Government Ministers recently announced the implementation of two significant changes to the Domestic Violence (DV) laws. The official definition of DV is to be changed to include psychological intimidation and controlling behavior and the scope of the offence widened to include teenagers aged 16-18. These changes clearly are a step in the right direction. They will enforce the protection of teenage victims who are abused while in a relationship and cover all those victims suffering from the various forms of mental domestic abuse.
Victims can be and are men, women, boys and girls and abusers can be and are of any age. Domestic violence and abuse is a control issue and it is about time this is recognised in law.
The definition of DV will be broadened to ‘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’.
Previously a victim of DV had to be an adult and therefore teenagers under the age of 18 could not legally be victims of this offence. Teenage victims, of whom there are many, could not rely on the offence to bring their abusers to justice.
There is some question mark as to whether this change really does go far enough. The answer is probably no. Teenagers begin relationships that are often serious from as young as 11-12 years old, usually when they make the transition from primary to secondary education. Therefore any aspect of DV can commence at that early age leaving victims suffering without recourse through the offence of DV.
It was disturbing to hear on BBC Breakfast News recently from a young girl who began a relationship at the age of 13 and was suffering from DV just 8 months in to that relationship. She suffered physical and psychological abuse but remained in the relationship for a number of years. At the age of 17 she finally confided in a teacher after reaching her lowest point and attempting suicide. At the age of 13 she did not have the same protection or legal recourse as an adult would have had and she felt she would not be recognised as a victim of DV. Teenagers are more vulnerable than adults and will undoubtedly need more support if suffering at the hands of someone who they believe cares for them.
Clearly the change in the law is a step in the right direction but it still leaves victims under the age of 16 out in the cold in so far as DV is concerned.
Widening the definition of DV to include psychological, mental abuse or controlling behaviour is a great step forward for all victims. Too often we suspect or hear about this kind of abuse which can be just as damaging to the victim as a broken nose or a black eye. It can often go undetected as there is no immediate physical marks or signs, the discreetness of the abuse may even lead the victim to question whether they really are a victim of DV. It usually takes more courage for the victim to come forward in these situations where there is no physical evidence. Now that this type of behaviour has been defined as an element of DV hopefully this will encourage the victims to speak out.