Child to parent violence and abuse: a legal question

In March 2013, the UK government extended the definition of domestic violence and abuse, to include coercive control and to capture those affected by peer teen abuse in the 16 and 17 year old age group; a response to growing evidence of the prevalence of abuse in that group. Amid the celebration at the time, there was discussion about how this would impact those working in the field of child to parent abuse. Alongside a positive response to the recognition that violence and abuse takes place in relationships outside of those most widely recognised, concerns were raised about the importance of maintaining a safeguarding mindset when working in this field.

Since then we have had the enactment of the Serious Crimes legislation, and most recently, the publication of the Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse Guidance by the Home Office, laying out guidelines for a range of agencies as to how they should respond. The Serious Crimes Act 2015, section 76, introduces the offence of “Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship”, into the domestic violence legislation to include this important aspect of abuse.

Looking at the definitions subsections, the intention is plainly to capture adult to adult behaviour specifically, but while it is made clear that adult to child coercion or control is excluded, it also seems that child to parent abuse might fall within the remit of this particular legislation. And as there is no lower limit set to the age of person ‘A’ (the individual committing the offence) worry has been expressed that this might be used against younger and younger individuals, down to the age of criminal responsibility, with penalties for those found guilty of the offence being imprisonment, or fines, or both.

While this whole discussion falls into the context of the rights and wrongs of involving the police and criminal justice system in dealing with child to parent abuse – which is a full debate in itself – it would be interesting and informative to hear the views of those within the legislative or criminal justice fields, as to how far this new legislation is intended to extend. I look forward to your comments!


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2 responses to “Child to parent violence and abuse: a legal question

  1. Thanks for this important post, Helen – it certainly reflects my understanding of the new Act and my concerns about the potential for over-criminalisation of young people in APV cases. Time will tell how this plays out in reality, and presumably further guidelines about its application when the perpetrator is a child will follow?

    • Thanks Rachel
      From your experience, in this sort of situation would it be up to the parents to press charges or would the police act if there was a report made?
      I can understand parents calling the police in the case of physical assault where there is an emergency situation or real risk of injury – and they are perhaps wanting someone to stop the harm now. That seems to be a significantly different situation to calling the police because of wanting to bring about the criminalisation of a child. But the type of behaviour captured by this legislation is quite different, with more of a “slow burn” feel to it, suggesting a parent might be wanting or expecting a different response. Given that many parents do not identify what they are experiencing as “abuse”, how likely are we to actually see a case brought?

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