‘Domestic violence’ set to include teen victims

Chris Brown answers to charges that he attacked girlfriend, Rihanna © Getty Images

The definition of domestic violence is being extended to include teenage victims – and non-physical types of abuse. Should personal relationships be a concern of the state?

Every minute in the UK, one person will call the police about domestic violence. One in four women become victims of it in their lifetime; two will die as a result of it every week.

And soon, domestic violence will not just mean physical attacks. From March, the UK government will extend its definition of the term to include psychological abuse: threatening behaviour and emotional manipulation that deprives its victim of ‘autonomy, freedom and dignity’. Depriving a partner of money, preventing them from seeing friends or making increasingly unreasonable requests will all come under the heading of domestic violence.

It will also become something that can affect 16 to 18-year-olds. When teens suffer violence in relationships today, it is treated as child abuse, but this definition has concealed an epidemic. According to the British Crime Survey, 12.5% of women and 6.2% of men aged 16 to 19 have recently experienced domestic abuse – more than in any other age group.

And it affects all kinds of people. Three years ago, as she drove back from the Grammys, Rihanna was viciously attacked by her then-boyfriend, Chris Brown. After being punched, bitten and choked, the world famous singer was left unconscious at the side of the road.

The fallout played out on a public stage. Brown was prosecuted, and the pair separated. But after a year of estrangement, they began meeting – and even sang together on a raunchy single.

Earlier this month, the emotional drama peaked when Rihanna appeared on a talkshow, tearfully confessing that she had reached out to her abusive ex. ‘I think he is the love of my life,’ she said. A week later, Brown shocked fans with a new tattoo – that appeared to show Rihanna’s battered face.

This kind of saga, charities say, is all too common: those who are harmed by someone they love find it difficult to escape abuse. Complex emotions, manipulation and a belief the abuser has changed mean victims return to their partner – and more violence – an average of seven times before leaving for good.

Breaking the cycle

This kind of tangle, some say, shows how important the new definition of ‘violence’ is. Psychological and emotional abuse destroys lives, and without help many victims would have no chance of escaping a cycle of suffering. It is essential that this is recognised as a problem – just as physical harm is.

But others have reservations. When women are being killed by their partners on a weekly basis, the government should not be worrying about verbal bullying. The state should get involved when lives are at stake. When relationships are tainted with harsh words or deceitful behaviour, people should deal with that themselves.

You Decide

  1. Should Rihanna be condemned for forgiving Chris Brown?
  2. At what point should a government get involved when relationships between citizens go wrong?


  1. Design a poster aimed at raising awareness of domestic violence.
  2. Imagine you are concerned that a friend may be involved in an abusive relationship. In groups, discuss how you might deal with the situation sensitively.

Some People Say...

“Emotional abuse is a kind of violence.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So what do these guidelines actually do?
They are advice rather than legally binding. Authorities like the police or social services will use them to decide how best to deal with situations involving abuse.
How will they make a difference?
By recognising that domestic abusedoes happen in teenage relationships, the government hopes to treat this abuse more effectively and seriously. It is particularly important for young people, because during their first relationships individuals construct expectations of how they should be treated by a partner, and what they think is acceptable behaviour from a boyfriend or girlfriend.
How common is this kind of abuse?
Childline says it receives around 3,000 calls about domestic violence every year.

Word Watch

Two will die
According to Home Office statistics, two women every week are killed by a partner or ex-partner. This constitutes 40% of all female murder victims.
Rihanna and Chris Brown were on their way to a pre-Grammy Award party when the attack took place. The prestigious and popular award ceremony has continued to play a role in the saga of the assault: Brown was barred from the 2009 ceremony, but returned this year to win the Award for Best R&B Album. The decision was criticised by many, who argued the organisers were celebrating an abuser.
Brown was prosecuted
After initially denying the charges, Brown pleaded guilty to beating up Rihanna and accepted a plea deal. He was sentenced to six months ‘hard labour’ and five years probation, and had to undergo a domestic violence counselling course. He was also placed under a restraining order that prevented him from approaching Rihanna.
New tattoo
Chris Brown claims his tattoo is art, and portrays a Mexican sugar skull rather than the battered face of his ex-girlfriend.


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