Who is the victim? New report highlights challenges of counter allegations for domestic abuse professionals

A new report issued today by SafeLives, a UK-wide charity working to end domestic abuse, has highlighted the challenges that domestic abuse professionals face identifying primary perpetrators in cases of domestic abuse and dealing with counter allegations. As a result of these growing concerns, the new guidance – Responding to Counter allegations: A review of practice – provides crucial insight and support for all professionals working with domestic abuse to answer the core question; who is the victim?

Counter allegations, where both parties allege abuse, are a common challenge for professionals encountering domestic abuse. Prevailing misconceptions about the nature of domestic abuse and counter allegations can result in increased risk for victims and children. For example, victims may be unable to access services, risking further isolation and victimisation. They may even lose care of their children and suffer psychological impact from not being believed. Concerningly, if such cases are not identified and resolved properly, agencies’ actions may inadvertently help the perpetrator to isolate and control the victim further.

Understanding domestic abuse counter allegations 

Evidence from services, professionals and observations of practice across SafeLives’ Public Health Approach work highlights a lack of knowledge, awareness, and confidence in dealing with counter allegations, and successfully identifying the primary perpetrator. A lack of specialised training is compounding this issue.

SafeLives’ latest guidance explores the different ways in which counter allegations present and describes how multi-agency professionals can work together to confidently identify perpetrators and support victims. While pertinent for frontline professionals involved in Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (Marac), the guidance is designed to support all professionals in a position to identify domestic abuse as part of their role.

The report also challenges the continued use of judgmental language and attitudes towards domestic abuse. This includes the dangerous statement that parties in these cases ‘are both as bad as each other’. By addressing these issues professionals are supported to correctly establish who the primary victim and primary perpetrator are, as early as possible.

Managing cases of counter allegations can be very challenging. There may be conflicting information about the victim of domestic abuse and the perpetrator, and it can become difficult to answer the question of who the victim truly is. Professionals may be required to unpick a variety of issues.

This includes where perpetrators present as a victim, where a victim has used defensive or retaliatory violence, and where the perpetrator’s coercive and controlling behaviour has influenced victims' behaviour.

It is essential that we identify victims of domestic abuse, and that professionals and multi-agency partner agencies are confident and feel supported in this process.

With an awareness of the dynamics of domestic abuse, professionals can identify and provide the victim and person who harms with the right support. More importantly, it allows us to keep families and their children safe while holding the person who harms to account.

Lucy Giles, Practice Consultant at SafeLives

Responding to Counter allegations: Guidance - A review of practice

One of the more common challenges for those coming into contact with domestic abuse is counter allegations, where both parties allege that the other is abusive. This guidance is to help support all multi-agency partners in feeling confident to identify and support these cases in order to protect families.

Read the guidance

Counter Allegations podcast with Lucy Giles

Professionals are also able to access a podcast hosted by the report author, walking domestic abuse practitioners through SafeLives’ expert guidance.

Listen below or Responding to Counter Allegations Podcast Transcript


Notes to Editors

About the report author, Lucy Giles, Practice Consultant at SafeLives:

Lucy has over 30 years of experience in the social welfare sector, primarily in mental health, homelessness/housing, substance misuse, complex needs and domestic abuse and was previously Chair of the Board of Trustees for Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Services (SARSAS).

Lucy has worked for SafeLives since 2010 as part of the team delivering the Marac implementation programme, later becoming Marac development officer for the South West and Wales. Her expertise also includes delivering bespoke work around older people and domestic abuse, consultancy and training. She is currently Programme Lead for Wales for SafeLives and Marac. Before joining SafeLives Lucy set up and led substance misuse organisations and complex needs services.  Lucy also has a MA in ethics of Social Welfare.