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Stats watchdog upholds MBC complaint over Government’s misleading description of proportion of domestic abuse victims who are female

The UK Statistics Authority has supported a complaint by the Men and Boys Coalition over the misleading use of the phrase “overwhelming majority” to refer to the proportion of female victims of domestic abuse.

The comments were made by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Victoria Atkins MP in a Parliamentary Debate on 16 July 2019, when the proposed Domestic Abuse Bill was announced on the floor of the House of Commons.

In the debate, the Minister stated:

“I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because part of the purpose of the Bill is to raise awareness and to make the point that men can be victims of domestic abuse as well, but the overwhelming majority of victims are female, and that starts from the very beginning, so we need to teach boys and girls what to expect from healthy relationships. That is precisely why relationship education in schools is such a vital part of our programme.”

Increased stigma

The Men and Boys Coalition wrote to the UK Statistics Authority stating it was incorrect and unjustified for the Government to use the term “overwhelming” given that two in three victims of domestic abuse are female (and therefore one in three are male). This incorrect  usage compounds the stigma and sense that male victims of domestic abuse have that they are not taken seriously and that their experience is an isolated one-off instance.

The Coalition’s letter stated: “Given that one in three victims of male which was mentioned throughout by the Minister (1.3 million are female and 695,000 are male) in Parliament and also was used throughout the Government consultation and related policy papers, we contend that this does not equate to the fair or correct usage of the term ‘overwhelming’.”

In their response, The UK Statistics Authority stated: “The phrase ‘overwhelming majority’ is a subjective statement. However, it may imply that a larger proportion of victims are female than the statistics show.”

However, a second complaint in the Coalition’s letter was not upheld.

Un-evidenced statements

The letter also called on the UK Statistics Authority to rule on un-evidenced statements made by the Minister about the gender of perpetrators of domestic abuse.

During the same Parliamentary Debate, the Minster using the same ONS reported statistics, said:  

 “…we estimate that around 1.3 million are female and around 695,000 are male, and within that 695,000 we believe—it is very difficult to identify this, and there are problems in doing so—that the majority of perpetrators are male.”

The Coalition complaint stated: “It is of great concern that the Minister presents figures from the ONS report and then makes a statement which has no basis whatsoever in ONS statistics and which we believe, from the best available evidence, to be categorically and wholly incorrect.”

Serious societal implications

Adding: “Given the relatively low numbers of men in same-sex relationships (or former same-sex relationships), the Government’s claim could only be true if it were alleging that male same-sex relationships are markedly more violent and abusive than heterosexual relationships, by many orders of magnitude. This has a range of serious societal and public policy implications, especially for the LGBT+ community and therefore it is incumbent on the Government to have clear and compelling evidence before making such a claim.”

Figures from a range of sources, including from the ONS themselves show that between only 10-13% of male victims of domestic abuse are victims solely at the hands of other men.

However, in their response, the UK Statistics Authority stated: “We contacted the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and they confirmed that they do not provide figures on the sex of the perpetrators of domestic abuse against men. ONS can only identify the sex of the perpetrator for partner abuse (a subset of domestic abuse) and have not published this data recently. Nevertheless, the Minister has been cautious in how this point is expressed in a way that appropriately recognises the limitations in the data.”

Adding: “This is clearly an important area of public interest on which better statistics would be valuable. ONS have told us that they will in future routinely include statistics on the sex of the perpetrator for partner abuse as part of the data tables in the Domestic Abuse statistics. We welcome this action.”

The Coalition thanks the UK Statistics Authority for their consideration.

The Men and Boys Coalition letter is available here:

The UK Statistics Authority response is available here: