It makes depressing reading but the number of prosecutions relating to violence against women and girls in England and Wales reached a record level last year, the director of public prosecutions said, as she warned of the increasing use of social media to threaten and control.
Such is the scale of the offending that special guidance is being issued to prosecutors about the growth of cyber stalking to improve prosecutions.
I submit that solutions through policing, court innovations and prison programs are good, but the horse has already bolted. Surely we need to look at preventative approaches with research into the way boys are raised and educated in our society and programs to suit?
We have a long way to go as the problem is complex. It seems to me that change will occur over generations, and much work will need to be done in many facets of society, requiring reform in education, health, labour, economics, politics and yes, media and journalism
In the UK, something very interesting happened a year or so ago. In Northumbria a woman called Vera Baird trialled a policy where workers from the local refuge went with police to every domestic violence incident reported. This had tremendous success, a massive increase in women agreeing to take forward prosecutions against the perpetrators of violence against them. We aren’t just talking a few percentage points here; it was something like 25% as I recall. It works. It seems that the women were far more trusting of the refuge workers than they are of the police. This is just one perspective however.
Tacking DV and VAW needs forward, lateral thinking. Let’s take some elements in turn:
- Society. We need to recognize that there’s no such thing as violence that’s permissible, or victims who don’t deserve help.
- Educational. Nobody should leave school without knowing what DV is, and what laws and services exist to protect people.
- Services – mental health (this is the big one) social care, specific support for families that have risk factors and those drifting into trouble
- Criminal justice the least effective, by definition this is picking up failures, but offers important protection to those who are at risk of further harm. Assault and coercion within families should be treated as a priority by the criminal justice system, and where violence has occurred, treated more harshly than equivalent ‘normal’ assaults.
We also have to include the way power is top down and self-serving, the institutional structure of society itself is never examined and that is perhaps the real issue of the current election, as described by others above, as to monies stripped from social infrastructure to pay to corporations and the wealthy through tax cuts.
There are lots of talks in Europe about it but when it comes to actions, nothing really happens, unless the guy is a primate brute, with no money living in a Paris apartment and being already known by the police for other crimes.
But if you have in front of you a white collar delinquent, well payed and well connected, that’s a completely different story. It’s a shame that civilised societies and people can tolerate this kind of brutality until now. They obviously do not want to understand that if it goes on like that there is a chance that tomorrow the victim of the domestic violence can be their daughter, sister, mother of female friend.
One thing that bothers me is the assumption that domestic violence is a spontaneous reaction by a person who lacks anger management skills, or respect for others. From my research for my book, I firmly believe that domestic violence is a premeditated crime. The abuser can control his, or her anger, but chooses not to. They can control their anger at work and socially. They can control their responses to their victims when they want to, often choosing to wait days, weeks, sometimes months before reacting to something that has angered them. Domestic violence is purposeful behaviour, intended to increase uncertainty and fear, as well as the sense of shame the victims feel, and ultimately keep them under the control of the offender.
I think a part of the problem is that this crime is treated as some sort of illness or as a simple behavioural problem on the part of men, rather than the violent crime that it is. Do we send rapists and murderers to counselling rather than jail? Do we send coward punchers or armed robbers to social rehabilitation, or do we send them to jail where they belong? A woman I interviewed for my book only ever had peace when her ex partner was in jail for other, lesser crimes such as drug and property crime. The way that we view this crime as somehow a ‘relationship’ issue or emotional problem with men almost as the victims is a large part of the problem. This is a crime, like any other crime. Sure, provide these programs in jail, but these men need to go to jail with adequate sentences that hold them accountable for the violent crimes they’re committing against women, children and their extended families.
Legal responses are an important part of the solution. But most of the abuse perpetrated by men against women is not ‘illegal’. A stare across a room, a raised voice, making all the ‘big’ financial decisions, not supporting a woman to pursue her own goals and aspirations, refusing to contribute to housework and parenting, putting her down through jokes and comments to friends and family – the list of tactics used by men to oppress women is long. All of these things are forms of family violence, but we have no way (at this time) to intervene with legal sanctions in these kinds of behaviours.
I believe we need to move away from only discussing the extreme forms of family violence – for which we have laws – but unfortunately that doesn’t make for ‘exciting’ press. We need to have conversations about all the other things men do in an abusive relationship, and try to do something about that.
My experience in research is that assaults and murder don’t happen spontaneously – they emerge as controlling and abusive relationships spiral to extremes.
Early intervention in my view is critical. You can only send someone to jail once the harm is done. Too late in my view.