Decriminalising Adolescent to Parent Violence

In this blog Bettinson and Quinlan argue that Adolescents below the age of 16 who coerce and control a parent should not be criminalised by the controlling or coercive behaviour offence under s. 76 Serious Crime Act 2015. They call for an amendment to s. 76 Serious Crimes Act that removes young people aged 16 or below from the ambit of the offence, due to their vulnerability thereby de-criminalising coercive and controlling Adolescent to Parent Violence.

We (Vanessa Bettinson and Christina Quinlan) published an article in November 2019 exploring the appropriateness of including adolescent to parent violence (APV) within the elements of a criminal offence designed to criminalise domestic violence and abuse (DVA). The offence, s. 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 prohibits controlling and coercive behaviours towards a person personally connected to the defendant. This spans on-going intimate relationships and a wide range of family relationships, which contrasts with the domestic abuse offence introduced in Scotland by s. 1 Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2019. The Scottish offence applies only to those in a current or former intimate relationship. Interestingly, Fiona Cairns (2017) criticises the Scottish exclusion of other family relationships from the ambit of the offence arguing that further debate is needed to justify placing abusive behaviours towards intimate partners above other forms of family relationships. She queries whether there is enough difference between abuse taking place in different family relationships. For our part, we believe that APV is sufficiently different for it to be excluded from s. 76 Serious Crime Act 2015.

We conducted a small-scale research study that looked at practitioner’s understandings of APV, and found that many cases of APV that we looked at could satisfy the s. 76 offence. The initial study was funded by Leicester City Council and the final report is available on the website at: Our article examines the correlation between the concept of coercive control and APV, noting that there are significant differences that justify treating adolescent-perpetrators of APV differently to adult-perpetrators of intimate partner coercive control in the criminal law. These factors concern the unique vulnerabilities of both the parent-victim and the adolescent-perpetrator in APV and human rights law requires the equal protection of both parties on the basis of their vulnerability.

Parent-victims have limited capacity to escape the behaviour of the adolescent-perpetrator as they have parental responsibility and emotional bonds towards them and consequently are unwilling to pursue the criminalisation of their child. There is a stigma attached to a parent’s inability to control their child’s behaviour and to ideas of abandoning your child. For the adolescent-perpetrator, whilst their behaviour overlaps with the abusive behaviour of an adult, their position is different in that they are unable to completely breakdown a parent’s autonomy as the parent controls the child’s finances, food and shelter. However, this depreciates as the child matures and the justification for excluding the child from criminalisation who abuses their parent diminishes. We suggest that the domestic violence and abuse policy definition (Home Office circular 003/2013 Available at: that states domestic abuse can occur from the age of 16, informs the coercive and controlling behaviour offence enabling children and adolescents below that age to be excluded from its parameters.

The full text of the article is available at:


I.C.M. Cairns, ‘What counts as ‘domestic’? Family Relationships and the proposed criminalisation of domestic abuse in Scotland’ (2017) 21(2) Edinburgh Law Review 262

Dr Christina Quinlan (left) is a VC2020 Senior Lecturer in Criminology at DMU. Her email is

Professor Vanessa Bettinson (right) is an Academic located in the Law School at DMU. Her email is