Rising number of domestic abuse victims taking their own lives, figures suggest

The number of domestic abuse victims who die after taking their own life has risen for the third year in a row, police figures have suggested.

In the year to the end of March 2023, domestic abuse-related deaths classed as suspected suicide were more common than killings by a current or ex-partner.

A report published on Wednesday showed there were 242 domestic abuse-related deaths in England and Wales that year, including 93 cases where victims were thought to have taken their own life.

Eighty cases were killings by intimate partners, 31 by an adult family member and there were 11 child deaths. The remainder were classed as unexpected or other.

For the year to the end of March 2022, there were 72 cases where the victim took their own life out of a total of 259 domestic-abuse related deaths, while in the previous year it was 51 out of a total of 222.

The report said the increase was likely to be due to better record-keeping by police, but that an actual rise could not be ruled out.

Lead academic researchers on the report Dr Katie Hoeger and Dr Lis Bates said: “Our report lays bare the scale of deaths following domestic abuse, with at least one victim suicide every four days and murder by a partner or family member every three days.

“This demands urgent collective action and not only from police – these victims and perpetrators are known to many other agencies.

“We are pleased to see concrete developments from policing since our last annual report, especially in responding to unexpected deaths and suspected victim suicides.

“There is clearly an appetite, especially amongst policing leaders, to do more to prevent domestic homicides and victim suicides.

“We urge the police to continue to shine a spotlight on these deaths as there remains a lack of consistency across forces about when and how information is sought and shared about domestic abuse history when there is an unexpected death.

“Policing can also build on successful cases to prosecute more perpetrators for domestic abuse after victim suicides.”

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said police and prosecutors would work to secure more convictions in cases where victims take their own lives (Lucy North/PA)

The report is the third of its kind published as part of the national domestic homicide project, a Home Office-funded research project led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).

In all three years, figures showed that four out of five suspects were previously known to police, three out of five for domestic abuse.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for domestic abuse, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, said: “The work of the domestic homicide project is fundamental in broadening our understanding of domestic abuse-related homicides, including suspected victim suicides.

“Every single one of these deaths represents an unfathomable loss for families and I am eternally grateful to those who have shared their experience with us, and continue to be an integral voice in our drive for change.

“Over the past three years, we have taken action against the recommendations made in previous reports and I am encouraged that forces are strengthening their approach to suspected victim suicides following domestic abuse.

“Perpetrators should always be held to account for their abhorrent actions and this should be no different when a victim has sadly taken their own life.

“It is important that we continue to develop our work with partner agencies, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, to improve posthumous charges and convictions in cases of suspected victim suicide.

“We will carefully consider the findings and recommendations of the report to inform the changes we are committed to delivering to improve our service for victims of domestic abuse.”