IF you’ve encountered someone capable of domestic abuse, you probably wouldn’t know it.

Anyone working in the field of helping ‘battered women’ (and men) knows there are many characteristics which make up an abuser, and which form a common thread.

If you know what to look for, you can study their form and predict their actions even before they know what they might be.

But actually spotting them, and not falling for their lies, is much, much harder. Those who work in the field know they are often masters of disguise, hiding under a velvet-smooth cloak of charm, total denial, or both.

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird commissioned an important piece of work, published this week, which detailed how domestic abuse victims were being failed by the court system in many cases.

Defendants are playing the system, even in specialist domestic violence courts, to ensure their victims are failing to give evidence, the report found.

Taking advantage of the fact their partners or ex partners are often fearful, uncertain and barely trusted their own beliefs, perpetrators are using the mechanism of the court system to continue to exert control over their victims. The defendants, almost all men, used ‘irrelevant’ excuses such as being drunk to excuse their behaviour.

And in too many cases – 37 per cent – defence solicitors were found to attack the victim’s character, while in 28 per cent reference was made to the supposed good character of the defendant.

Abusers are known to be sometimes charming, always manipulative, and relentless, and too can easily fool a magistrate who has not been specially trained in domestic abuse that the crime was the fault of the victim.

The report was based on the monitoring of more than 220 cases in the North-East, and showed that the cases in which the complainant does not turn up to are dismissed too quickly.

In a field where only between a fifth and a quarter of crimes are ever reported, and – in the case of coercive control – only 17 per cent of those arrested are ever charged – the rate of incidents to convictions must be very tiny indeed.

And even when these perpetrators are convicted, their punishment is usually a rehabilitation order, a small fine, or a suspended sentence. Hardly a deterrent, and a tiny price to pay for what is at best an abhorrent abuse of trust or at worst an exceptionally violent and shocking crime, in many cases also observed by children.

Defendants - the vast majority of whom were men - are also asking for trials to purposely put their victims through the ordeal of having to turn up to court and give evidence. If the complainant fails to turn up, they go through the trial with the missing evidence, but if they pluck up the courage to come to court, the defendant will change his or her plea to guilty at the last minute to ensure a lighter sentence.

The court system is there to protect the public. Abused partners or family members and their children are surely among the most vulnerable. Without using its teeth effectively, the courts are failing, and leaving abusers free to exercise their dark control.