Domestic abuse – Assessing the Risk

November 3rd 2023

As solicitors we have to start any case with assessing risk, so how do we do this:

  • Is there coercive controlling behaviour? This may need to be the first thing we identify, as coercive controlling behaviour could be used as another name for domestic abuse. It underpins all abuse; so the exertion of control and the need to maintain control is the risk. Abusive and violent behaviour all stems from this.
  • Fear. Never underestimate this, if a person is afraid, that should be taken very seriously.
  • Gender based risk. It is understood that men can be victims of domestic abuse; but repeated studies show that women are more likely to be victims and the incidence of domestic abuse murders is far higher for women than men. Approximately 2 women a week are murdered by partners or ex partners, the figure for men is about a quarter of that.
  • Take a detailed history of the relationship. It can be hard to self-identify as a victim of domestic abuse, abusive behaviour gets normalised, so solicitors need to look at the background, look at patterns.
  • Are there previous victims? A Clare’s Law search asks the police to disclose a history of abusive behaviour by the perpetrator.
  • Is there a history of criminal behaviour? This is not an essential component of Domestic Abuse, but convictions, especially for violence are relevant.
  • Are there children? Children can be used by an abuser to continue to exert control long after a relationship has ended. A clean break by a victim is harder to achieve when people are linked by shared children.
  • Is there any escalation? Are incidents increasing in frequency, intensity or severity?
  • Has the relationship ended? There is a sharp increase in risk when a relationship ends as abusers try to reassert control by greater abuse or violence, or try to punish the victim for escaping.
  • Is there a new partner? If the victim forms a new relationship, that can increase risk as jealousy or bruised egos drive greater abuse by the perpetrator.

Assessing risk is the first part of addressing the risk, of identifying solutions that reduce risk, no coherent plan can be formed without it.