Domestic violence five times more than official UK figures

Domestic violence was suffered by around 867,000 people in 15.4 million incidents over one year in England and Wales – five times more than official figures previously indicated, according to a report released today by the Home Office.

The report – by Professor Sylvia Walby of the University of Leeds and Jonathan Allen of the Home Office – reveals that nearly half of all women have suffered domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking at some point in their lives

The report’s publication coincides with the second reading today of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill in the Commons.

In a self-completed questionnaire carried out as part of the 2001 British Crime Survey 2.8 percent of a sample of more than 22,000 women and men revealed they had been victims of domestic violence during the year, compared with 0.6 percent reported in the main BCS, which is based on face-to-face interviewing.

Professor Walby said: “This is the most definitive account yet of domestic violence, sexual victimisation and stalking. Face-to-face interviewing leads to under-reporting because victims are reluctant to talk about domestic violence or sexual assault with an interviewer who is a stranger. With the self-completion method the extent of these crimes is revealed more fully than before.

“This survey also shows the overlap between these forms of violence. Half the rapes were simultaneously domestic violence, since they were carried out by current or former husbands or partners. Leaving a relationship was not always sufficient to get the violence to stop – for one fifth it continued, sometimes in another form, such as stalking.”

The research shows that while domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking are widespread, and are experienced by men as well as by women, they are also concentrated. Those subject to more than four incidents of domestic violence were overwhelmingly women (89 percent) and the average number of incidents among women subject to domestic violence was 20 in one year.

The self-completed questionnaire asked a nationally-representative sample of 22,463 women and men aged 16-59 about their experience of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Using the self-completion methodology respondents use a laptop computer to select answers to questions only they can read on the screen. Not even the interviewer knows the answers the respondent provides. The greater confidentiality of the methodology is a major reason for the higher rates of reporting. Indeed one third of women survivors of domestic violence and rape had told no one other than the survey about these experiences.

A shortened version of the questionnaire will be asked in the self-completion mode during 2004, but there are no plans to repeat it thereafter. Professor Walby said: “Without regular repeats of the self-completion module on inter-personal violence, the only available official statistics on domestic violence will be those using a methodology that produces estimates that are five times lower.”

Key findings


  • In the year prior to interview, there were an estimated 15.4 million incidents of domestic violence – 12.9 million against women, 2.5 million against men.
  • * Around a third of people (36 percent), nearly half of women (45 percent) and around a quarter of men (26 percent) reported being subject to some form of inter-personal violence at some point during their lifetimes, using the broadest definition.
  • * Among those subject to four or more incidents of domestic violence, 89 percent were women.
  • * There were an estimated 190,000 incidents of serious sexual assault of women – rape and assault by penetration – over the year, of which 47,000 incidents were rape by the 1994 legal definition. In around half (54 percent) of the incidents of rape, the rapist was a husband/partner or former husband/partner of the woman. In a further 29 percent of cases the woman knew the rapist. Only 17 percent were strangers. Only four percent were date rapes.


* Most women suffered physical injury during the worst incident of domestic violence – 46 percent minor (such as scratches), 20 percent moderate (such as severe bruising), six percent severe (such as broken bones).
* Among women subject to rape or assault by penetration, 52 percent suffered depression or other emotional problems, while five percent attempted suicide.


  • Whether survivors thought what had happened to them was a ‘crime’ or ‘domestic violence’ depended on how severely they were abused. Overall 64 percent of survivors did not think what had happened to them was a crime, but two-thirds of those who had been subject to many attacks did. Women were more likely to describe what had happened to them as ‘domestic violence’ or as a ‘crime’ if they sustained injuries and if the acts were severe and repeated.
  • Of women subject to an act that met the 1994 legal definition of rape (in operation at the time of the survey), only 43 percent described it as rape.


  • Among women who left their violent partner, in 18 percent of cases the violence continued in another form, such as stalking, while for 63 percent it stopped. It got better for eight percent, stayed about the same for five percent, got worse for three percent, and only started when they split up for three percent.
  • One fifth of the worst incidents of domestic violence suffered involved former partners. For seven percent cent of women survivors of domestic violence, the worst incident took place after they stopped living with their violent partner. Leaving the relationship is the most dangerous time for a small but significant minority of women.
  • Among abused women who had left the perpetrator of the domestic violence, but who had seen him because of their children, one third (36 percent) had experienced threats or abuse to themselves or their children.

Seeking help

  • One third of women survivors (31 percent) of domestic violence had not told anyone other than the survey about it. 40 percent of women who had been raped had not told anyone. By contrast, nine percent of women who were subject to stalking had not told anyone. Men were less likely to tell than women.
  • The police came to know about less than one in four cases (23 percent for women) of domestic violence, and less than one in seven cases of sexual assault.
  • Women survivors’ reasons for not involving the police in cases of domestic violence were that: the incident was too trivial (41 percent); it was a private family matter (38 percent); they did not want any more humiliation (seven percent); they feared more violence or that the situation would get worse if the police were to be involved (13 percent). This last figure means that one-in-eight women suffering domestic violence thought that the police would make matters worse rather than better.

For further information contact:
Antony Adshead, University of Leeds: 0113 343 6699; [email protected]


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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