Reducing domestic violenceDecember 22, 2008 at 11:46 pm | Posted in British Politics, Feminisms | 3 Comments
All we know are the facts. We know that domestic violence accounts for 16% of all violent crime and that a quarter of women & 15% of men will suffer abuse in their lifetimes. We know that women are overwhelmingly more likely to suffer repeated abuse, that two women a week are killed by a current or former partner and that one incident of abuse is reported to the police every minute of the day. Sadly, we also know that these reports only account for a fraction of the true number of attacks, many of which go unreported.
We know, too, that no government, no matter how active or intrusive, could stop partners from being violent to each other, and as the goal of eradicating domestic violence will always be unreachable, the question we must ask is whether we – as a state, as a society, and as individuals – are doing the most we can to condemn, prosecute and punish its perpatrators, and protect, counsel and care for its victims.
That question has been raised again this week as Labour and the Conservatives lock horns over who has the better policies to reduce domestic violence and improve care for those who’ve suffered from it. On Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, David Cameron promised an integrated, cross-departmental strategy which would include 15 new rape crisis centres and better training for police officers to spot and prosecute all kinds of abuse, whether it be sexual assault, spousal beatings, genital mutilation or forced marriages. Meanwhile, Jacqui Smith has promised to begin another consultation exercise to see how the domestic violence aspects of the recent violent crime action plan (PDF) could be improved.
For all its faults, this government has certainly been proactive in trying to get a handle on the problem. They haven’t always had the right priorities, and their fondness for legislative action has occasionally been self-defeating, but with the introduction of specialised domestic violence courts, the increase in prosecutions, the introduction of multi-agency task forces to identify at-risk individuals and the increased vigilance against forced marriage, they have certainly made some positive, if incremental, progress. But, as an overwhelming majority of experts will attest, there is still much that needs to be done.
First, victims need to know that they have been victims of a crime rather than the inevitable by-product of some lovers’ tiff. The British Crime Survey found that the reporting rate, whilst eye-wateringly low, was significantly higher amongst men and women who knew their partners’ abuse was against the law. Here, advertising and awareness campaigns should play an important role, but recent research has found them not to be having much of an effect. We need to figure out of a way of encouraging greater numbers of victims to come forward.
Secondly, more attention needs to be paid to rehabilitating the aggressors. Whilst I realise that rehabilitating a spouse-beater is about as popular as hugging a hoodie, it remains true that prosecution alone won’t make a serial abuser mend his (or her) ways. As figures from America have apparently shown that people who take domestic violence programmes are less likely to reoffend, we should make this a priority of any anti-violence crusade.
Third, we urgently need a national rape hotline and, as the Tories propose, an increase in the number of rape crisis centres. There are far fewer rape crisis centres than there were 20 years ago, and since the women who use them frequently find their comfort, sanctuary and support invaluable, we should ensure there are enough to cater for the whole country.
This far from an exhaustive list, and it’s possible that I’ve missed some ideas that others might see as imperative. But if the two parties are going to start using domestic abuse as one of many political footballs to kick around between now and the election, there is an opportunity for charities, feminist organisations and lobbying groups to enter the debate and plainly state what needs to be done. Maybe that way we’ll start to see some better policy, and with it a few less frightened, blighted lives.