top of page
  • Writer's pictureClaire Verney

What's Going on Behind Closed Doors? Coronavirus Brings to Light the Dark Figure of Crime

As we all get used to living indoors more of us have started to think, and become concerned about, what could be going on behind closed doors.

In this post we will look at forms of domestic abuse that are less widely known and in some cases, not even counted in government crime statistics.

What is the dark figure of crime?

The dark, or hidden, figure of crime is a term used to describe the amount of unreported or undiscovered crime. All measures of crime have a 'dark figure' to some degree, which calls the reliability of official crime statistics into question. This is especially true for crime that goes on between families, behind closed doors. The reasons why this crime goes unreported could be that people are hesitant to report crime perpetrated by a loved one, or that the victim is someone who is unable to report abuse either because they are children or are isolated from society through disability.

What do we know about domestic abuse reporting?

Safelives research* has been able to give us some idea about domestic intimate partner abuse incidents that go unreported:

  • On average high-risk victims live with domestic abuse for 2.3 years and medium risk victims for 3 years before getting help

  • 85% of victims sought help on average five times from professionals in the year before they got effective help to stop the abuse

  • On average victims experience 50 incidents of abuse before getting effective help

  • 78% of high-risk victims report the abuse to the police in the year before they get effective help, on average 2.8 times each

  • 68% of high-risk victims try to leave in the year before getting effective help, on average 2 or 3 times each

  • 23% of high-risk victims attend A&E as a result of their injuries in the year before getting effective help, many multiple times

  • A third (34%) of children in high-risk domestic abuse households are not known to children’s social care

What other forms of domestic abuse take place?

From these statistics we know that there can be many incidents and years of abuse between intimate partners before a victim gets help, but there are other forms of domestic abuse that, even when they come to the attention of the police or other agencies, go unrecorded, so the extent of the problem is still largely unknown.

Child or adolescent to parent violence and abuse - There is currently no legal definition of adolescent to parent violence and abuse (CPV or APVA). However, it is increasingly recognised as a form of domestic violence and abuse. APVA, which falls under the wider category of domestic violence, is only recorded by some forces. Comparable data provided to the BBC* for 19 police forces in England, Wales saw annual incidents of APVA rise from 7,224 in 2015 to 14,133 in 2018.

It can be difficult to know what defines this behaviour as a certain level of anger and frustration from teenagers is relatively common.

A study in 2013, cited in Home Office guidance, described the abuse as often involving 'a pattern of aggressive, abusive and violent acts across a prolonged period of time'. This includes physical assaults, smashing up property, throwing things at their parents,making threats, verbal abuse and also controlling behaviours. Overall this shows a pattern of behaviour which creates an environment where a parent lives in fear of their child.

It is important to recognise that APVA is likely to involve a pattern of behaviour. This can include physical violence from an adolescent towards a parent and a number of different types of abusive behaviours, including damage to property, emotional abuse, and economic/financial abuse.” - Home Office Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse

Tom Madders, from the mental health charity Young Minds, said: "When a young person is behaving in this way towards their parents there is a high likelihood that there is some sort of mental distress involved and that young person is communicating that they do need some support and too often that support is too hard to access."

Although, not well known or acknowledged there is support for parents and children who are living in this abusive situation. Programmes are run across the UK by domestic abuse agencies and helplines are available from Family Lives and Young Minds (see below for details).

Sibling abuse - Again, sibling abuse is difficult to acknowledge as a certain amount of fighting is almost expected amongst siblings. However, where the behaviour involves one sibling consistently intimidating, terrorising or controlling another we would categorise this as sibling abuse. We would expect parents to be able to distinguish between what behaviour is normal and what crosses the line into abusive behaviour. Unfortunately, research has shown that sibling abuse more commonly occurs in families where there is neglect or abuse taking place between the parents. A 1982 study found that of 60 per cent of children who witnessed abuse between their parents later acted out the scene with their siblings.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse among siblings is more common than most people acknowledge and is one of the most hidden crimes in the area of family violence. In fact, children are more likely to be sexually abused by their siblings than they are by their parents. Again, this kind of abuse is often explained away as normal childhood curiosity. It is important that parents are aware of the risk factors of this kind of abuse and if abuse is suspected or disclosed by a child professional advice is sought. For further information on this kind of family violence you can visit an article by very well mind

Elder abuse - This includes physical, emotional, or sexual harm inflicted upon an older adult. This could also include financial exploitation, or neglect of their welfare by people who are directly responsible for their care. Older adults tend to be more frail than those who are caring for them, leaving them unable to fight back, this could also mean they are more isolated and unable to alert others for help. Despite there being 5.4 million people over the age of 75 in the UK, data on domestic abuse is not collected for those over the age of 74.

Age UK are campaigning to make sure older people are protected by domestic abuse law, Calling for; The definition of domestic abuse to include abuse by carers as well as family members, training for health care practitioners who work with older people, data on domestic abuse to be gathered for all ages, not just people aged 74 and under, and for better links between the NHS and police to make sure older victims of abuse are properly protected and supported.

Where can victims receive help at this time?

Abuse victims who are suffering within their families will often look outside of the home to report this kind of abuse and receive support. With schools, GP offices and social activities closed victims increasingly have nowhere to turn. This is why helplines and online support services have become absolutely vital. Since the UK lockdown there has been a 49%rise in calls to the national domestic abuse helpline and a 35%rise in calls to the men's advice line. Childline has also reported a spike in calls.

Charities are also urging communities to look out for their neighbours, friends and families and for people who may now be the only ones having contact with families, such as delivery people, shop staff and pharmacists, to be aware of the signs of abuse, ask questions and report concerns.


Helplines are available in the UK as follows:

National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247

The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327

Respect phoneline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040

Childline - 0800 1111 you can also go to

NSPCC (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends) - 0808 800 5000 or Contact counsellors 24 hours a day by email or online reporting form

Family Lives, a confidential helpline service for families in England and Wales (previously known as Parentline) call on 0808 800 2222 (9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday) for emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. You can also email for support, advice and information at

Young Minds Parents Helpline (Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4pm) - 0808 802 5544 

Action on Elder Abuse helpline: 0808 808 8141

Age UK Advice Line - 0800 678 1174

The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428

Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123

Call the UK police non-emergency number, 101, if you need support or advice from the police and it's not an emergency.

Links to reports and research

Safelives: How long do people live with domestic abuse, and when do they get help to stop it? -

BBC Domestic violence: Child-parent abuse doubles in three years -

Home Office Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA) -

About Us

DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.

DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do.



bottom of page