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There is a general consensus that official statistics on crime and national victimisation studies, such as the British Crime Survey, do not accurately reflect the incidence of domestic violence. What might be the reasons for this and what can, and is being done, to rectify the situation.

Domestic violence was first addressed by the British government in the 19th Century; this was a short-lived concern that did not surface again until the 1960’s; the government introduced the Domestic Violence Act in 1976, as a result of this, victim surveys were drawn up in order to calculate the spread and extent of the problem. This essay focuses on a number of interrelating issues concerning our knowledge into the statistics surrounding domestic violence, including the methodology used by the various national victimisation studies, a main example being the British Crime Survey published annually. A key point of this essay is that domestic violence crime statistics should always be approached with a “critical frame of mind” (Maguire (2002) p323); research into this area is still limited as for many years it was seen as a “private, welfare or civil matter” (McLaughlin & Muncie (2001) p118) rather than a criminal one; therefore the statistics presented paint a limited picture of the true extent of domestic violence. These limited statistics are the result of many underlying factors ranging from the opinions of the victims themselves, resulting in incidents not being reported to the police initially, to the variations found in the definition of domestic violence which often results in confusion as to what actually constitutes to criminal behaviour; these factors will all be addressed in this essay.

The Government defines domestic violence as

“Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.” (

However, there is no universally accepted definition of domestic violence; it varies widely from government level to researchers and most importantly, the victims themselves. This presents an obstacle because with no standard definition of domestic violence the statistics collected will always be limited, regardless of methodology, as the victim or the authorities may not report or investigate an incident they do not see as criminal. Support for this can be found in feminist writings, for example Mooney states that “there is a lack of consistency between researchers, policy makers and members of the public on the relationships and types of behaviour that should be included under the rubric of ‘domestic violence’” (Mooney (2000a) p141), Brokowski et al. (1983) also argues for more “specific terminology” (Mooney (2000a) p142). A consequence of this, according to Gelles & Cornell, is that by “lumping” all the different definitions of domestic violence together you are in danger of “muddying the waters so much it might be impossible to determine what causes abuse”, this is an important point as without knowing what causes abuse in the first place it would be much harder to tackle the problem.

In the ‘North London Domestic Violence Survey’, carried out in 1993 Mooney investigates the variations found in the definitions for domestic violence. It was found that not only do definitions vary with age; younger women appear to be less tolerant of abusive behaviour and more likely to report it (Mooney (2000a) p156), but there were also variations found in ethnicity and class. African women appear to be the most tolerant of abusive behaviour with only 55% viewing rape as domestic violence (Mooney (2000a) p156), in terms of class differences, it appears that professional women are more likely to see mental cruelty, threats and violence as domestic violence than middle and working class women (Mooney (2000a) p157). Findings taken from the British Crime Survey self-completion questionnaire suggest that only 17% of incidents involved in the survey were actually seen as crimes by the victims themselves, overall it was found that only “four in ten chronic victims defined their experience as a crime” (Mirrlees-Black (1999) pix)  These findings are important as they demonstrate a demand for a “wide range of agency intervention” (Mooney (2000a) p157), this includes not only police and medical staff but counselling services, social services, the housing department and voluntary support groups. By introducing more support services for victims of domestic violence the government not only provides more support but it spreads the message that partner abuse it not accepted, this could result in more reports with victims having more confidence that they will be provided with the help and support they need.

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The main purpose of collecting data on domestic violence is that by sharing information between criminal justice agencies it ensures that these agencies are kept up to date and offenders are held accountable for their actions. (Hall & Wright (2003) p3). The main collection of domestic violence statistics can be found in government surveys such as the British Crime Survey and the Computer- Assisted Self-Interviewing Component (CASI). The British Crime Survey, first conducted in 1982, provides estimates, produces trends and determines the risks for certain areas of the country. The computer-assisted method (CASI) is a questionnaire that respondents can ...

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