The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. The Act introduced the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse and recognised the impact of domestic abuse on children as victims in their own right, if they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse.
Domestic abuse is defined as controlling, coercive, threatening or violent behaviour between family members or partners (even after a relationship has ended) and may include psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional abuse, not just violence. Both the person who is carrying out the behaviour and the person to whom the behaviour is directed towards must be aged 16 or over and they must be “personally connected” (as defined in section 2 of the 2021 Act). It does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.
Types of domestic abuse include intimate partner violence, abuse by family members, teenage relationship abuse and child/adolescent to parent violence and abuse. Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of sexual identity, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexuality or background and domestic abuse can take place inside or outside of the home.
All children can witness and be adversely affected by domestic abuse in the context of their home life where domestic abuse occurs between family members. Exposure to domestic abuse can have a serious, long lasting emotional and psychological impact on children and they are likely to be at increased risk of other types of abuse.
Young people can also experience domestic abuse within their own intimate relationships. This form of peer on peer abuse is sometimes referred to as ‘teenage relationship abuse’. Depending on the age of the young people, this may not be recognised in law under the statutory definition of ‘domestic abuse’ (if one or both parties are under 16), however, as with any child under 18, where there are concerns about safety or welfare, child safeguarding procedures should be followed and both victims and perpetrators should be offered support.