Duncan Lewis

Family Law

know matters can be both

highly sensitive and confusing

Provisions in domestic violence laws could be applied to people under the age of 18 to address the needs of young people and children in abusive relationships

Date: (30 May 2012)    |    

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The definition of domestic abuse says that the victims must be 18 or over meaning people who are under 18 would not be able to access the support or services which were designed to support women in violent relationships such as independent domestic violence advocates, multi agency risk assessment conference and refuge provision.
The case of Emily Longley had repeated references of control and instances of repeated abuse during the trial which were familiar to those of women who faced violence in domestic abuse. But domestic abuse according to the government’s definition would not qualify Emily as a victim under the domestic violence which has serious repercussions for the services that abused young people receive.
Both the victim and the perpetrator have to be over 18 to be recognized under domestic violence definition which makes Emily 18, a child.
For some it may not matter as the perpetrator Turner was sentenced for the murder of Emily the victim but if children and young children in a abusive relationships could be helped under the services provided for 18 and above many young lives would be saved if they seek help under the domestic violence laws and are not rejected because they do not come under the purview of domestic violence.
Some local authorities did try to fill this gap by reducing the age at which people can access their services to 16. But there was no consistency across the country. Also, under-18s may not qualify for high enough housing benefit to stay in a refuge, rendering them from seeking some safe place to move to.
The government too sought opinion on inconsistencies by launching a consultation on the definition of domestic abuse, asking whether the definition should be extended to 16- and 17-year-olds, or to all young people. The results of the consultation are about to come.
But it would be wrong to believe that a change of definition alone would be enough to protect young people from domestic abuse. Ultimately, 16- and 17-year-olds are still children, and as such have a right to be protected from violence and abuse.
Adult services, such as refuge provision, may not be right for younger women. With older partners the 16 and 17 year olds may be subjected to sexual exploitation as in the Rothsdale grooming case. Then the case would become a sexual exploitation and not of domestic violence.
Instead of trying to define phrases and symbols it has to be seen what services a child needs with each youngsters needs considered on a case to case basis.