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Luke Martin of Martin Training and Consultancy, one of the leading trainers in the field of domestic violence advisory services, in his latest article for Bristol Law Society looks at changes in the definition of Domestic Violence.

September saw the Home Office announce that the definition of domestic violence would be widened to include those aged 16-17 and wording to reflect coercive control. The decision follows a Government consultation which saw respondents call overwhelmingly for this change. The Home Office will also be changing the title of the definition to ‘domestic violence and abuse’.

The new definition will be implemented in March 2013.

The definition of domestic violence and abuse now states:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

“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.”

This definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

The purpose of extending the definition is to increase awareness for young people in this age-group who may experience domestic violence and abuse, encouraging more of them to come forward and access the support they need – for example, speaking to someone about the abuse or contacting a helpline or a specialist service. Although there will not be any additional legal support for victims aged 16 and 17 there may be an increase in tools such as NMO’s.

As stated by Nick Clegg; “When you say domestic violence people think that’s one act of physical violence, but actually psychological and emotional coercion, abuse over a long period of time is just as unacceptable and that is why we as a Government are saying we are changing the definition, we are saying it’s not just about an act of violence, but it’s also about coercion over a long period of time.

Minister for crime prevention Mr Browne stated, ‘Previously the definition of domestic violence was for 18-year-olds and over, but we had a consultation process and a lot people said to us that 16 and 17-year-olds are quite often living with their partners, are often the victims of domestic violence and yet maybe the services for dealing with domestic violence weren’t fully recognising the likelihood of 16 and 17-year-olds being victims, so we have changed the definition to include 16 and 17-year-olds.’ However, the definition of domestic violence used by most services across the UK had already included those from the age of 16 upwards, and had supported those suffering from coercion.

The concern from many domestic violence services in the UK is that instead of widening the number of people getting help for domestic violence, the Government has actually introduced greater restrictions on people getting support – especially through the Legal Aid Act earlier this year. The definition is not statutory and does nothing to reverse this Government’s decision to use much narrower criteria and tests for granting legal aid in domestic violence cases.

Shadow home secretary and Labour’s spokeswoman for women and equalities, Yvette Cooper, raised concerns over access to legal aid and support for services. She stated there had been ‘disproportionate cuts of 31% to refuges and services supporting women escaping violence. And ministers have failed to recognise the serious risks in the design of universal credit both to refuge funding and to vulnerable women’s financial independence, which could make it harder for them to leave abusive relationships.

For those working in Family law the difficulty will lie in proving coercive control. It would be encouraged that all victims receive support from a domestic violence service, which will be able to document coercive behaviour and monitor the change in risk. Through such services a report may be created to use as evidence if required. It is through the use of external agencies that most victims will be able to prove they are suffering abuse under the new Home Office definition.


Although only a brief insight in to the vast field of domestic abuse and lays a foundation for what may arise for professionals as well as a basis for future articles focusing on domestic violence and the law. For more information please visit or contact Luke Martin by e-mail