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What drives domestic violence?

December 13, 2012

Big Lottery Fund Policy Adviser Ceri Hughes on tackling domestic violence in Wales:

In difficult economic times, we get used to hearing about certain things that go up – such as prices, unemployment, and homelessness – and other things that go down – such as wages, and benefit payments. Domestic violence is often included in this balance sheet, with an intuitive link drawn between the incidence of domestic violence and economic difficulties.

Likewise, at Christmas we often read stories about the potential for a rise in domestic violence. There is a familiar logic to these arguments, which goes something like this: when people get poor/drink/experience familial pressures, they get mean.

In fact, one of the main challenges when it comes to tackling domestic violence is that we usually don’t know when and where it is happening. It is a pattern of behaviour that is not confined to a particular time of year, or to a particular part of the population. It is not, for example, something that only happens to poor people, or to heterosexual couples, or to women (although they do comprise the majority of victims). There is evidence that it can be triggered at particular times, but the difficulty with using statistics to try to get a handle on the issue is that there is so much that we do not know.

The estimates that we have are startling. In the UK, it is calculated that one in four women are affected by domestic violence, whilst the Violence Against Women Action Group suggests that over the next year more than 50,700 women in Wales will suffer more than 200,000 incidents of domestic abuse (comprising emotional, sexual, physical and financial forms of abuse), but only about 3,380 will result in successful convictions.

BIG_B_BLU_screenThe difficulty with such figures is that they point to a hidden world that is outside the experience of many people who read them: they are shocking figures that can appear disconnected from reality And yet many people have to face this reality. Whilst there is a case for using estimates and key events to raise awareness of this issue, we must not lose sight of the banality of violence in many people’s lives. As a result, there is a real need to address this issue at a systems level.

Through the People and Places programme, BIG has been supporting the victims of domestic violence, ensuring the provision of tailored support to children and young people, and working with perpetrators to change behaviour and attitudes:

  1. By working with low and medium risk families, victims can be supported to plan for their own safety and that of their children
  2. By working with the perpetrators of domestic violence, people can learn to analyse their behaviour and come to realise the impact that it has on others
  3. Children living with domestic violence can be affected in different ways, but there is a growing evidence-base that demonstrates the negative impact that domestic violence can have on child development. By working with children and young people, they can be supported to understand their experiences and plan for the future

But there is still much to be done. We need to find a balance between providing vital support services for people in crisis and also tackling the problem of domestic violence at the root. BIG is currently considering how it can support the development of services in this area so that people can access support whoever they are and wherever they live. With domestic abuse back on the agenda now is the time to reflect on practice, to identify the great projects that have already been set up across Wales and to ensure that other organisations can learn from these successes.

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