Women’s Aid – ‘Understanding domestic abuse: findings from On Track’


  • Less than one in ten incidents reported to the police ended with the perpetrator receiving a custodial sentence.
  • Less than 12% of survivors reported abuse to the police.
  • 80% of survivors experienced domestic abuse for over a year, with over one third of survivors experiencing abuse for 10 years or more.
  • 35% of survivors had mental health support needs, while 33% of survivors accessing an Independent Domestic Violence Adviser (IDVA) needed support with immigration status.

Less than one in ten incidents reported to the police by domestic abuse survivors who accessed specialist support services in the last year ended with their perpetrator receiving a custodial sentence, new data from Understanding domestic abuse: findings from On Track shows.

The findings highlight the failures of the criminal justice system to bring perpetrators of domestic abuse to justice as well as the staggering length of time that most domestic abuse survivors experience abuse before calling out for help with 80% of survivors experiencing domestic abuse for over a year.

On Track is a comprehensive case management and outcomes monitoring programme created by Women’s Aid for specialist support services including refuge providers in England to provide vital insight into the domestic abuse sector and evidence of the value and impact of their services.

The data from the first year provides a snapshot of the experiences of domestic abuse survivors and their children between 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017. This data – a sample of wider data sets – paints for the first time a national picture of domestic abuse enabling us to see clearly what is working, and where urgent changes need to happen.

Understanding domestic abuse: findings from On Track:

Less than 12% of the 7,436 survivors leaving specialist support services reported incidents of domestic abuse to the police. Of those crimes reported to the police, only 30% of survivors saw a restraining order placed on their perpetrator, 24% saw the perpetrator receive a community sentence or compulsory perpetrator programme and shockingly only 9% of perpetrators received a custodial sentence. These figures highlight the lack of confidence domestic abuse survivors have in the criminal justice system (CJS) and the inadequate response from the CJS to those that have the courage to report these crimes to the police.

This data from On Track reinforces the findings from the recent HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) report, Living in fear “ the police and Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) response to harassment and stalking, which revealed that the CJS was failing victims of stalking and harassment at every level. The Living in fear report revealed that crimes of harassment and stalking, another form of domestic abuse, were often missed or misunderstood by both the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), resulting in cases where offenders were allowed to continue their persecution of victims while victims were not protected by the powers in place to prevent further abuse.

The On Track data also revealed that survivors are experiencing domestic abuse for a sustained period of time with 80% of survivors having experienced domestic abuse for more than one year. A staggering 34% of survivors experienced domestic abuse for ten years or more, while six women had experienced abuse for more than 50 years. This finding highlights the urgent need for a needs-led, early intervention approach to tackling domestic abuse from statutory agencies as the current high-risk approach is clearly not working as women are left in life-threatening, abusive relationships for long periods of time.

The On Track data also revealed that women accessing specialist support services often had complex needs, with 35% of survivors supported across all services having mental health support needs and 33% of survivors accessing an Independent Domestic Violence Adviser (IDVA) needing support with immigration status. These women are some of the most vulnerable in society, and need support from experts who understand their experiences and the pervasive nature of coercive control.

Women’s Aid calls for specialist training for everyone working within the CJS so that they understand domestic violence and coercive control and repetitive nature of this form of abuse, as well as its impact on the lives of women and their children. Women’s Aid also calls on the government to use the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to hold perpetrators to account more effectively so that survivors will finally gain justice.

Polly Neate, CEO of Women’s Aid says:

For too long women and children have been left facing a postcode lottery of services and a justice system that does not understand their experiences, keep them safe or deal with their abusers effectively. There should be no excuses for domestic abuse. When any woman reports abuse to the authorities, she should be confident that she will be listened to, believed and supported. Yet all too often we hear that is not the case. That is why at Women’s Aid we work hard to raise awareness of domestic abuse and offer training for judges and police, and we hope that the government’s promised Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill will hold perpetrators to account more effectively.

While we are trapped in a system that puts “managing risk” above meeting a woman’s and her children’s needs, we will continue to see a situation in which most survivors don’t feel safe to come forward at all, and so-called “early intervention” barely exists.

We want a world where no woman suffers in silence for a year, ten years, or in the most heart-breaking of cases over fifty years. We want a world where perpetrators are brought to justice so that women and their children no longer live in fear. 

This is the first report on the national dataset collected by On Track and provides a first insight into the range of data On Track can provide. We are really excited by the future of On Track, so keep an eye out for future reports.

Now more than ever, women and children need Women’s Aid’s support to secure long-term funding for specialist support and refuge services as well as enable positive change in the CJS’s response to domestic abuse.




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