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‘Behind Closed Doors’: An Investigation into the Effectiveness of Law and Policy in Cases of Severe Domestic Violence in the Black Community
Over the last decade there have been an increasing number of cases of severe domestic violence that have resulted in injury and even the death of one or more parties. The researcher has highlighted a gap in current research into the effectiveness of policy in cases of domestic violence. This gap is mostly due to the relationship between domestic violence and the law being difficult to measure because very often the criminal events that take place, such as assault, occur within the privacy of private homes. Furthermore, research suggests that people who experience domestic violence are less willing to report their experiences, or talk about them afterwards due to feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and fear (Davis and Krane, 2006). Domestic violence in the black community has been recognised as being less likely to be reported mainly because women and young people do not wish to threaten the stability of their position within their community. Women from African Caribbean communities are less likely to report their experiences and therefore they experience prolonged abuse over a long, or sometimes indeterminate, time frame.
The research hypothesis focuses on the premise that despite recent amendments to the law – the law is not effective enough in preventing the perpetrators of domestic violence from seriously harming others in the home. An overview of current law and policy concerning domestic violence will highlight the need for the government to work more closely with social services in order to better protect women and children who experience domestic violence.
Research focuses on inner-city areas in the UK, where black communities are most established – specifically on parental relationships and parents’ relationships with their children, and how the law seeks to protect these relationships. Using journal articles and research conducted within the last decade, patterns of domestic abuse will be examined and reasons why some cases are more severe than others will be analysed. The case studies will explore individual accounts of domestic violence. Throughout the dissertation research will be placed into a relevant theoretical framework, informed by studies on criminological theory concerning domestic violence and the law; studies on social work theory concerning violence within the home, and the degree of variation within individual experiences of domestic violence (eg: McGee, 1997 and 2000).
Domestic violence has been defined as:
“a continuum of behaviour ranging from verbal abuse, physical, and sexual assault, to rape and even homicide. The vast majority of such violence, and the most severe and chronic incidents, are perpetrated by men against women and their children.”
(Department of Health [DoH] 2000)
In most cases the violence is against women by their partners or spouse and affects children belonging to one or both of them. Children can become victims of domestic violence – either through being directly targeted or witnessing scenes of domestic violence between parents and their partners. At least 750,000 children a year witness violence within the home, and nearly three quarters of children on child protection registers live in households where domestic violence occurs. (Dept of Health, 2003). Abuse and violence may be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual, and may be constant or spasmodic, yet domestic violence is experienced by individuals from every class, race, religion and culture the world over (British Medical Association [BMA] 1999).
While severe cases of domestic violence can often lead to women being hospitalised, others remain undetectable to the public eye, leaving women who live in constant fear of their partner or spouse, trying to avoid degradation. A study by Mayhew found that psychological and emotional abuse might be constant whilst the physical violence is intermittent (Mayhew et al 1996). For the child or young person this becomes a way of life – one without stability or security and this can lead to behavioural problems and even crime.
- The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 (Home Office, 2005)
- Developing police strategy for collecting evidence at the scene (Home Office 2000).
- Prosecutions from the Criminal Justice Act 1998 where the victim need not appear in court, but her statement used instead.
- The protection from Harassment Act 1997
- ‘Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Domestic Violence.’ Crown Prosecution Survey (2005)
- Domestic Violence National Action Plan (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/crime-victims/reducing-crime/domestic-violence/)
- The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004) (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/crime-victims/reducing-crime/domestic-violence/)
There are many voluntary organisations such as Shelter, which provide counselling and places of refuge for women and children suffering domestic violence.
- Refuge provides a Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline
- Community efforts, such as the ‘Peace Week.’
- Women’s Aid
- National Centre for Domestic Violence (http://www.ncdv.org.uk/)
One of the critical debates concerning domestic violence is the idea of ‘getting used’ to a way of being treated and thus for it to become the norm within family life. An article written by a survivor of domestic violence said of her early years in Jamaica: ‘in my experience it was commonplace to hear of or even witness women/men being beaten by their spouses or partners in public view.’ (Unknown author. http://www.2as1.net/articles/article.asp?id=49.). She comments of violence in the UK, saying that ‘particularly within the Black community, the fighting may not overspill onto the streets but it does occur, behind closed doors.’
The purpose of the case studies will be to expose the difficulties involved in cases of domestic violence, eg:
- Interpreters can be used to help report cases of DV, but involving a third party in a woman’s private life can be an off-putting idea. Furthermore, religious or cultural beliefs might forbid divorce, and religious community leaders mostly being men, only some speak out about domestic violence.
- psychological effects of domestic violence, such as blame, guilt (Davis and Krane, 2006)
- For migrant women there exists a fear that separation from family will not allow them to stay in the UK, and they experience the threat that the partner might abduct the children and take them abroad. (Greenwich Multi-Agency Domestic Violence Forum. 2003)
- The problem of law enforcement
Statistical research will consider work such as The Home Office survey 2004 (findings from the 2001 British Crime Survey), and Domestic Violence: A Resource Manual for Health Care Professionals, by The Department of Health, 2000.
Analysis of Results and Theoretical Approaches
Results will be analysed and compared to other relevant studies. The analysis will be placed in the context of criminology theory concerning domestic violence, such as general strain theory and angry aggression theory. This section will also draw from Criminology: Theory, Research, and Policy by Vito et al (2006).
Research will aim to validate the main hypothesis: namely that recent amendments to law and policy concerning domestic violence have contributed to further protecting women and children. Yet there remain situations where the law sometimes cannot be enforced – it is thus important that victims of domestic violence can access 24 hour support from their service providers, and that local authorities become more involved in helping to combat domestic violence.
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Unknown author, ‘Domestic Violence within the Black Community.’ 2as1.Net. Available from ‘http://www.2as1.net/articles/article.asp?id=49.’
Vito, G.F, Maahs, J.R, Holmes, R.M, (2006) Criminology: Theory, Research, and Policy Jones & Bartlett
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-  See ‘http://cms.met.police.uk/met/boroughs/hammersmith/04how_are_we_doing/news/community_joins_together_for_peace’ ‘Accessed 27/02/07].
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