Refuge responds to latest ONS Crime Survey figures on domestic abuse


The Office for National Statistics released their latest figures on domestic abuse on 11 November.

Responding to the figures, Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, said:

“The latest ONS Crime Survey figures on domestic abuse reflect the shocking reality that Refuge’s frontline staff see every day. More women than men experience partner abuse, significantly more women are killed by their partners than men, far too few male perpetrators​ are arrested and even fewer convictions are obtained.

“1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. The majority do not go to the police, but rely on organisations like Refuge to help them escape and rebuild their lives. When so few arrests are made and so few victims get justice, it doesn’t encourage others to go through what can be a traumatic process.

“A light must be shone on the huge gulf between the estimated scale of domestic abuse in England and Wales and the small number of arrests, prosecutions and convictions of violent men for these crimes. It is scandalous that so many women’s lives are torn apart by current or former partners.”

While the overall prevalence of domestic abuse shows little change, Refuge is glad that the figures reflect the gendered nature of domestic abuse; around twice as many women reported partner abuse in the last year than men and over 70% of domestic homicide victims were female.

The police recorded a 23% rise in reported domestic abuse cases, in part reflecting improvements by police forces in identifying and recording such incidents as crimes and an increased willingness by victims to come forward.

However, it is especially alarming that this increase was accompanied by a drop in the numbers of subsequent prosecutions. Over half of domestic abuse-related crimes recorded by the police did not result in an arrest and a large proportion faced difficulties in proceeding with prosecution.

It is also important to flag that the measurement of domestic abuse in the Crime Survey is particularly broad, including partner abuse (non-sexual), family abuse (non-sexual) , sexual assault and stalking carried out by a current or former partner or another family member. Yet, conversely, the picture is lacking given that the Survey does not capture the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour.

For Refuge, the overwhelming shortcoming of these figures is the misleading picture of the prevalence of domestic abuse that they present, reflecting the proportion of men experiencing domestic abuse as higher than it actually is.

The Crime Survey frames domestic abuse in terms of people who have ever experienced a single incident of physical violence from an intimate partner or family member. This is problematic regarding coercive control and domestic abuse as a pattern of behaviour, rather than a series of single incidents.

For years, the ONS has also artificially capped the number of domestic abuse offences that can be recorded for each person at five. This means that even if a woman experienced 100 incidents of domestic violence, only five would make it into the official data.

At Refuge, we recognise that these figures do not reflect the reality for many victims who experience a pattern of abuse, nor the level of seriousness of abuse or the number of people living in fear of their partners.”