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Love, fear and control – does the criminal justice system reduce domestic abuse?

Penelope Gibbs
23 Aug 2018

Domestic abuse is an immensely contentious area. Campaigners, police and victims agree they want to stop it, but not how this can be achieved. Some are fatalistic about the chances of changing the behaviour of those who abuse, and want all efforts focussed on furthering gender equality, supporting victims and imprisoning perpetrators. Others believe we can only reduce abuse through reforming perpetrators. 

The recent government consultation on combatting domestic abuse focussed on an expansion of restrictive civil orders and on prosecution, conviction and harsher sentences. But the College of Policing says there is no evidence that criminal sanctions stop abusers abusing. What’s more, harsher sentences are associated with higher rates of reoffending. So criminal sanctions punish, but don’t help victims in the long term.

This report highlights problems with the current criminal justice response to domestic abuse cases, and outlines the interventions available, the evidence (or lack of) on their impact, and the next steps required to reduce abuse. High attrition rate in domestic abuse cases continues to be a concern. Scepticism around the use of out of court responses such as community resolutions, cautions and restorative justice means their role is potentially underestimated. The government’s proposals to expand use of the domestic violence protection order is unlikely to make a positive impact. Instead, we need to work out whether all commonly used perpetrator programmes work and expand those that do.