Saturday, 19 December 2015

A sample of domestic violence research - UK figures

Author - Drew Roan.

Part 1: The Duluth Model -
Part 2: The Conflict Tactics Scale -
Part 3: UK figure of DV - This article

Summary: This entry takes a look at data on the scale of domestic violence suffered by men and women in the UK, estimates for male and female victimisation, differences in the estimates, and availability of emergency shelters for men and women within the UK.

Data provide by domestic violence advocacy services is often missing, incomplete or out of date. It becomes clear that whilst help for both men and women is chronically under-funded, the issue of funding for male victims is even more extreme.


It is no secret to anyone who has looked at domestic violence research in depth that different advocates can produce radically different evidence.

In part 1 [12] of our domestic violence series, we observed that feminist researchers and advocates often use the Duluth Model when understanding and working to end domestic violence. Meanwhile, many independent sources (including multiple Government research bodies) use the Conflict Tactics scale [16].

It’s important to understand where advocates obtain their data from and how it can affect policies, public opinion and advocacy. For the sake of simplicity, we will be focusing on the UK at this time, more specifically England and Wales.

Domestic Violence shelter claims:

When it comes to understanding the scale of domestic violence, many individuals pay close attention to what domestic violence shelters claim on the scale of partner violence. So it’s worth understanding exactly what data they use.

The domestic violence group Refuge make broad claims that “1 in 4” women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. However, for solid statistics the nearest they cite is the British Crime Survey (later renamed the Crime Survey for England and Wales) 2001/02 where they claim there were “635,000 domestic violence incidences” with “81% of victims who were women”. [1]

It should also be noted that Refuge repeated the claim by Women’s Aid UK that “two women a week will be killed by male partners or ex partners of violence”. However, this claim is based on a poorly informed understanding of data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales and is not accurate at all. [2]

At this time, Women’s Aid UK have recently switched over their website format, so current stats are unavailable. But in their submission to the UK Parliament in 2012, they state that over “1 million” women are victims of domestic abuse each year. No mention is made in regards to male victims of domestic violence. [3]

In 2014, the Guardian reported that numerous services were at breaking point because they had refused to offer their services to male victims of domestic violence, which was in violation of the 2010 Equality Act. [4]

It is alarming that specialists in helping with domestic violence against people in society do not appear to be using the full facts available or even up to date figures in some cases.

What do UK Government statistics say?

Based off Government data collected over a recent three year period, estimates range between 1.9 and 2.1 million victims of domestic abuse. By gender, these break down as:

Between 1.2 and 1.4 million women estimated to have been victims of domestic violence between 2011-2014. [5][6][7]

Meanwhile, male victims are estimated to have accounted for between 0.7 and 0.8 million victims of domestic abuse between 2011-2014. [5][6][7]

This averages out at around 37.5% men, and 65% women (2 million victims, 1.3 women and 0.75 men). As such women are (a very rough estimated, rounded to the nearest whole number) twice as likely to be a victim of domestic violence than men. Taking these statistics into account we would expect to see roughly an order of twice as many refuges available for women than men.

It’s worth remembering that these are only estimates based off Government surveys and as such may be prone to under-reporting or potential inaccuracies in total estimates.

Further care should be taken when interpreting these stats as to what the definition of “partner/ex-partner” is as the definition can be particularly broad. For example, the ONS document Chapter 2: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences – Homicide define partner/ex-partner as this:

Partner/ex-partner includes the sub-categories 'spouse, cohabiting partner,boyfriend/girlfriend, ex-spouse/ex-cohabiting partner/ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, adulterous relationship, lover’s spouse or emotional rival'. [2]

The ONS definition of “partner/ex-partner” includes people you are not actually in a relationship with or have ever been in a relationship with, so some care should be taken when interpreting ONS data on “partner/ex-partner violence”.

In 2010, the Guardian reported that there were 7,500 shelter placements for women but just 60 for men. However, this total at the time included all dedicated spaces for men and women as well as places that were considered “multi-purpose”. [8] This is a ratio of one space for men, for every 125 for women.

In 2014, the Plymouth Herald reported that the number of shelter spaces dedicated for helping women was actually 4,000, whereas for men is was just 39. [9] this is a ratio of one space for men, for every 102 for women.

What about family research?

Family research is research conducted by researchers about the family environment that can often take a slightly more informal approach.

Family research pieces can vary dramatically between researchers and their motivations. For example, the research piece “Dominance and symmetry in partner violence by male and female university students in 32 nations” by Murray Straus interviewed 13,601 university students from 32 nations and found there were equivalent levels of partner violence perpetrated by both men and women. [10]

Meanwhile, a piece called “Gender Symmetry” in Domestic Violence A Substantive and Methodological Research Review by Michael Kimmel proposed that researchers who find gender symmetry are doing so from an “ideological” basis than what he considers a “factual” one. [11] It’s worth remembering though that Michael Kimmel is an advocate of the Duluth model, which as we have covered previously is immensely discriminatory. [12]

It cannot be ignored that the largest studies of their kind have all reported gender symmetry in Partner Violence. PASK (Partner Abuse State of Knowledge) is one such example. No less than 42 scholars and 70 research assistants across 20 universities reviewed submissions by thousands of people to find that partner violence did display symmetry. [13]

Martin Fiebert, who as of March 2nd (2015) had reviewed 270 empirical studies and 73 scholarly reviews, has also found that partner violence displays a great deal of gender symmetry. [14]

Why the difference?

The main reason that family research pieces can often produce dramatically different results to criminal research pieces is because of the pool of data used. Criminal research pieces, whilst often being considered less open to researcher bias, only focus on reports to the police, court records and so forth. Subsequently, they only deal with a relative minority of all potential victims.

It is worth noting that there is substantial research which demonstrates men are not only less likely to be believed (and less likely to come forward), but are also more likely to consider violence against them to be "wrong, but not a crime." [15]

Family research allows researchers to interview people about their experiences that they may not have reported to the police. Thus they can be useful for indicating the scale and depth of behaviour that can go on behind closed doors which might otherwise escape criminal research pieces.

In all cases, it is absolutely essential to read the research piece in detail and try to understand their methodology before repeating their findings, including their definition of DV as this can have a significant impact on the numbers.


Our conclusion is that domestic violence research is clearly difficult to navigate and, at times, poorly represented. Whilst official government data does not show "gender symmetry" in domestic violence, although an estimated 40/60ish split is still significant, independent family research does. We cannot ignore the possibility that in fact partner violence may actually be mutual in nature in the overwhelming majority of cases.

With 1.9 to 2.1 million cases the number of shelters is woefully inadquate. Although from the Government's own estimates we would expect to see around a 2:1 ratio of gendered shelters in favour of women. The reported reality is closer to 100 women's spaces for every space for a man.

It is obvious that funding for shelters is much lower than it should be, though this issue has clearly not been helped by the refusal of many services to offer help for male victims of domestic violence as the law requires.

Many of these numbers are estimates, with an unknown amount of error. The true figures are very difficult to gauge. As such any decisions based on these numbers should also consider the low fidelity of them and plan for the risk of a wildly different reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment