The decision to broaden the definition of domestic abuse in the UK as outlined by the Home Office to include coercive control has been welcomed by professionals who work with victims of domestic violence and young victims of gang violence. The changes are timely as the numbers of young people between the ages of 16 to 18 experiencing intimate partner abuse increase. The lack of awareness of psychological abuse which tends to be about power and control is exacerbated by the fact that there is more focus on family type relationships.
There is very little awareness with regards to abuse amongst teens which often starts very slyly using various tactics - anger, intimidation, blame, coercion, isolation which culminates in complete control of the victim. Because this type of abuse is not often visible, very few victims seek help or make an effort to leave abusive relationships. According to recent statistics released by NSPCC, a British organisation, only 8 per cent of girls surveyed told a parent or carer about the abuse they were being subjected to by a partner/boyfriend.
It is important to realise that most teen abusers who use power and control in most instances fail to realise the impact of their behaviour and could easily grow up to be abusive spouses/partners There are growing concerns being raised by professionals working with young people in inner cities that abusive behaviour from boys and young men is considered as a normal part of relationships by young girls and women.
A study carried out in 2007 by the NSPCC a children's charity, showed that three quarters of girls and half of boys experienced some kind of emotional violence from their partner and 1 in 3 girls had experienced some sexual violence. A British crime survey also recently revealed that 16-19 year olds were the group most likely to suffer abuse from a partner and the figures were estimated at 12.7 per cent for girls and 6.2 per cent for boys. There is often the fear that reporting these abuses could lead to young people being ostracised from their peer groups. The roles that girls play in gangs found in inner city estates means that a good number of them are subjected to horrific treatment by male members of the gang.
The broad definition of domestic abuse will enable the police and prosecutors to abandon the narrow interpretation of the term so that non-physical behaviour which can also be applicable to teenage victims as young as 16 is included. The benefits of this change will no doubt, take time. Effective awareness raising will only be achieved by adopting various strategies such as integrating the changes into the UK school curriculum to educate young people about the devastating effects of domestic violence which in some cases, end in homicide.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.