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‘There is no typical victim of domestic abuse’ CPS says, as it revises its legal guidance to challenge damaging myths and stereotypes

|News, Domestic abuse

The notion there is a typical victim of domestic abuse is wrong, damaging and can prevent sufferers coming forward, the Crown Prosecution Service has said today.

The announcement comes as revised legal guidance on prosecuting these crimes is published to tackle misleading myths and stereotypes head-on. 

It lists a number of ways that victims can appear in a domestic abuse setting to help prosecutors challenge misconceptions and build the strongest possible case.

And, crucially, the guidance contains a major change meaning any child who witnesses domestic abuse will also be treated as a victim.

Kate Brown, CPS Domestic Abuse lead said: “Many people seem to have a fixed idea about what a domestic abuse victim looks like and what their circumstances are. They are wrong. This is a crime which affects both men and women from every walk of life. 

“But these damaging misconceptions can have a real impact on a case with some victims withdrawing from the process altogether. It is vital our prosecutors have all the tools to ensure every single stereotype is rightly and fairly challenged. 

“By understanding both the defendant’s behaviour and the devasting effect it can have, will help our prosecutors build stronger cases and offer better support to victims.”

The guidance, which is being put out for public consultation, explores some of these common myths and stereotypes:

  • Domestic abuse is a crime of passion: this romanticises domestic abuse and assumes the abuse is impulsive – wrongly taking responsibility away from the perpetrator.
  • If the situation is so bad, why don’t they just leave: this stigmatises the victim and their circumstances rather than focusing on the actions of the perpetrators. It also disregards the elements of power, violence, control and humiliation in domestic abuse.
  • Previous withdrawals of complaints or a reluctance to co-operate means victims lack credibility: this undermines the victims seeking support when in reality, they face a very difficult decision when deciding to report. However, the CPS can prosecute using evidence-led prosecutions rather than relying on victim testimony. 

Prosecutors and investigators are also encouraged to focus on the behaviour of the defendant by taking what has been described as an ‘offender-centric’ approach. This involves police studying the actions of the suspect before, during and after the alleged offence, with prosecutors advising on additional reasonable lines of enquiry, such as digital evidence, CCTV footage and witness statements.

In addition, the CPS is seeking the public’s views on its first domestic abuse public-facing policy statement. This sets out the CPS’s ambition to secure justice in every possible domestic abuse case and the steps being taken to increase the volume of prosecutions and improve outcomes for victims. 

Kate Brown added: “Domestic abuse in its many forms is a distressing, dangerous and heinous crime. Our prosecutors are determined to get justice for more victims.

“Our policy statement sets out the clear actions we are taking to increase the number of prosecutions and convictions, including setting out the ways we work with police and exploring how we can make sure victims across England and Wales are receiving consistent treatment.”

The revised guidance also includes changes resulting from the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, including clarifying our position that the ‘rough sex’ defence cannot be used as a defence and extending the existing revenge porn offence to include the threat of sharing private sexual images or films. A further change has been made regarding children so that any child who sees, hears, or experiences the effects of domestic abuse and is related to the victim or perpetrator will also be regarded as a victim. 

The 12-week consultation begins on 4 April 2022 and will end on 26 June 2022.

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