Key findings

  • There is a solid evidence base highlighting the importance of a strong partnership approach. Domestic Homicide Reviews often flag poor multi-agency working as an issue.
  • Evaluations of the Spousal Assault Risk Assessment (SARA) suggest that the tool has low to medium predictive accuracy. Insights from victim’s own assessments of risk of harm may be useful to improve risk assessment.
  • Evaluations into the effectiveness of domestic abuse perpetrator programmes have reached varying conclusions, with limited evidence of a significant impact. One good quality evaluation in the UK did show small but significant reductions in reoffending. There are no published evaluations of the current domestic abuse related accredited programmes.
  • Issues such as alcohol use, drug use, mental health, learning difficulties, English as a second language, and denial of behaviour have been found to contribute to non-completion of court mandated, structured programmes.


Domestic abuse is defined across government as follows:

“any incident of controlling, coercive, or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of their gender or sexuality. Domestic abuse encompasses, but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial.

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape, and regulating their everyday behaviour. Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a person.”

With the exception of controlling or coercive behaviour, domestic abuse is not a specific criminal offence. A wide range of criminal offences may thus involve domestic abuse, for example, murder, manslaughter, rape, common assault, criminal damage, and stalking and harassment. For this reason, it is difficult to identify domestic abuse related proven reoffending from published data.

HM Prison and Probation Service advise the use of accredited programmes for eligible perpetrators and/or rehabilitation activity requirements (RARs). For example:

  • Building Better Relationships, for adult men convicted of an intimate partner violence (IPV) offence
  • New Me Strengths, for adult men with learning disabilities or learning challenges
  • Kaizen, for high-risk adult men convicted of IPV or a sexual offence.

Police recorded crime data show an increase in offences flagged as domestic abuse-related during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there has been a gradual increase in police recorded domestic abuse-related offences over recent years as police have improved their recording of these offences; therefore it cannot be determined to what extent the most recent increase can be directly attributed to the pandemic.

Key statistics are as follows:

  • in the year ending March 2020, it was estimated that 2.3 million people aged 16 to 74 years had experienced domestic abuse (1.6 million women and 757,000 men)
  • the prevalence of domestic abuse for 16 to 59 year olds has reduced from 8.9 per cent in the year ending March 2005 to 6.1 per cent in the year ending March 2020; this indicates a gradual, longer term downward trend
  • in the year ending March 2020, 15 per cent of all crimes recorded by police were flagged as involving domestic abuse. Such abuse was flagged in 35 per cent of violence against the person offences and 16 per cent of sexual offences
  • looking across all offences, violence against the person was the most common domestic abuse related offence.
Proportion of police-recorded offences flagged as domestic abuse-related, by selected offence groups (Office for National Statistics, 2021)

Donut graph shows proportion of police-recorded offences flagged as domestic abuse-related, by selected offence groups: violence against the person (77.7%), criminal damage and arson (7.6%), other offence types (5%), public order offences (4.9%), sexual offences (3.1%) and miscellaneous crimes (1.7%).

Summary of the evidence

Most interventions and the evidence base focuses on IPV, with less evidence for the other domestic abuse related behaviours and crimes.

Partnership working

There is a solid evidence base highlighting the importance of a strong partnership approach. A consistent theme from multi-agency Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHRs) is insufficient or ineffective multi-agency working. The most common issues identified in DHRs are:

  • record keeping
  • risk assessment
  • communication and information sharing between agencies
  • possible signs of domestic abuse not being explored further.

For multi-agency working to be effective it needs to be victim centred and goal focused. Good examples are the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) meetings, where the purpose is to share and discuss information to support and prevent harm to high risk victims of domestic abuse. The video below, produced by SafeLives, provides more information about MARAC roles and information sharing.

Disclaimer: an external platform has been used to host this video. Recommendations for further viewing may appear at the end of the video and are beyond our control.


In England and Wales, the Probation Service conducts risk assessments using two primary tools:

  • Offender Assessment System (OASys), for standard risk assessment
  • Spousal Assault Risk Assessment (SARA), as an additional tool specifically within IPV cases.

Evaluations of SARA on IPV recidivism prediction suggest the tool has a low to moderate predictive accuracy. These evaluations typically assessed the standalone use of the tool outside of the UK, and across a range of practitioner professions and settings (see the Risk Assessment Tools Evaluation Directory (RATED) for further information). Further evidence suggests victims’ assessments of their personal level of risk from their partners can be equally or more accurate, indicating the value of integrating insight from the victim into risk assessment.

Interventions and programmes

Evaluations into the effectiveness of domestic abuse perpetrator programmes have reached varying conclusions, with limited evidence of a significant impact. This could be due to the wide range of programmes, geographies and settings, as well as the evaluations measuring successful outcomes in different ways (for example repeat arrest, conviction, prosecution, changes in attitude, emotional control, behaviour and quality of life). Consideration also needs to be given to the types of abusive behaviour which are measured, for example physical, sexual or emotional, and whether the behaviour ultimately stops or whether there has been a reduction.

The evidence on the effectiveness of interventions in England and Wales is limited and has largely focused on the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP), Community Domestic Violence Programme (CDVP) and Healthy Relationships Programme (HRP), or their predecessors. By 2013, these were replaced by the Building Better Relationships (BBR) accredited programme – there are no published evaluations of this programme.

An evaluation in 2015 indicated that both IDAP and CDVP were effective in reducing domestic violence and any reoffending within a two-year period with small but significant effects; IDAP also produced significant small effects in reducing core violence reoffending. For participants who reoffended, those who received treatment took significantly longer to reoffend than the control group.

A number of studies have examined the attrition or drop-out rates from domestic violence programmes. Group work within probation has struggled with attendance rates, and structured programmes have high attrition rates. In an evaluation of the IDAP in Northern Ireland, there was a 67 per cent completion rate across a five-year period. Issues such as alcohol use, drug use, mental health, learning difficulties, English as a second language, and denial of behaviour all contributed to non-completion.

Inspection data

In our 2018 thematic inspection of Domestic abuse: the work undertaken by Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), inspectors found small pockets of good practice, but the overall picture was not positive:

  • there was a lack of strategic direction and coordination to ensure that the right range, volume and quality of domestic abuse interventions and evidence-based RARs were delivered
  • case management tools and policy were not well embedded, preventing effective practice. Practitioners were not empowered to deliver good-quality domestic abuse services. They often lacked the skills and experience necessary, leading to considerable shortfalls in the quality of case management
  • work to protect victims (and children) was of grave concern, with many probation officers not fully understanding the effect of domestic abuse on families or the relevance of an integrated approach to managing risk. Partner Link Workers were knowledgeable and committed to the role but were significantly under resourced. There was reliance on decisions from partner agencies without checking their validity
  • multi-agency partnerships were effective at a strategic level, enhancing the provision of interventions and flow of information. However, at the practice level, communication and joint work was often poor.
Key references

Bloomfield, S. and Dixon, L. (2015). National Offender Management Service analytical summary: An outcome evaluation of the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP) and Community Domestic Violence Programme (CDVP). London: National Offender Management Service.

Crawford, N. (2017). ‘The Journey of Probation Domestic Abuse Interventions’, Irish Probation Journal, 14, pp. 164-175.

Helmus L. and Bourgon G. (2011). ‘Taking stock of 15 years of research on the spousal assault risk assessment guide (SARA): a critical review’, International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 10(1), pp. 64–75.

Home Office. (2016). Domestic Homicide Reviews: Key Findings from Analysis of Domestic Homicide Reviews. London: Home Office.

Vigurs, C. A., Schucan Bird, K., Quy, K. and Gough, D. (2016). The impact of domestic violence perpetrator programmes on victim and criminal justice outcomes: A systematic review of reviews of research evidence. What Works: Crime Reduction Systematic Review Series. Coventry: College of Policing.

Wheller, L. and Wire, J. (2014). Domestic abuse risk factors and risk assessment: Summary of findings from a Rapid Evidence Assessment. London: College of Policing.

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Last updated: 22 October 2021