The Legal Framework of Domestic Abuse in the UK

This article will explore the current key legislation related to domestic abuse, which involves the Domestic Abuse 2021, The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, and Part 10 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which speaks of forced marriage. Of course, this article should also focus on the Human Rights Act 1998, and Equality Act 2010 because domestic abuse is often gender-based violence, and the international community is against it; however, that is beyond the scope of this article, although the topic has already been raised in this blog (please read Women Who Are Mad, 2021). 

As explained before in this blog (Betshy, 2021), the Domestic Abuse Act 2021– in its statutory definition– only protects certain individuals in certain personal situations, and has limitations in including ‘friendships’ as a form of personal relationship. It includes in its scope physical violence, emotional abuse, and coercive control; however, it fully ignores the many forms of abuse that take place in day to day life in all sorts of settings, including employment, education, health and friendship settings. In other words, it does not fully cover what is known as ‘narcissistic abuse’, and what is known as ‘violence against women’. It is the start of a long process of reform to protect victims. It is a positive step nevertheless as it criminalises actions that until 2021 were socially acceptable such as emotional abuse. It protects victims who have engaged in coitus with a perpetrator, or relatives (including children) of perpetrators from domestic abuse. It commands protective measures, and procedural mechanisms for reacting to domestic abuse in support of the victim. It also ratifies Clare’s law, supports legal aid applications; and includes acts committed outside of the UK within the scope, and the establishment of injunctions. It also commands court-ordered treatments for the offender, and places duties upon the Secretary of State to publish a domestic abuse strategy. Finally, it involves the criminal courts. 

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 makes it a crime to perform, or assist FGM whether in the UK or abroad. It also places a duty on parents and guardians to protect their children from this form of abuse, and failing to abide is classed as an offence.  It gives the power to the court to issue FGM protection orders, and places an obligation on regulated professionals to report FGM whenever they encounter it. Furthermore, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, specifically part 10, makes forced marriage an offence in England. It covers both physical and psychological force, oversees procedures, and it stresses that only people with mental capacity can consent to marriage. It also gives power to the courts to issue a Forced Marriage Protection Orders, and the right to confidentiality for victims. However, Scott (2021) reported that children as young as seven years old were being given into marriage through religious procedures in the UK. This is problematic because the Equality Act 2010 protects religion, something that Summers (2021) described as a ‘legal loophole’. 

The Role of Statutory Agencies & Government Departments

When domestic abuse happens, statutory and government services are obliged to respond. Every agency and department has a role which is unique and tailored sometimes to specific populations, although many of these departments and agencies interact and collaborate. For instance, schools and colleges play a role in spotting domestic abuse through their safeguarding  systems. They are under the obligation to report domestic abuse to the local authorities when this is identified. Children’ Social Care services are often involved in cases of domestic abuse, and they have a responsibility to recognise the abuse and to support children and young people. They also conduct risk assessments and make sure that children are safe. Moreover, the Adult Social Care services are also involved, as many vulnerable adults get domestically abused, and their role is to assess care needs. They must be trained to spot domestic abuse when they encounter it, and must duly report it to the local authorities where warranted. Furthermore, the NHS has become the first point of contact for victims of abuse as they provide treatment. Their role is to treat injuries and trauma, and to signpost/refer affected individuals to other support services. What’s more, local authority housing departments have an obligation to ensure that those residing in safe accommodation have their needs met. 

Also, the Department for Work and Pensions have a duty to safeguard individuals who might be experiencing domestic abuse, and to signpost them to other support services. They also pay the benefits that individuals are entitled to. Moreover, the police are often involved in cases of domestic abuse and have to attend the crime scene. They should have an awareness of the topic, and also of the barriers to disclosure. They must report the cases to the local authorities for safeguarding in order to protect the victims involved. They must investigate, make arrests, apply injunctions where necessary, and collect the evidence for court. In other words, the police play a huge role between the crime being committed and the crime being prosecuted. Furthermore, the CPS is responsible for the prosecution of the perpetrator, and  courts are responsible for the effective issuing of injunctions, as well as of sentences. Also, the Prison and probation services have a role in conducting risk assessments to ensure that the victims are safe from the perpetrators, and incapacitating the offender from doing it again. Finally, local criminal justice boards are responsible for the coordination of agencies locally, and for implementing strategies to reduce crime rates. 

References

Betshy (2021) ‘Women Who Are Mad, 27 November’ [Online]. Available at https://betshy.com/2021/11/27/women-who-are-mad/ (accessed 26 February 2022). 

Scott, J. (2021) ‘MPs back raising minimum marriage age to 18 to protect children’, BBC News, 19 November [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-59344731 (accessed 19 February 2022). 

Summers, H. (2021) ‘Child marriage “thriving in UK” due to legal loophole, warn rights groups’, The Guardian, 4 May  [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/may/04/child-marriage-thriving-in-uk-due-to-legal-loophole-warn-rights-groups (accessed 19 February 2022). 

Photo by EKATERINA  BOLOVTSOVA: https://www.pexels.com/photo/lady-justice-and-a-gavel-6077123/ 

Categories
Journalism

Understanding Domestic Abuse in England

Every person’s perception of what constitutes abuse is different. Some victims stay and accept their predilection, whilst others fight and/or leave. Some victims succeed in leaving, whilst others are killed in the process. Domestic abuse has statutory definitions that give an objective scope which applies to everyone in the jurisdiction, whether they have insight into their realities or not. According to the Crown Prosecution Service (n.d.), domestic abuse can be defined as ‘any incident 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 their gender or sexuality’. This short definition has it within its scope that domestic abuse is something that happens in everyday life. 

Domestic abuse does not always entail physical violence. Psychological abuse has been hypernormalised in our societies, and every day forms of sadism are quite common and ingrained in policies and procedures. Furthermore, domestic abuse is relevant to the police, and thinking that it should stay behind closed doors is another misconception. Domestic abuse happens all the time, everywhere, and thinking that it is rare is another misconception. Domestic abuse is not always a crime of passion, and sometimes it is slow, prolonged and premeditated. Thinking that domestic abuse is always a loss of control is a misconception. Disagreements are not equivalent to abuse. Whilst disagreements are normal, abuse is not normal. Moreover, thinking that domestic abuse is only perpetuated by strangers is another major misconception. Finally, domestic abuse happens to all groups and classes of society. Assuming that it only happens to poor people is another misconception. 

Globally, the United Nations (n.d) defined domestic abuse as ‘a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. It can occur within a range of relationships including couples who are married, living together or dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels’. Based on this definition, it can be said that domestic abuse is a form of sadism, as the latter is all about the subjugation of the victim. 

Locally, the Devon & Cornwall Police (2020) define domestic abuse as ‘the misuse of power and control by one person over another. This controlling behaviour may be exerted in various ways, such as through physical violence, emotional and/or psychological manipulation, forcing sexual acts or taking over your finances. It can begin at any time, can be obvious or subtle and can happen suddenly or gradually. It can happen to anyone regardless of class, age, race, religion, culture, disability, sexual orientation or lifestyle’. Based on this definition, it can be said that those who engage in domestic abuse are also engaging in sadistic behaviour

There are some misconceptions about victims of domestic abuse, such as believing that the victim wants to be abused because they are not able to leave the relationship, that the victim should leave the relationship if they want help from statutory services, that the victim is at fault for the criminogenic behaviours of their abuser, that only women are victims of domestic abuse, that women lie about their abuse, that some people/women are attracted to abusive people/men, and that some people like the violence in their relationship (e.g. rough sex defence). For instance, the Home Office (2022) published a policy paper explicitly stating that ‘consent to serious harm for sexual gratification’ is not a defence. Justice Minister Alex Chalk is cited saying ‘No death or other serious injury – whatever the circumstances – should be defended as ‘rough sex gone wrong’ which is why we are making it absolutely clear that this is never acceptable. Perpetrators of these crimes should be under no illusions – their actions will never be justifiable in any way, and they will be pursued rigorously through the courts to seek justice for victims and their families’. This means that even if a person consents to rough sex, if their partner abuses them to the point actual bodily harm (ABH), then this is by law a crime. This will give women more clarity on what constitutes appropriate touch, sex, and when to identify abuse and report abuse. Furthemrore, Keir Starmer (2013) published an article on The Guardian stating that false allegations of rape and domestic violence were rare. This shows the importance of taking all allegations seriously. 

What’s more, there are also misconceptions about the perpetrator such as believing that alcohol and drugs excuse such behaviours, that their abusive childhoods justify their behaviours, that mental health problems excuse domestic abuse, that they only attack because they are stressed out, that it is only a loss of temper on the abuser’s part, that just because they engage in domestic abuse does not mean they are bad parents (such as a father who abuses a mother and a child witnesses it), and that all abusers are men. 

The National Office for Statistics (ONS; 2021a) reported in November that domestic abuse as recorded by the police in England and Wales rose by 6%. There were 845, 734 events. There were 33 arrests per 100 cases. Yet, even though these rates increased, referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decreased by 3%. Furthermore, convictions decreased by 70%. This shocking evidence proves that even though the problem is increasing, the UK state apparatus is dealing less and less with the problem. The ONS (2021b) reports that 37.7% of offences were of violence against the person, and 18.8% of offences were of sexual nature. 72.3% of victims of violence were female whilst 27.7% were male, and 93.4% of victims of sexual offences were female, whilst only 6.6% were male. This shows that the issue of violence against women in England and Wales is far from being resolved. 

Moreover, moving more locally, the ONS (2021b) reports that there were 20,905 crimes of domestic abuse reported to the Devon & Cornwall police in the year ending 2021. This accounted for a 23.1% of total recorded crime. This saw a significant longitudinal increase in domestic abuse related crime from previous years. It went from 13.8% in the year ending in 2016 to 23.1% in 2021, increasing by over 9% in the past 5 years. There were 16, 464 offences of violence against the person, accounting for 41.1% of domestic abuse related crimes. This also saw a significant increase in the past few years. 

There are four aspects that influence perceptions of domestic abuse: (1) the media, which often distorts information by not always identifying incidents of domestic abuse, sensationalising the reality of more subtle abuse and only focusing on more violent crime. Furthermore, the media also downplays the role of the perpetrator and sometimes attributes responsibility to the victim suggesting that the perpetrator was triggered. Moreover, because we live in a patriarchal world, the media sometimes covers more stories of violence against men, even though violence against women is most common. Finally, the media also sensationalises class, making it look like domestic abuse only happens in poor families; (2) religion, which has sets of dysfunctional beliefs which reinforce abusive practice such as the idea that honour-based abuse or forced marriage is acceptable, that women are inferior and should be submissive to men, that men as family heads should take disciplinary action at home against the rest of the family, that divorce is wrong, and that homosexuality is a sin; (3) culture, which has social norms that directly impact on perceptions of domestic abuse such as the ideas that men should assert power over women because they are ‘superior’, that the restriction of women’s movements/activities is acceptable, that women should accept physical violence as a method for conflict resolution, that women are responsible for the marriage working, that domestic abuse should never be spoken about (i.e. making it a taboo topic), that anyone who wants divorce should be ashamed of themselves, that brides should be bought and exchanged as if they were cattle (e.g. Iraq), that honour is dependent on female sexual behaviour, and that traditions such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation are normal; and (4) personal experience which influences perceptions of relationships, especially when people have lived experience in domestic abuse. Depending on their level of insight, some may fully reject abusive behaviour whilst others might accept it as a normal part of life.

Did you know…

The Matrimonial Causes Act (1978) made it possible for women to be legally separated from their abusive husbands, and the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act (1976) enabled women to apply for court orders against their abusive husbands. In 1985, there were laws against female genital mutilation. In 1994 rape became illegal within a marriage, and in 2004 common assault became an arrestable offence. Police stations created dedicated Domestic Violence Units with specialist staff in the late 80s and early 90s. Moreover, the Protection from Harassment Act (1997) implemented measures against stalking and threats of violence, and the Domestic Violence, Crime, and Victims Act (2004) made stricter sentences so couples of the same sex could also apply for injunctions. In 2002, children were allowed to be removed from the home if they were witnesses of domestic abuse. In 2014, Clare’s law (named after Clare Wood) allowed the police to give details to potential victims of their partner’s abusive history in order to prevent abuse. In 2015 coercive control and revenge porn became illegal, and finally, the Domestic Abuse Act (2021) created a statutory definition of domestic abuse.  

References

Crown Prosecution Service (n.d.) ‘Foreword From Kate Brown, CPS Lead for Domestic Abuse’, Domestic Abuse [Online]. Available at https://www.cps.gov.uk/crime-info/domestic-abuse (accessed 7th February 2022). 

Devon & Cornwall Police (2020) ‘What is domestic abuse?’, 2nd October [Online]. Available at https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/advice/threat-assault-abuse/domestic-abuse/what-is-domestic-abuse/ (accessed 7th February 2022). 

Home Office (2022) ‘Consent to serious harm for sexual gratification not a defence’, GOV.UK, 31 January [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-bill-2020-factsheets/consent-to-serious-harm-for-sexual-gratification-not-a-defence (accessed 12 February 2022). 

Office for National Statistics (2021a) ‘Domestic abuse in England and Wales Overview: November 2021’, 24 November [Online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwalesoverview/november2021 (accessed 12th February 2022). 

Office for National Statistics (2021b) ‘Domestic abuse prevalence and victim characteristics’, 24 November [Online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/datasets/domesticabuseprevalenceandvictimcharacteristicsappendixtables (accessed 12 February 2022). 

Starmer (2013) ‘False allegations of rape and domestic violence are few and far between’, The Guardian, 13 March [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/13/false-allegations-rape-domestic-violence-rare (accessed 12 Feberuary 2022). 

United Nations (n.d.) ‘What is Domestic Abuse’ [Online]. Available at https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/what-is-domestic-abuse (accessed 7th February 2022). 

Categories
Journalism

Women Who Are Mad

De facto and de jure social injustices are an expression of the id quo. These impulses have a detrimental effect on women’s daily lives, making it a lot more difficult for them to enjoy their human rights. This document has shared data particles of knowledge about current injustices occurring to ‘mad’ and ‘intersectional’ women in the UK, the psychological impact of these injustices (e.g. Borderline Personality Disorder), and the legal framework of international law, which the UK is subject to. De jure and de facto injustices exacerbate mental health problems, and lead to the introjection of maladaptive behaviours, and can corrupt the individual superego. Furthermore, UN Women (2016) recommends that  all countries take on board the Istanbul Convention, and the UK is a country member of the UN Security Council. The UK’s Domestic Abuse Act 2021 does not fully cover all the criteria necessary for the prevention and protection of women’s rights, as well as the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women. Similarly, the Equality Act 2010 only protects some of the many characteristics that elicit discrimination against human beings, and the word ‘dignity’ does not appear once in the Human Rights Act 1998. This seemingly innocuous semantic exception is a malpraxis. All these technical legislative failures lead to very costly consequences for the least advantaged in the status quo. The facts and figures have shown that women in the mental health sector are the most affected group, out of which patients with BPD tend to struggle the most with daily attitudinal obstacles, intersectional discrimination, and de facto impediments.