Act 2015). The offence carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.
In England, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 recognises children as victims of domestic abuse if they “see, hear or otherwise experience the effects of abuse”. The Act places a duty on local authorities to support all victims of domestic abuse in safe accommodation such as refuges.
In Scotland, legislation includes domestic abuse in the definition of child abuse (Section 24. Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006). The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 also makes it a statutory aggravation for domestic abuse to involve or affect a child (this includes a child hearing, seeing or being present during an abusive incident).
In Scotland the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 aims to improve the justice system’s response to abusive behaviour and sexual harm. When sentencing, courts are required to take into account whether an offence involved abuse of a partner or ex-partner. Offences committed elsewhere in the UK can now be prosecuted in Scottish courts and a criminal non-harassment order can be imposed in a wider range of circumstances than before.
In Wales, the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 includes provisions to improve arrangements to promote awareness of gender-based violence and to prevent, protect and support victims of gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence. The Act also introduces a needs-based approach to developing strategies to respond to all forms of violence against women.
Statutory guidance highlights the responsibility of those in the education, community and care sectors to safeguard children from all forms of abuse and neglect:
Other policy and guidance
The Home Office has published a strategy on tackling violence against women and girls (Home Office, 2021a). The elements of the Strategy which relate to crime, policing and justice apply to England and Wales. The elements relating to health, social care, and education apply to England only.
In England, the Home Office has published factsheets on the measures included in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, why they are needed and the impact they will have (Home Office, 2021b).
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and the Department of Justice have published a strategy for tackling domestic and sexual violence and abuse. The strategy seeks to prioritise the emotional and psychological needs of children who have suffered as a result of violence and abuse. The strategy includes an annual action plan (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and Department of Justice, 2021).
In Scotland, the Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) have published Equally safe: Scotland's strategy to eradicate violence against women. It aims prevent and end violence against women and girls in Scotland (Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, 2018).
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