It is also to be widened to explicitly include “coercive control”, which is defined as complex patterns of abuse by one partner using power and psychological control over another, such as financial, verbal abuse or enforced social isolation.
The current single definition of domestic violence as “any incident of threatening behaviour, or abuse between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality” was introduced in 2004. It is not a statutory definition but it is used by government departments, crown prosecutors, the police and immigration authorities to identify domestic violence cases and ensure they get access to help for them to escape an abusive relationship. The definition covers so-called “honour violence”, female genital mutilation and forced marriage but teenagers aged 16 to 18 are currently excluded.
However, the British Crime Survey has recently found that young people are more likely to suffer partner abuse than any other age group, with 12.7 per cent of women and 6.2 per cent of men aged 16-19 having experienced some kind of domestic abuse in the last year.
The Home Office says that anecdotal evidence shows there are worrying high levels of acceptance of abuse in teenage relationships: “At present, domestic violence committed against a person under 18 would be considered child abuse by most services. Whilst this may be appropriate for children experiencing parental or family-based violence, there is the suggestion that the nature of teenage relationships is often more similar to relationships between adults and as such could be considered an extension of adult domestic violence.”
It adds that recent research shows that more fluid, less narrow labels are needed to describe teenage relationships, in which a “date” can take many forms and non-cohabiting couples are far more likely than in adult relationships.
A survey of teenagers in 2009 by the children’s charity NSPCC found that 75 per cent of girls experienced some form of emotional abuse, 33 per cent of girls experienced some form of sexual abuse and 25 per cent some form of physical abuse. Three-quarters of the girls surveyed who had a partner at least two years older than themselves said they had experienced some form of physical violence.
A Home Office impact assessment has estimated that as many as 5,280 high-risk teenage girls could be referred to multi-agency panels involving the police, domestic violence advisers, children’s services, health and housing professionals, as a result of the move to improve their safety.
Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said the true face of domestic violence was much more complex and more widespread than people often realised. “Suffering at the hands of people who are meant to care for you is horrific at any age. But it can be especially damaging for young people — the scars can last for a lifetime.” He said that frontline campaigners, the police and councils had called for the new definition so they could provide victims with the right support.
Clegg added that the message was “even if you are young, even if what you experience isn’t one single act of violence, you do not have to put up with abuse. There is help out there for you.
“And to the perpetrators the message is equally simple: what you’re doing is wrong and won’t be tolerated.”