By Debbie Kyle
Domestic abuse is a substantial issue in Scotland, and elsewhere, and our understanding of its complex nature is continually changing. Figures show that incidents of domestic violence recorded by police continue to rise, and these reports are likely to reflect only a small number of incidents which are actually occurring. In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of the complexities of this issue. Whilst there has been a small amount of research into domestic abuse incidents perpetrated by both partners over the course of a relationship (Hester 2009 and 2013), one particular area which has been under-researched are those incidents which have come to the attention of the police where two parties are simultaneously recorded as perpetrators and victims within the same incident.
With this in mind, the project sought to try to gain an understanding of the circumstances in which this situation may occur. The pilot study was funded by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR), the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) and the Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA). The lead researcher was Dr Oona Brooks, and I was lucky to be involved in assisting with the research. Data was obtained from Police Scotland on incidents of domestic abuse with dual perpetrators and victims, across three diverse sample geographical areas. One of the aims of the study was to gauge the feasibility and value of conducting a larger study. In the pilot same sex couples were excluded due to small numbers.
In the pilot study, dual report incidents accounted for 5.4% of domestic abuse incidents in the areas studied. Compared to domestic abuse incidents in general, dual reports consisted of a higher proportion of threatening and abusive behaviour (as opposed to physical assaults), and were also more likely to occur in the context of a current relationship. In relation to domestic abuse incidents overall, a higher proportion of those with a female perpetrator occured within a dual report context (16% compared to 3% of incidents with a male perpetrator).
Interestingly, male victims in the dual report context were more likely to have sustained an injury (33% compared to 28% of female victims). Female perpetrators were also more likely to have used a weapon (11% compared to 2% of male perpetrators), which may explain the increase in injury levels. In the dual reports context female victims were more likely to be repeat victims of domestic abuse (67% compared to 43% of male victims).
50% of dual report incidents in the sample were reported by third parties, which is considerably different to findings for domestic abuse overall (this usually stands at approximately 27% according to recent research (McQueen 2014)). Overall, research has found that domestic abuse incidents are generally reported by the victim (71% according to McQueen), however in the dual reports sample only 40% were reported by victims. This may suggest that many dual reports are incidents which would not have otherwise been reported had it not been for third party reporting.
Another clear difference between the findings of the dual reports sample and the reporting of domestic abuse in general is the proportion of incidents recorded as a crime. 97% of the dual report incidents resulted in a crime being recorded by police, compared to 50% of domestic abuse incidents in Scotland in general. Moreover, in the majority (69%) of cases where a report to the Procurator Fiscal was made, this was in respect of both parties. This may be due to the high level of third party reporting and hence presence of a witness, however it is not possible to be entirely clear from the data available.
Discussion and further work
The issue of dual reports of domestic abuse is clearly one which deserves further attention. In this pilot it was particularly difficult to understand the true nature of the circumstances surrounding each event from quantitative data, primarily because it was not possible from the data received to identify a ‘primary victim’, i.e. one who was victimised first or who was subject to a greater level of abuse. In this instance a wider study involving case notes or interviews would be invaluable. The wider context of the relationship is also relevant, as the circumstances surrounding one incident may not reflect a wider history of abuse or victimisation.
There are several scenarios which may explain the dual reports of domestic abuse. It is possible that these are volatile relationships in which both parties are equally responsible for a similar level of abuse. Another explanation may be that one partner may be reporting the other as an attempt to mitigate their own criminal charge. A level of self-defence may also be occurring, either from the particular incident or in the context of a longer history of abuse. In these circumstances it is of concern that victims may be being criminalised, perhaps because they may be unwilling to admit their own victimisation, but admit their own perpetration of assault. Due to the often under-reported nature of incidents of domestic abuse, reports to the police cannot be viewed as an accurate representation of how often the events actually occur.
Despite the challenges in interpreting the data in this pilot study, the initial findings showed that there are interesting patterns in the dual reports which has already generated interest amongst practitioners and policymakers. Further analysis would provide invaluable context to assist victims of domestic abuse and prevent potential criminalisation of victims.
Hester M. 2009. Who Does What to Whom? Gender and Domestic Violence Perpetrators. Bristol: University of Bristol in Association with the Northern Rock Foundation.
Hester M. 2013. Who Does What to Whom? Gender and domestic violence perpetrators in English police records. European Journal of Criminology 10(5): 623-637.
McQueen S. 2013. Domestic Violence and Victim/Police Interaction. SIPR Annual Report (2013).
Scottish Government. 2013. Domestic Abuse Recorded by the Police in Scotland 2012-13. Statistical Bulletin: Crime and Justice Series. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.