Guest post from Yvette Cooper: 'State-sanctioned apologies for domestic violence have to stop'
Yesterday, Labour revealed that the use of 'community resolutions' - whereby the perpetrator apologises to the victim and avoids a criminal record - has tripled in cases of domestic violence. Here, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper argues that this has to stop, and that the government must do more to protect victims.
Shadow home secretary
Posted on: Tue 29-Jul-14 12:44:23
(13 comments )
Why is it still so hard to pull back the net curtains on domestic violence? Why is there still so much resistance to recognising the scale of the problem? And why won't the government act - especially when evidence shows the problem is getting worse?
Over a million women and men become victims every year. It’s one of the biggest crimes in the country - and one of the most dangerous. Two women a week are killed at the hand of a partner or ex. Children growing up with violence at home can be heavily affected - suffering at school, mental health problems and getting into trouble with the police.
Yet too often it remains hidden. And still the government, the criminal justice system and the police are failing to take it seriously. Domestic abuse cases reported to the police are going up. But the proportion that make it to prosecution or conviction is going down. For sexual offences the figures are worse. Since 2010/2011, reported rape cases are up by 30.4%, but the number referred to prosecution is down by 28%. And the number of convictions - already very low - is down by 5%.
New evidence is just as worrying. We've learnt that the police are handling a growing number of cases just by getting the abuser to say sorry.
'Community resolutions' - the system under which this happens - were brought in to deal with first time offenders on things like anti-social behaviour. In the right circumstances they can be really effective; making young troublemakers apologise to a pensioner or clean up the graffiti they left, for example.
But they should not be used in cases of serious or violent crimes. And certainly not domestic violence. Yet the number of community resolutions for domestic violence has almost trebled in the last three years - to over 3,300 last year in a survey of 15 police forces alone.
With domestic violence, the first time the victim calls the police is rarely ever the first offence. And taking the abuser back home to say sorry – a state-sanctioned apology - can make it even harder for victims to break out of a cycle of emotional abuse.
The Home Office says there isn't a problem. And a few senior police officers have tried to defend the figures, claiming they only cover low level or first time domestic offences. But that's no excuse. With domestic violence, the first time the victim calls the police is rarely ever the first offence. And taking the abuser back home to say sorry – a state-sanctioned apology - can make it even harder for victims to break out of a cycle of emotional abuse.
One woman told me how she returned with her young son to a violent abuser because they had no home to go to, and when the police and family court didn't seem to take her fear seriously, she lost confidence and thought she must be overreacting.
Another told me how her husband was always careful where he beat her so he never left a mark on her face. Even when he finally stabbed her and she fled to A&E, she was too afraid to admit what had been going on for so long.
These women’s stories are all too familiar. The victim must consent to the community resolution – but what can this consent mean, when the relationship is clearly coercive?
Victims and survivors of domestic violence need support and action, but too often it doesn't happen. The growing use of community resolutions is symptomatic of this wider problem - people not taking seriously enough the risks and problems of domestic abuse. The Association of Chief Police Officers rightly say community resolutions should not be used for cases of domestic abuse and violence. So why is it still happening?
Be it reforms to legal aid that prevent victims taking out injunctions, reforms to housing benefit that make it harder to get a refuge place, or corner cutting because the police and prosecution are overstretched, ministers seem blind to the scale of the problem. Theresa May shouldn't turn her back on this - the government needs to act.
That's why a Labour government would call a halt to using community resolutions for domestic violence. It's time to strengthen the law and bring in clear national standards for the police and other agencies to follow. We also want a new Commissioner to cover domestic and sexual violence, as well as things like FGM and honour based violence, to make sure standards are met.
And we need to go further. Three weeks ago, we gathered survivors of domestic violence alongside policing and legal experts at our Women's Safety conference, and we're consulting now on how the law should be strengthened. A priority in the first year of a Labour government would be a Violence Against Women and Girls Bill to bring in the new reforms.
Perhaps most important of all, that must include action to prevent domestic violence and abuse among the next generation. According to the children's commissioner, violence in teenage relationships is growing, and she is worried about the impact of access to online violent and extreme pornography. We badly need compulsory sex and relationship education in schools – we need to teach respect and zero tolerance of violence in relationships. Yet once again, despite repeated challenges in parliament, the government is refusing to act.
Tackling hidden problems like domestic abuse are never easy. And there is no quick fix. But if everyone just shrugs their shoulders and says ‘everything possible is being done,’ or ‘it's just too hard to change’, then the abuse and the crimes will just get worse. It’s time to end this shocking culture of complacency from government and from too much of the criminal justice system. It's time to throw open the net curtains and tackle this serious crime.
By Yvette Cooper MP
Why would a government bother to do anything more to tackle DV and VAWG when one of it's own has been cautioned for the offence and hasn't been disciplined in any way over it?
There is a petition asking for David Ruffley to resign as an MP. I don't think were supposed to link to political petitions, but I'm sure if people wanted the situation to change they would easily be able to find it.
I agree that the law should be changed, and domestic abuse clearly outlined legislated for. When you are in an abusive situation it is terrifying and you do often feel that you are overreacting, making mountains out of molehills. Even months after I left, I was plagued by the constant worry - am I just doing this to get him into trouble and make him look bad?
We can't just stop with the law though - we need to educate society as a whole, to move away from this culture of victim blaming and acceptance, the idea that what goes on behind closed doors is private even if it results in bruises and mental anguish. We should be teaching Pat Craven's Freedom Programme in schools, to teenage boys and girls, before they've experienced the behaviour of an abuser, so that they know what to look out for.
The definition that police use for domestics incident is:
Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.
So a fight between two 17 year old brothers would count, a 16 year old daughter slapping her Dad in a fit of anger would count or a 17 year old smashes his parents TV after returning drunk from a night out.
These are examples which have been dealt with by community resolutions.
A call is made to the police, an offence is verbally confirmed but no-one wants to give a statement or support any prosecution. The "offender" has no criminal record and the police have no history of domestics. In such cases community resolution can be the most sensible approach.
There are so many examples that I have come across where community resolutions are actually the bast outcome for everyone. The vast majority aren't suitable due to severity, frequency of the incident and I don't believe they are used in such cases.
Your post above refers to domestic violence and abuse. Please make sure that any changes you include cover the ongoing emotional and financial abuse that many of us suffer long after our relationship is legally over. This is particularly true if there are children or inequalities of finance (often due to children).This abuse is often accompanied by abuse through the court system. As you are aware there is little to no legal aid available. Our children still suffer.
Mengog, are you absolutely certain that the police take every single case of domestic abuse seriously and go through the correct procedure every time? I'm not so sure. Every few weeks you see tragedies where some poor woman called for help but was let down and killed by her partner or ex-partner.
There is a thread on another board where the OP mentions that with regards to the emotional abuse she is suffering the op said that the policeman told her. "You"re lucky you haven't got a broken nose"
More training for officers is required.
Posting a link to Refuge's petition for the Govt to open a public enquiry into the way police & other state agencies have handled domestic violence and particularly their failure to protect women at risk.
They need another 3,000 signatures for it to be raised in the House of Commons. Already had nearly 42,000...
Just reading the petition and seeing the photographs is heartbreaking.
Great post by Yvette Cooper. We have to keep talking about this problem. Why don't the police want to get involved?
Was this only posted on the feminism board? I hope it appeared elsewhere around the site to get people talking about it.
Thanks for the link to the refuge petition, I've signed it. It's good to know what action we can take to improve things.
Darkesteyes- Front line police get more training on domestics than anything else. I've been in the police around 8 years I would say I have had treble the amount of training courses on domestic incidents than any other area. Guest speakers, Womans Aid, Victims, Victims families, Social Services, Refuge workers etc etc. I really don't think training is the issue. In the case you mentioned it's just rudeness, and a complaint should have been made.
Edamsavestheday - I would say a good 40% of incidents dealt with by front-line police have a domestic element to them. So yeah, due to the large number, some may not be dealt with sufficiently.
The police do want to get involved and we do many times even without the consent of the victim. That can only really work in cases with visible evidence such as assault or damage. It is pretty much impossible to prove mental abuse or harassment without the victim putting pen to paper.
The key is other agencies. Some support structure for these men or women. Many rely totally on there partner. Many a time I've been told that that a victim doesn't want to pursue anything as they will be left homeless and penniless. I've been sworn at by victims in court after they have been summonsed to attend saying how I've ruined there lives.
The whole issue is so so complicated.
Very good point about the desperate need for support - and that it often isn't there, Mengog.
It's like the family court issue. Social services will tell victims of domestic abuse/violence that they must leave or the children will be at risk and can even be removed. Yet when they do leave, all too often the family courts insist a violent thug must have contact with the children, because he is their father. This allows the thug to continue to abuse and control the women and children even after they have escaped - either directly abusing the woman during handover, or controlling her by threatening to harm the children or telling the children that it's all Mummy's fault or Mummy got Daddy into trouble with the police.
It's so dangerous, and cruel, and overwhelmingly stupid. Completely illogical.
Elizabeth - thanks for signing
YY edam The system wants it both ways.
Being left homeless and penniless IS a real issue.
The new Child Maintanance Service charges a fee of £20 to the RP Another kick in the teeth to those who have been abused. And if that has included financial abuse as far as im concerned the state is picking up where the abuser has left off!
Women ARE punished with poverty for leaving or for trying to extricate an abuser out of their lives FACT!
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