Just because we do not witness the extremities of domestic violence in the private space does not mean it is not there. What happens behind closed doors should be a cultural concern, this form of private violence makes it hard to prosecute the perpetrator. Violence outside the family, committed by the community, is seemingly a more criminal act. As a society we must strive for assault in all forms to be recognised by the law.
‘Claire’s law’ now makes it possible to access information about a partner’s past. This includes being informed of any previous convictions or any complaints made to the police or other services. Some feel that ‘Claire’s law’ can have negative consequences because it requires the breaking of confidentiality. However, advocates in favour of this process believe that possessing more information about a partner can empower victims of abuse to escape manipulation and to leave dangerous situations. Anyone can apply for this information if they feel that they themselves or someone they know is in danger. If this information is disclosed the recipient can choose to ignore what the police have told them. In theory Claire’s Law seems to work but, according to a Women’s Aid spokesperson, it is “a waste of time”. They believe that the police have a duty to tell a member of the public if they are in harm. It is felt that there is too much bureaucracy involved and that problems need dealt with head on.
It can be difficult to break away from a relationship which is harmful. A Women’s Aid spokesperson acknowledges that women and men ‘want it to work; they want their partner to change.’ It is reported that it takes 5 attacks before a victim reports abuse and understands that it is classed as criminal violence. The documentary ‘Do you know your partners past?’ gives a poignant example of this. We follow Tina Nash, a survivor who was blinded by her violence ex-partner. She explains that mind manipulation is a dangerous battlefield and that she had been convinced by her partner that it was her fault – that she had caused the attacks. Victims can also become distanced and isolated from friends and family.
According to a Women’s Aid spokesperson, domestic violence is very common in relationships amongst young people, with 1 in 4 young people being a victim of abuse. Shockingly, 1 in 5 young men and 1 in 10 young women think that domestic violence is acceptable. A recent law change has extended the age in which domestic violence is recognised. This new plan now recognises 16 and 17 year olds as capable of experiencing domestic abuse. In a recent visit to a youth centre, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed that the new legislation aimed to “help expose the true face of domestic violence, which is much more complex and much more widespread than people often realise”.
However, these legislations will simply be a symbolic step forwards if the government continues to cut funding to youth centres, shelters and refuges. Each day women’s aid are said to turn away over 250 women due to the lack of space. This means that many victims will have to return home or sleep rough for days before there is room. A study by Shelter found that 40% of all homeless women stated domestic violence to be the reason why they were homeless. The thought that these women are unsupported, partially due to the actions of the government, should be a concern for us all. Although women are turned away from refuges, a former employee of Solace Women’s Aid commented on the vast amount of women who return to their partners. This needs to be acknowledged but not criticised – be critising a victim for returning to their partner we are simple re-victimising them. A victim blaming culture is counter-productive and needs to be addressed.
The Scottish Executive Central Research Unit found that men are less likely to have been repeated victims of domestic assault, less likely to be seriously injured and less likely to report feeling fearful in their homes. It is nonetheless still an apparent problem, especially because many men struggle to report violence because of a fear of emasculation. Erin Pizzey, who started one of the first recognised women’s refuges in the world, wrote about this cultural phenomena in her autobiography ‘This Way to the Revolution: A Memoir’. After a failed attempt to set up men’s refuges due to lack of funding and a shortage of volunteers, she called for the government to identify domestic abuse amongst men.
Domestic abuse has been associated with the lower classes in the past. However, it doesn’t seem like a class or an age issue anymore, it is a gender issue based around control. More refuges and organisations which help in this field are working from an empowerment model. This vision of progress and empowerment is encouraging. Long may it continue.
Words: Shianne Brown