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Pioneering new research published on domestic homicides and victim suicides

A ground-breaking project set up in 2020 to establish the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on domestic homicides has now published its first findings.

The Domestic Homicides Project was set up by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing and funded by the Home Office. It is hosted by the National Policing Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme (VKPP).

In light of concerns raised in the first weeks of lockdown in England and Wales in March 2020 about a potential ‘spike’ in domestic homicides, the project was set up to track the number of domestic homicides and suspected victim suicides in quick-time. Police forces submitted information on a template form to the project every time there was a domestic homicide, unexplained death or suspected suicide of a victim of domestic abuse involving an adult or child of any age.

The Centre’s very own Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lis Bates, was seconded to the project to lead the academic research, and the Centre kindly supported this secondment. Lis lead-authored this first report which analyses 12 months’ data on deaths to draw out learning for police and partner agencies to help prevent future deaths.

‘Domestic Homicides and Suspected Victim Suicides During the Covid-19 Pandemic 2020-2021’ is the first report of the Domestic Homicide Project. The report finds that, whilst domestic homicides did not go up substantially during Covid in the 12 months to the end of March 2021, both domestic homicides and suspected victim suicides remain an ‘entrenched and enduring problem’.

The project found that Covid-19 acted as an ‘escalator and intensifier of existing abuse’ in some instances, with victims less able to seek help. It also concluded Covid had not ‘caused’ domestic homicide, but it had been ‘weaponised’ by some abusers as both a new tool of control over victims, and – in some cases – as an excuse or defence for abuse and homicide.

Evidence from the report also supports existing research that coercive and controlling behaviour is associated with higher risk of homicide.

The report contains conclusions and recommendations for police and other agencies, covering a variety of areas such as: the impact of Covid, defining domestic homicide, domestic homicide reviews, implications for risks assessment and partnership working.

In addition to the recommendations, the report sets out a number of lessons for police and other agencies in responding to domestic abuse and preventing domestic homicides and suicides as the country emerges from Covid restrictions. These include:

  • Be prepared for an increased risk of domestic homicides and potentially domestic suicides, particularly intimate partner homicide and victim suicides as some abusers’ control is taken away by eased restrictions, and other abusers re-gain access to victims
  • Ongoing situational pressures arising from Covid-19, such as unemployment, mental health issues and delays to court cases are likely to continue to impact domestic abuse, domestic homicide and victim suicide
  • Remain alert to ‘Covid-blaming’ as an excuse or defence by suspects

However, the report also highlights that emerging from lockdown may have some benefits and could help reduce the risk of homicide and suicide in some cases by re-establishing support networks and making cases more visible. 

The full report and executive summary can be read here.

This report builds on the tireless work done over many years by friends and family of victims and the domestic abuse sector to raise awareness of domestic homicide. We are grateful to them for sharing some of those insights through our Stakeholder Group. We would like to thank the police for demonstrating real commitment to learn lessons from domestic homicides. Police leaders have championed this project at the highest levels, and every force has supported this research by sharing data, taking part in interviews and engaging with emerging learning.

The research shows that domestic homicides do not all follow the same path. Whilst there are strong common themes - such as the gendered dynamics of abuse - the prior offending patterns and personal characteristics of those who commit intimate partner murder often differ from those who kill family members or children.

or too long, a relationship between domestic abuse and victim suicide has been suspected but not systematically documented. This report shows for the first time that there are at least three apparent suicides every month with a history of domestic abuse, and these are only the cases where the history was known to police.

Crucially, whilst this report shows that domestic homicides did not see the huge rise under Covid which was feared early in lockdown, they remain far too high, with on average 14 adults or children dying at the hands of a partner or family member each month.

Dr Lis Bates
Senior Research Fellow

The project continues to gather cases of domestic homicides and suspected victim suicides from all English and Welsh forces, with funding from the Home Office extended into 2022. A webinar (open to all) is being planned for September to share findings.

To find out more about the project or to express your interest in the webinar please contact the Project Team.

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