Nick Clegg outlines new domestic violence guidelines


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The Deputy Prime Minister paid a visit to a youth club today as he announced that teenage victims of domestic violence and abuse will be officially recognised as victims under new Government plans.

Nick Clegg arrived at St Andrew's Club in Westminster, central London, alongside newly appointed Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne as details were unveiled by the Government department on widening the definition of domestic abuse to include those aged 16 and 17 as well as a wider range of coercive or threatening behaviour.

Mr Clegg said the changes, which will be in place by March next year, "help expose the true face of domestic violence, which is much more complex and much more widespread than people often realise".

The definition will not be written into law, but it will be broadened to include "any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality".

Speaking outside the venue, Mr Clegg said: "It's really important because there are many, many people and frankly many more people than you might imagine who are caught in abusive relationships where they are being abused, demoralised, put down, sometimes they are leading to serious mental health problems which can go on for years, and yet it's not recognised as a form of domestic violence.

He added: "When you say domestic violence people think that's one act of physical violence, but actually psychological and emotional coercion, abuse over a long period of time is just as unacceptable and that is why we as a Government are saying we are changing the definition, we are saying it's not just about an act of violence, but it's also about coercion over a long period of time.

"Secondly we're saying to youngsters, even if you are 16 or 17, you can be trapped in that kind of relationship, you don't need to put up with that kind of abuse, so we're also lowering the age of the Government's definition of domestic violence."

Mr Clegg and Mr Browne took part in a group discussion inside the club with young ambassadors from the NSPCC charity.

Minister for crime prevention Mr Browne said: "We want to raise the profile of domestic violence as an issue.

"We want particularly women and young girls, but people right around the country, to understand just how seriously the Government takes domestic violence and we want to try and make sure that all of the different agencies of Government, as well as charities, women's refuges, the police and others, are all thinking in a joined up, co-ordinated way about how they can tackle domestic violence - that people can feel that they can take their concerns, their problems to those agencies and that they can be helped by those people when they find themselves in those desperate situations."

He added: "We are extending the definition. Previously the definition of domestic violence was for 18-year-olds and over, but we had a consultation process and a lot people said to us that 16 and 17-year-olds are quite often living with their partners, are often the victims of domestic violence and yet maybe the services for dealing with domestic violence weren't fully recognising the likelihood of 16 and 17-year-olds being victims, so we have changed the definition to include 16 and 17-year-olds.

"We feel that's much more comprehensive and we want 16 and 17-year-olds who are the victims of domestic violence to feel that they have a helping hand out there, that they can report their situation to people and they can be helped just in the same way as somebody who is 18 or 19 or older being helped."

Shadow home secretary and Labour's spokeswoman for women and equalities, Yvette Cooper, raised concerns over access to legal aid and support for services.

She said: "Recognising the devastating impact of coercive control and also the effects of domestic abuse on younger teenagers is really important.

"However, instead of widening the number of people getting help for domestic violence, the Government has actually introduced greater restrictions on people getting support - especially through the Legal Aid Act earlier this year.

"This definition is not statutory and does nothing to reverse this Government's decision to use much narrower criteria and tests for granting legal aid in domestic violence cases."

She added: "Nor does it address the disproportionate cuts of 31% to refuges and services supporting women escaping violence. And ministers have failed to recognise the serious risks in the design of universal credit both to refuge funding and to vulnerable women's financial independence, which could make it harder for them to leave abusive relationships.

"Action on domestic abuse should recognise wider abuse and control and the impact on younger people too. But if it is to make a practical difference, the Government needs to take action over the scale of cumulative cuts to domestic violence services and their own legal changes which are making things worse."

NSPCC's head of participation, Emily Cherry, said monitoring calls through to ChildLine had revealed that children and young people experience domestic abuse in variety of forms and it was on the increase.

Speaking about the Government's announcement at the club before Mr Clegg's visit, she said: "It places very firmly a recognition that young people are victims of domestic violence and if you place that recognition that young people are victims, they are more likely to seek support as a result of knowing it."

A Young People's Panel will also be set up by the children's charity the NSPCC to work with Government on domestic violence policy.

Ms Cherry said: "NSPCC absolutely, firmly believes that to shape services and activities you need to speak directly to young people who are experiencing that issue, you'll get a more effective service as a result of it and more effective policy.

"We're very supportive of the Home Office's decision to run a panel, we'll be working with some young people who've survived domestic abuse experiences and peer abuse experiences so that they can bring that lived experience to help shape future Government policy, I think it will make a huge difference to what happens as a result."

The Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (Caada) charity found 183 cases involving those aged under 18 across a two-year period, with many teenagers experiencing at least the same level of violence as adults.

Diana Barran, Caada's chief executive, said: "The young women in our research were at high risk of serious harm or murder. Over a quarter had self-harmed and one in five were pregnant.

"There is a clear need for support in this area and it is essential that independent domestic violence advisors are funded to work with victims of all ages."

The Association of Chief Police Officers warned that, on average, two women a week and one man every 17 days are murdered by their current or former partner.

Chief Constable Carmel Napier, the Acpo lead on domestic abuse, said: "The amendments to the definition are key in helping to raise awareness and enable effective prevention working in partnership with all agencies.

"Domestic abuse ruins lives. In some cases it ends in homicide. This amended definition will help us all to work together to defeat this dreadful crime."

Andrew Flanagan, the NSPCC chief executive, said: "ChildLine receives around 3,000 contacts a year from young people about this issue.

"Teenage years are difficult at the best of times but a lack of experience in relationships and issues with self-confidence can mean young people feel they have nowhere to turn.

"Many victims, as well as perpetrators, come from abusive homes themselves and therefore don't realise how wrong these kind of relationships are."