BBC News UK Edition
Friday, 14 February, 2003, 15:47 GMT
Scale of domestic abuse uncovered
Victim of domestic violence
One person in four experiences domestic violence

One in four adults in Britain has experienced domestic violence, a poll for the BBC suggests.

In the survey of more than 1,000 people, a quarter said they had been involved in violence, either as the victim or perpetrator.

They were asked whether they had been involved in any incident of domestic fighting, hitting, punching, kicking or having sex against the will of one partner.

The research by pollsters ICM covered all relationships from short-term to marriage.

More than a quarter of the women who were questioned - 27% - said they had been physically abused. The corresponding figure for men was 21%.

Of those who had been involved in domestic violence, 37% of women had reported an incident to the police, compared with 19% of men.

In cases where the police had been called in, four out of five women said the relationship had broken down. Yet half the men said it had continued.

Not surprisingly, people now separated or divorced were most likely to say they had experienced domestic violence.

Poll findings
  • Domestic violence acceptable if partner has been unfaithful 30%
  • Domestic violence acceptable if partner nags 27%
  • More than a third of the sample said they knew someone who had experienced domestic violence but women were much more likely than men to tell a friend to go to the police.

    Yet the issue of whether the police should intervene in cases of domestic violence remains contentious.

    Nearly three out of 10 people surveyed believe that the police should always be called. But twice as many feel they should not be routinely involved.

    Seven out of 10 people said they thought the police were more likely to give priority to dealing with an incident between two people in the street than a disturbance between a man and a woman in their own home.

    Questioned about their own response to someone who was kicking or mistreating their dog, 78% said they would intervene or call the RSPCA or the police.

    Poll results Occurence Intervention Experiences Action Infidelity Forgiveness Prosecution

    But when it came to someone kicking or mistreating their partner, only 53% said they would intervene or call the police.

    Six out of 10 of those questioned said that domestic violence was not acceptable under any circumstances.

    But three out of 10 were prepared to make an exception where one of the partners had been unfaithful - slightly fewer (27%) where one person had nagged the other.

    But physical violence, particularly when repeated, was seen as less excusable where one or both the partners had been drinking too much.


    When it came to domestic violence at the hands of someone they loved, about two-thirds said they could put up with occasional name calling, and one woman in five would accept an isolated slap or punch.

    But eight out of 10 thought that repeated violence would spell the end of the relationship.

    The survey revealed that one person in 20 was in, or had been in, a relationship where one partner had been forced to have sex against their will.

    This was reported by five times as many women as men.

    One woman in 10 said they could accept a single instance of forced sex, but very few would tolerate it on a regular basis. Almost nine out of 10 said it would end the relationship.

    Almost half the respondents thought it was up to the people concerned to sort it out, behind closed doors

    Thirty per cent of all those questioned said that in some circumstances domestic violence could be forgiven, although women were less forgiving.

    Almost half the respondents thought it was up to the people concerned to sort it out, behind closed doors.

    Only 29% thought that the police should always be called in such cases.

    But a majority - 62% - thought that information about people who hit their partners should be shared among the police and social services.

    People were also questioned about cases where a victim of domestic violence had killed or maimed the abusing partner.

    Three out of 10 thought that the victim of the abuse should not be prosecuted, although twice as many thought they should face charges.


    The extent of domestic violence has always been difficult to measure because many people are reluctant to talk about their own experiences.

    This survey confirms that it is still a major social problem that affects people of all ages and social classes, right across the country.

    Of those with relationships, past or present, half said they had no personal experience of domestic violence, either physical or verbal.

    But many others reported a wide range of abusive behaviour, ranging from hurtful name calling to more serious forms of aggression that were clearly criminal.

    Yet the survey also shows that the country is far from agreed about the way the police should respond to domestic violence.

    ICM interviewed a random sample of 1020 adults aged 18+, face to face, between 25th and 31st January 2003. Interviews were conducted across the country and the data has been weighted to the profile of all adults.

    The poll marks the beginning of the BBC's Hitting Home series which looks at the issues around domestic violence across TV, radio and online.

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