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Who's at risk and why

Adults :: Domestic Abuse :: Who's at risk and why


Women are much more likely than men to experience domestic abuse. The findings from the year ending March 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that there were 1.2 million female victims of domestic abuse and 713,000 male victims [1]. Nationally, women are much more likely to be high-risk victims, indicated by the fact that they account for 95% of all multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) referrals [2].

For male and female victims of partner abuse, there was no significant difference between being abused once or more than once (18% and 14% respectively for males and 17% and 16% respectively for females). The level of repeat victimisation is not statistically different between men and women. It is likely that any difference between men and women are now being masked, as 70% of respondents did not provide an answer when asked how many times they had experienced abuse in the last year [3].

In England and Wales, the most prevalent age group for male victims is 16-24 year olds, with 16-19 year olds at greatest risk [1].

Pregnant women can be particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse. McWilliams and McKiernan (1993)[4] found that 30% of domestic violence cases start during pregnancy and mothers who suffer domestic abuse during pregnancy are at an increased risk of having low birth weight infants, miscarriage or stillbirth, and are more likely to have abortions.


Younger women: Women aged between 16 and 19 and between 20 and 24 were more likely to be victims of any domestic abuse (10.5% and 9.6% of the respective population) compared with those aged between 50 and 54 and between 55 and 59 (6.4% and 5.6% respectively)[1].

Children and young people: Domestic abuse is a child protection issue and children can experience abuse both directly and indirectly. Nearly 1 in 5 11-17 year olds were exposed to domestic violence in 2009 [5]. The Home Office estimate that three quarters of a million children witness domestic abuse every year and that three quarters of children living with a child protection plan live in households where domestic violence occurs [6]. Domestic abuse can have an impact upon a child's emotional, behavioural and cognitive development. Its effects can include anxiety, fear, withdrawal, highly sexualised and aggressive behaviour, reduced educational attainment, failure to acquire social competence, anti-social behaviour and also, in some cases, the use of substances.

Older people: Older people may become more vulnerable due to a range of factors that include poor quality long-term relationships, a carer's inability to provide the level of care required, and a carer with mental or physical health problems who feels under stress within the caring relationship. Elder abuse can present in several different forms including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation and neglect.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)

Lesbian and bisexual women experience domestic violence and abuse at a similar rate to women in general (1 in 4), although a third of this is associated with male perpetrators [7]. Compared with 17% of men in general, 49% of gay and bisexual men have experienced at least one incident of domestic violence and abuse since the age of 16. This includes domestic violence and abuse within same-sex relationships [8].


National data from the year ending March 2017 CSEW shows no significant difference in the risk of domestic abuse by ethnicity [1]. However, women from ethnic minorities may have greater difficulties in accessing services due to language, inter-generational issues, and cultural differences. It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of so-called 'honour'based violence and forced marriage, but we do know that the incidences of both are under-reported. Both can occur in Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and other communities. They are probably more common in some groups, for example, some Pakistani, Kurdish, and Gypsy and Traveller communities, reflecting a more oppressive patriarchal ideology [9][10].

Socio-economic Status

Domestic abuse occurs across society in all social classes. However, reported domestic abuse is more closely associated with those in the more deprived communities. Domestic violence can also lead to poverty as it can create instability, difficulties in maintaining employment and increases in ill health.


Those with a long-term illness or disability were more likely to be victims of any domestic abuse in the last 12 months than those without a long-term illness or disability. This was true for both men (7.3% compared with 3.9%) and women (15.7% compared with 6.2%) in the year ending March 2016 [11]. Issues facing disabled women can make it harder for them to access support. They may be more physically vulnerable and socially isolated than other women relying heavily on the abuser for basic care needs and access to the wider community [12].

Substance misuse

A UK study showed that 51% of respondents from domestic violence agencies claimed that either themselves or their partners had used drugs, alcohol and/or prescribed medication in problematic ways in the last five years [13]. A number of studies have found that the perpetrators use of alcohol, particularly heavy drinking, was likely to result in more serious injury to their partners than if they had been sober [14].

A victim's substance misuse may effect or be affected by their experience of domestic abuse. This may also lead them to become a perpetrator of domestic abuse or cause them to suffer from further domestic abuse in the future.

Gilchrist et al, 2003 [15] found that from 336 convicted offenders of domestic violence, alcohol was a feature in 62% of offences and 48% of offenders were alcohol dependent.


[1]   Office for National Statistics. Domestic abuse: findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales: year ending March 2017 2018;
[2]   SafeLives. Getting it right first time: policy report 2017; .
[3]   Office for National Statistics. Intimate personal violence and partner abuse 2016;
[4]   McWilliams M, McKiernan J. Bringing it out into the open 1993; Belfast: HMSO.
[5]   Lorraine Radford CB.H.F.C.B. NH, Collishaw S. Child abuse and neglect in the UK today 2011; NSPCC. .
[6]   Department of Health. Women Health into the Mainstream 2002;
[7]   Hunt R, Fish J. Prescription for Change, Lesbian and bisexual women's health check 2008 2008; Stonewall.
[8]   Stonewall. Gay and Bisexual Men's Health Survey 2013; Stonewall. .
[9]   Home Affairs Select Committee. Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and ''Honour''-Based Violence Sixth Report of Session 2007--08 2008; Home Affairs Select Committee. .
[10]   Brandon J, Hafez S. Crimes of the Community: Honour Based Violence in the UK 2008; Centre for Social Cohesion; London.
[11]   Office for National Statistics. Domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking 2017;
[12]   Hague G, Thiara R, Magowan P, et al. Making the Links: Disabled Women and Domestic Violence 2008;
[13]   Humphreys C, Thiara R, Regan . Domestic Violence and Substance Misuse, Overlapping Issues in Separate Services 2005; Greater London Authority and the Home Office.
[14]   Brecklin L. The role of perpetrator alcohol use in the injury outcomes of intimate assaults Journal of Family Violence 2002; 17(3): 185-196.
[15]   Gilchrist E, Johnson R, Takriti Rea. Domestic violence offenders: characteristics and offending related needs 2003; Home Office.