This essay will evaluate the current social policy responses to the social issue of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a multi-faceted issue affecting the perpetrator, the survivor and their families. This means that many agencies may need to be involved. Domestic violence is prevalent within all strata of society, rich and poor, with no regard for religion, ethnicity or geographical location, and accounts for fifteen percent of violent crimes (Home Office, 2009). It is estimated that domestic violence cost the nation £23 billion per year (Women’s Aid, 2007d). It is not only committed by men against women but by women on men and within same sex relationships. However as the majority of incidents are perpetrated by men against women – with a greater risk of repeat offending and worse severity of violence experienced – this essay will concentrate on this aspect.
To fully understand this issue this essay will explore the historical roots of domestic violence, looking at how attitudes may have originated, what challenges have caused them to change and what further changes may be necessary. It will then explore changes in the legislation and how this affects the police’s powers and their use of them. It will then go on to explore criminal justice responses, such as Specialist Domestic Violence Courts and Integrated Domestic Abuse Programmes, evaluating their efficacy. It will then examine the social policy responses affecting the survivors of domestic abuse, such as the creation of police Domestic Violence Units, sanctuary schemes, housing, support services, and child protection. It will also look at methods used to identify possible domestic violence victims. It will show that the current emphasis on criminal justice responses is diverting resources away from frontline women’s services, which can disproportionately affect women from Black and ethnic minority communities.
Historically there has been no concept of domestic violence. According to Carlson Brown (1994) this is because of the patriarchal society that existed, and to some extent still exists, which was sanctioned by religious texts. It was the belief was that women and children were the property of the man and it was his duty to discipline them as he saw fit. This ideology was only challenged in recent decades by the rise of feminism. The introduction of the contraceptive pill in the nineteen-sixties gave women the freedom of choice over their reproduction, and therefore other areas of their lives. However, at first only physical abuse was considered domestic violence but in the nineteen-eighties sexual abuse began to be considered as domestic violence. In spite of this re-evaluation marital rape was not considered a crime until 1991 in England and Wales (Rape Crisis, 2008). In recent times the definition of domestic violence has been widened to the current government definition:
‘Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality’ (Home Office, 2009).
This definition therefore covers less traditional family arrangements and practices from different cultures, such as “honour-based” violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation. This means that domestic violence is not classified as a single offence but several different related offences, such as common assault, rape, false imprisonment and attempted murder. However there are still some incidents, such as psychological and emotional abuse, which whilst highly upsetting to the survivors are not prosecutable offences. This definition concentrates on adults and thus neglects those aged under eighteen, however a programme on youngsters in secure children’s homes revealed that girls as young as ten years old were experiencing physical abuse at the hands of their intimate partners (BBC Radio 4, 20 April 2009). Therefore there exists yet more of the population who’s need for protection and support require addressing.
One of the main ways for government to address the issue of domestic violence is through legislation. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 was introduced to tackle the issue of domestic violence in a multitude of ways. The act’s intention was to give greater power to the police and courts when dealing with the perpetrators of domestic violence whilst providing increased protection to the survivors (Home Office, 2008a). One of the ways of increasing police powers was to make common assault an arrestable offence, this can allow the survivor a period of reflection to help them decide whether they wish to continue with prosecution or not. This continues moves, started in the nineteen-eighties, away from the police trying to reconcile the parties involved towards ‘zero tolerance’ of domestic violence. However this may lead to less incidents being reported as the survivor may not wish to criminalize her partner, especially if he is the father of her children. This is even more applicable within the Black and ethnic minority communities who, due to fears over racist discrimination, are less likely to look to the police for aid (Women’s Aid, 2007a).
A further change in police power was to make the breach of non-molestation orders an arrestable offence, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years. The nature of non-molestation orders was also changed to recognise the needs of same sex couples and non-cohabiting couples for the same protection afforded heterosexual cohabiting couples. It is hoped that these measures will reduce the number of breaches of these orders, and therefore afford greater protection to survivors, due to the greater sanctions now attached. This change also means that the survivor is a witness in a criminal matter and no longer responsible for taking action over the prosecution nor burdened with the costs of that prosecution. However this can mean that the Crown Prosecution Service may pursue cases that the survivor may wish dropped, which could lead to her being disempowered and feeling not in control once again (Women’s Aid, 2007a). Also in making breach of non-molestation orders a criminal matter this moved them from closed family courts, where only the parties involved were in chambers, to criminal courts, which allows both press and public audience, although press restriction can be put in place to protect the identity of witnesses in these cases (Women’s Aid, 2007a).
Another government response was to create Specialist Domestic Violence Courts (SDVCs). The SDVC programme started in 2006 with an initial twenty-three SDVCs, more have been accredited each subsequent year to give the current total of one-hundred-and-five. According to the Home Office (2006) the SDVC programme forms part of a multi-agency response to domestic violence, which is intended to provide greater safety for the survivors and call perpetrators to account through various means of intervention. Some of the measures used in SDVCs include using specially trained judges, fast racking of domestic violence cases and access to Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) to provide specialist support (Women’s Aid, 2008a). In a Home Office (2008b) review of the original twenty-three SDVCs it was found that there was a higher percentage of arrests made for domestic violence crimes and there was a higher percentage of successful prosecutions when compared with non-SDVCs within the same area. There were high levels of support provided by the IDVAs both within and outside the criminal justice system which increased survivor safety and satisfaction. These results are believed to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system. However where SDVCs were found to have a lower percentage of successful prosecutions it was found that there was a higher percentage of Black and ethnic minority defendants. This shows that there are still issues to be dealt with when dealing with cases from these communities. Women’s Aid (2008a) also calls into question the government emphasis on using the criminal justice system to tackle domestic violence issues as this means that only those who report an incident, about twenty-four percent of survivors, have access to this specialized help. This means that a large proportion of survivors are without support or accessing other domestic violence support services that are lacking political and financial support as a result.
Another government initiative designed to reduce incidents of domestic violence is the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP). This is a programme for up to twenty-seven week for the perpetrators of domestic violence to address their offending behaviour. The perpetrator must have a Community Rehabilitation Order (CRO) or a Community Punishment and Rehabilitation Order (CPRO) with conditions to attend. Its aim is to challenge the perpetrator’s beliefs and attitudes towards domestic violence thus reducing the risk of reoffending. It also offers the partners of the offenders a support group (Home Office, 2004). This programme requires a lot of staff time and training; it also requires significant administration. All of which comes from the probation area’s budget. Women’s Aid (2007b) believes that these programmes can modify offender behaviour and provide support survivors with support. However these programmes are not always successful in changing the perpetrator’s behaviour and can give survivors unrealistic expectations that may lead to unsound decisions around their own safety. They may also neglect supporting the survivor to concentrate on their role reporting on the perpetrator’s behaviour. Also reports have shown that due to budget restraints there are long waiting lists of up to two years for these programmes. This has lead to, in 2007, over four thousand orders by the court being handed down whilst only one thousand eight hundred being completed, with some cases of repeat offending whist waiting for a place on a programme (Doward, 2008).
A government study shows that there is a strong link between domestic violence and alcohol abuse with sixty-two percent of offences involving alcohol and forty-eight percent of the sample group being alcohol dependant (Gilchrist et al, 2003). Therefore another approach to tackling domestic violence is ordering perpetrators with alcohol problems to attend treatment programmes. However alcohol abuse is not a cause of domestic violence but it is often used as an excuse for violent behaviour. In fact, according to Women’s Aid (2005a) treating the perpetrators alcohol or drug issues can lead to an increase in violence especially during the withdrawal period. Therefore this must be tackled holistically addressing both the offending behaviour and the drug and/or alcohol problem whilst ensuring the survivor’s safety and that of her children, if any.
Not all social policy responses deal with the perpetrators of domestic violence. Many focus on the survivors and their families. One of the main responses was to create dedicated Domestic Violence Units (DVUs) with specialist trained officers. The overriding aim of these units is to protect survivors and their families and ensure that domestic abuse is treated just as seriously as any other violent crime. These units specifically try to tackle the unwillingness of survivors to report incidents of domestic violence due to the belief that the police will not take them seriously or will be unable to help (Women’s Aid, 2008b). This is particularly the case with women from the Black and ethnic minority community who can face stigmatism from their communities and may also fear institutional racism from the police. Those survivors with insecure immigration status may also fear deportation should they leave their partner and report domestic violence (Women’s Aid, 2009c). To assist survivors DVUs can refer them onto other support services, which can advise them about their rights, and liaise with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over the prosecution of domestic violence.
To help protect survivors from repeat victimisation DVUs can refer them to the Sanctuary Scheme which allows the survivor to stay within their own home, and avoid upheavals and further distress, as long as the perpetrator is no longer living with them. It does this by providing extra security measures such as ‘sanctuary rooms’ where the survivor can remain safe from the perpetrator whilst waiting for the police to arrive. However not all home are suitable for this scheme due to their construction or location and not all survivors would wish to remain in their own home (Communities and Local Government, 2006). In these cases DVUs can refer the survivor to a refuge or the local authority’s homelessness unit.
Domestic violence is one of the main causes of homelessness in women (Rights of Women, 2007) and is particularly problematical as there may be several issues complicating the matter. Women’s refuges provide safe accommodation whether or not the woman has reported domestic violence to the police. However accessing a refuge is particularly difficult as there is limited provision with only 373 women’s refuges in the whole country (Coy et al, 2009). Also not all refuges can accommodate large families, some place restrictions on the upper ages of male children, necessitating the splitting up of already distressed families. Some refuges are unable to accommodate those with physical disabilities or those with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. There are some refuges that specialise in meeting the needs of the Black and ethnic minority groups but demand far outstrips supply (Hall and Whyte, 2003). When a suitable place in a refuge is not available the local authority may have a duty to re-house survivors of domestic violence. There are certain criteria that must be met for the local authority to re-house survivors: that they have not made themselves intentionally homeless; they are in priority need; they are eligible; and they have a local connection. However it is up to the local authority to assess whether the survivor is in priority need. In some areas this means that those without children are not considered to be in priority need thus discriminating against those who for whatever reason do not have children. A further complication is that many survivors are financially dependent upon their abuser, although there help for some is available through the benefits system not all are aware of this, especially those whose main language is not English (Dhillon-Kashyap, 1994) and may have been kept unaware of this by their abuser as a means of control. Those subject to immigration control with ‘no recourse to public funds’ would not be able to pay for a refuge place or other accommodation through housing benefit, as many do, but there other forms of funding sometimes available for refuges, but this is limited due to funding restraints (Women’s Aid, 2007c).
DVUs can also refer survivors to Women’s Aid, which is a charity that provides specialist support and advice. However they do not limit themselves to those who have reported domestic violence, any woman suffering from domestic violence can access them. Women’s Aid can help survivors access other forms of help such as helping children affected by living with domestic violence or experiencing abuse themselves, housing, benefits, mental health services and substance abuse treatment. Due to funding constraints there are waiting lists for this vital support. One of the most important aspects of Women’s Aid’s work is their counselling service, as once a survivor has left their abuser one of the main indicators that they may return is whether they attribute of the responsibility for the abuse to themselves or the abuser (Worth and Tiggemann, 1996). The counselling offered examines this. Another indicator of return is the attitude of their family towards their actions (Worth and Tiggemann, 1996), this is particularly pertinent for women from Black and ethnic minority communities who may face censure from their family and community. Women’s Aid also supports those who wish to remain living with their violent partners, helping them to do so in the safest way possible. Women’s Aid also works with other agencies representing its service users’ needs and experiences.
Children who live in a home where domestic violence is taking place can be very badly affected and may experience behavioural problems (McFarlane et al, 2003). Although a child may not witness domestic violence they may be aware of it taking place: they may hear it; or witness the resulting injuries. If they do witness domestic violence they may get injured trying to intervene. Research has shown that between thirty and sixty-six percent of children that live in a home where domestic violence is taking place also face abuse themselves (Women’s Aid, 2009b). In all of these cases it is more than likely that the child will need counselling to deal with the trauma experienced. Despite all this an abusive parent can still apply through the courts to have contact with their child. It is commonly felt that it is in the best interests of the child to have contact with both parents. When there is the risk of abduction of further abuse of the child an evaluation by an officer from the Children and Family Courts’ Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) can be made to ascertain whether contact is advisable and is so what nature it should take. Contact may happen in a contact centre. However these centres are usually staffed by volunteers and may not be able to provide the continuous supervision necessary (Women’s Aid, 2009d). If the mother does not comply with the contact order because of fears for the child’s or her own safety she will be in contempt of court and can face sanctions such as fines, withdrawal of legal aid, transfer of residence and even imprisonment.
Woman’s Aid may also need to refer their service users to drug and alcohol services because women suffering domestic violence are ‘fifteen times more likely to misuse alcohol’ and those ‘who report domestic abuse are nine times more likely to misuse drugs’ than women in the general population (Women’s Aid, 2009a). This may be because they use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism or their abuser has used drugs and alcohol as a means of control (Finney, 2004). Whatever the reasons this further complicates matters for the survivor. As mentioned earlier this can make it more difficult for a survivor to get a place in a refuge. Also it can be a hindrance in reporting domestic violence, as the survivor may fear being stigmatised as an alcoholic or a drug addict (Women’s Aid, 2009a). If the survivor wishes to tackle their substance issues this can be difficult as funding for treatment is restricted and many treatment services are male-orientated and may have mixed groups where she may not feel able to discuss those issues affecting her (Women’s Aid, 2009a).
Another governmental response is attempting to identify potential survivors of domestic violence. As thirty percent of domestic violence starts during pregnancy and ‘domestic violence is the prime cause of miscarriage or stillbirth, and maternal death during childbirth’ (Woman’s Aid, 2005b) the government has set up an antenatal screening policy to identify those at risk. This involves providing specialised training for midwives and other healthcare providers to help them encourage pregnant women experiencing domestic violence to disclose this, but it must be done in a safe way and this can be difficult with the, usually, controlling nature of the perpetrator. However it has been found that not all healthcare providers routinely question all patients as they believed that they were able to identify those who were experiencing domestic abuse and would only question those who they felt may be experiencing domestic violence (Jeanjot et al, 2008). Also midwives reported concerns about accessing support for themselves and colleagues as almost nineteen percent had reported experiencing domestic violence themselves (Barnet, 2005).
The Corston Report found that a disproportionate number of female prisoners, when compared to the general population, had suffered domestic violence (Corston, 2007). This may be for a variety of reasons: their abuser forced them to commit crimes; they committed crimes to go to prison and escape the abuse they faced; or they committed the crimes to support their drug and/or alcohol addiction. Whatever the reasons the Corston Report recommended that there should be mandatory provision of ‘support for women who had been raped, abused or experienced domestic abuse’ in every regional resettlement plan (Corston, 2007). The government has accepted this recommendation and it is part of the Strategic Plan for Reducing Re-Offending, which was launched in spring 2008, and it is hoped that it will help prevent chronic social exclusion (Ministry of Justice, 2007). However it has not been implemented as yet.
It has been shown that domestic violence is a highly complex issue where both the perpetrators and survivors tend to have multiple needs that must be addressed. Legislation has tried to meet the needs of people with different life-style choices. It has also been shown that the creation of Specialist Domestic Violence Courts has had some success in improving conviction rates and survivor satisfaction, but still needs to address conviction rates amongst Black and ethnic minority defendants. The Integrated Domestic Abuse Programmes have had limited success, due to budgetary restraints causing long delays in perpetrators being placed on a programme and their offending behaviour is difficult to change. Also any other issues the perpetrator may have need to be addressed at the same time. It has been demonstrated that the emphasis on a criminal justice response neglects the majority of cases that are not reported to the police. This can disproportionately affect women from the Black and ethnic minority communities, and those with insecure immigration status as they are less likely to report incidents of domestic violence for various reasons. The emphasis on the criminal justice approach to tackling domestic violence also means that a disproportionate amount of funding is directed away from other important measures, such as refuges and other support services, that could be of more help to the vast majority who decide not to report incidents of domestic violence or do not want to engage with the criminal justice system. This funding could also be used for increased staffing at contact centres to help ensure the safety of children and their mothers, whilst still allowing them to interact with their fathers. Or it could be used for female orientated substance misuse treatment. Extra funding, which could come from other sources such as that allocated for the use of CCTV, could also identify and help other survivors through antenatal screening or within the female prison population.
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