Domestic Violence and Abuse

What is Domestic Violence and Abuse?

Everyone should feel safe and be safe in their personal relationships. 

Domestic violence and abuse is a general term used to describe a pattern of behaviour often used by one person to control and dominate another with whom they have, or have had an intimate or family relationship.  It often involves a series of abusive incidents which continue over a period of time and has an increasingly serious and damaging effect on the victim and their families. Often there is a continuing threat to the victim’s safety and, in the worst cases, the victim’s life.  Children who witness or who are aware of incidents of domestic violence are particularly affected.

The safety of victims and children and ensuring that offenders are brought to justice are important to the PPS.  We are committed to dealing effectively with cases of domestic violence and abuse and apply our policy on Prosecuting cases of Domestic Violence to all cases of current or former partner or family abuse, regardless of the gender or age of the defendant or victim. You can read the policy by clicking the link. 

‘Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland – A Seven Year Strategy’ was published by the Department of Health and the Department of Justice in March 2016 and defined domestic violence and abuse as:

“Threatening, controlling, coercive behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, virtual, physical, verbal, sexual, financial or emotional) inflicted on anyone (irrespective of age, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any form of disability) by a current or former intimate partner or family member”. 

Who can be a victim? 

Men, women and children can all be victims of domestic violence and abuse.  It occurs amongst people of all ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, disabilities, religions or beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds. 

Types of abuse

There is no specific offence of ‘domestic violence’. The prosecutor will choose the charge that best reflects the circumstances of the case. In considering whether the evidence is sufficient to prosecute for an offence of domestic abuse, in addition to the evidence concerning a specific incident of alleged abuse, prosecutors will also take into account evidence of previous coercive and controlling behaviour by the suspect, and consider how this contributes to incidents of domestic abuse and victim behaviours. Domestic violence and abuse covers a range of types of abuse, including, but not limited to the following: 

  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Financial
  • Emotional

There are many offences which fall within the definition of domestic violence and abuse, including:

  • Assaults
  • Criminal Damage
  • Harassment
  • Witness Intimidation
  • False Imprisonment
  • Threats to damage property
  • Threats to kill

What if a victim does not want to proceed?

If a victim decides to withdraw their evidence or does not want a case to go to court, that does not automatically end the prosecution. The prosecutor will have to carefully consider a number of matters, including:

  • The seriousness of the case
  • The reasons why a person does not want the case to proceed
  • Whether there is any other evidence to prove the offending
  • Whether the victim has been intimidated
  • Whether there are children involved
  • Whether there is a risk of reoffending

Can the case continue without the victim? 

If we still have sufficient evidence to proceed, we may decide to continue without relying on a victim’s evidence. Generally, the more serious the offence, for example, if serious violence or children are involved, the more likely we are to continue with a prosecution, even if a victim does not wish us to do so.

If we need the victim’s evidence to prove the case, but they do not want to be involved, the prosecutor must consider a number of options, including asking the court to have the victim’s witness statement used in their absence. Sometimes we will send the victim a summons which means they have to attend court. This will usually only happen when the case is serious and the victim or children are at risk of further harm.   

We will always seek the views of police before we decide to summons a victim to attend court. This will include an assessment of any risks that the victim will be exposed to.

Help to give evidence 

We understand that some people feel anxious when they have to attend court to give evidence. If you are a victim of domestic violence or abuse or a witness to such behaviour, we may ask the court to grant special measures to help a victim or witness give their best evidence. You can read more about Special Measures by clicking the link. 


If a suspect is arrested and charged with an offence, the police will decide whether or not to release the person on bail or to keep him or her in custody for the court to decide whether he should be released on bail. PPS may ask that the defendant remains in custody to protect a victim, avoid interference with witnesses or stop further offences from being committed. For example we may ask for a condition that the suspect cannot contact you. PPS will work closely with the police and where possible will always try to ask for a victim’s views about bail.

Victim Personal Statement 

We know that domestic violence and abuse can have a devastating impact on victims and their families. The purpose of this statement is to ensure that the court understands the victim’s views before it decides on the defendant’s sentence. A victim of crime can explain the effect that the crime has had on them. This can include the physical, emotional or financial impact of the crime.  You can read more about Victim Personal Statements by visiting the NI Direct website.

Further reading 

24-hour helpline for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Abuse
Telephone: 0808 802 1414

Further support services for victims can be found on the NI Direct website