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Ongoing research to redevelop statistics on domestic abuse from the Crime Survey for England and Wales

Press release issued: 25 November 2021

The way domestic abuse manifests is constantly changing. To ensure that statistics continue to provide the most accurate information and meet the needs of users, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are undertaking a user engagement, research and testing program to improve the collection of data on domestic abuse.

The School for Policy Studies has been at the forefront of research to support the redevelopment of the statistics on domestic abuse. In November 2020, the ONS commissioned a consortium, led by Professor Marianne Hester, also involving the College of Policing, Women’s Aid and Men’s Advice Line, to consider how the Crime Survey England and Wales might ask about domestic abuse going forward. The Oak Foundation provided additional funding.

The work took place between December 2020 and the end of June 2021 and comprised of:

  • a review and mapping exercise of the current questions asked on domestic abuse in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) 
  • an international comparison of survey questions on domestic abuse
  • focus groups and individual interviews with male and female domestic abuse victims/survivors
  • analysis of the 2020 user survey data
  • a non-response analysis of the current survey questions 
  • a rapid evidence assessment of the impact of survey mode on sensitive questions 
  • consultation with a core group of topic experts and stakeholders

The ONS yesterday published an update outlining, some issues with the data currently collected and their recent research, the University of Bristol findings, and plans for redeveloping domestic abuse statistics over the coming months.

Research outcomes

From the research work undertaken by the University of Bristol, alongside wider engagement with stakeholders, the ONS have made the following initial decisions to:

  • continue to ask respondents about victimisation both since the age of 16 years and in the past 12 months by a partner, ex-partner, and family member
  • take forward work to develop an accurate measure of the prevalence of domestic abuse including developing a way to measure controlling or coercive behaviour within the overall prevalence measure 
  • look to develop a measure of the impact of abuse
  • investigate ways to measure the number of incidents/frequency of abuse 
  • proceed with developing a more complete measure of domestic abuse as a priority over preservation of the time series
  • drop questions on attitudes and perceptions of domestic abuse and abuse experienced by others from the self-completion modules of the CSEW from October 2021 when face-to-face data collection resumed
  • continue to explore the risks and issues associated with different survey modes

Future developments

As part of the next stage of the redevelopment the ONS is looking to produce a new set of qualitatively tested survey questions on domestic abuse as well as continuing to further explore the survey mode. In November 2021 the University of Bristol team led by Professor Marianne Hester, working partnership with College of Policing, Women’s Aid Federation England, Respect, IMKAAN and Welsh Women’s Aid, have been commissioned by the Office for National Statistics to develop and test new questions for the Crime Survey England and Wales over the next six months.

The main aims of this new research are:

  • to understand how questions should be asked to provide the information users need, with a particular focus on measuring controlling or coercive behaviour, impact of abuse and frequency of abuse
  • to develop and qualitatively test survey questions with victims and survivors of domestic abuse and the general public
  • to investigate the use of alternative survey modes and further examine the options and associated issues through qualitative research with victims, survivors, the general public and victim services/support providers

Professor Marianne Hester:

We are really pleased to be taking this significant work forward. It will enable us to develop and test questions for the Crime Survey England and Wales to reflect recent changes in legislation, such as the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, and improve the accuracy of the measure of domestic abuse including measures of coercive control, impact and prevalence.”


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