Yesterday Labour announced that it is their intention, should they gain power in the next election, to bring in a new law that would prevent abusive partners from avoiding prosecution.
Under current laws, offenders can apparently avoid prosecution by using a "community resolution" whereby they apologise to their victim, pay for any damages and so on, and walk away without so much as a police caution.
According to data compiled by Labour, in 2013 there were 3,305 uses of community resolutions for domestic violence - an increase of more than 250% since 2009.
The police argue that community resolution is only used for first time offenders, where they have admitted guilt and the victim's feelings have been considered. Also it's important to remember that the definition of "domestic violence" encompasses anything violent that happens in or around the home. An example I heard used on the radio was a situation where a couple split up, and the man is upset and angry and breaks the wing mirror off the woman's car. It's classed as domestic violence under the law, but he has never been violent before, and so an agreement is made that rather than prosecute him, he will just pay for the wing mirror to be replaced.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Except, how many of these are cases where it was a first offence were just cases where it was the first reported offence?
How many of these 3,305 cases were incidents where the victim was still partly under the abuser's spell, not really sure what was going on, had been made to feel guilty for getting the police involved in the first place?
I could lose my job over this, my children will go into care, you'll be responsible for having my children taken away from me; you know how much I love my children; how could you do this to me? How could you do this to my children? Don't worry though, we can fix this; just tell the police you'll accept an apology and we'll go right back to how things were.
I can tell you from my own experience that it took me a long while to realise, and admit to myself, that what I had gone through was abuse. An abusive person is very good at getting right inside of your head, to the point that a single look or gesture can change what you say or think. They can make you believe that you are in the wrong, even as you're standing there with bruises, scared to move for fear of what they will do next. They can make you believe this is just how life is, and that you're just being prissy and stuck up for acting as if it's out of the ordinary.
I am very concerned about a system that allows, or even encourages, an abuser to have any further contact with their victim at all.
The police had a representative on Radio 4 yesterday. Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan from Greater Manchester Police said that using community resolutions is "specifically attuned to low level domestic abuse particularly where victims want that course of action."
Hang on... low level domestic abuse? LOW LEVEL?
Can someone please explain to me exactly what is classed as low level domestic abuse?
And while we're at it, assuming low level domestic abuse exists, do we assume that taking the perpetrator home and having them apologise to their victim is an end to the entire situation?
Do we not think that even with supposed low level domestic abuse, there might be some sort of punishment for having called the police?
For me, the problem is not so much with the police as with society as a whole.
When we see domestic abuse, there is a lot of victim blaming. People say things like "she gives as good as she gets" or "she deliberately aggravates him." "She wound him up until he blew" or "he's such a gentle person, they must just have incompatible personalities."
When we're not blaming the victim for being abused, we're blaming them for exaggerating the abuse. Personally I have been told such gems as "he's just bit moody sometimes, you have to learn to live with it" and "men are just like that, that's what a relationship is." Something else that is mentioned a lot with emotional and mental abuse is "it's not like he hits you." As if it's perfectly fine to call you names, convince you you're worthless, convince you every problem they've ever had is your fault, use children against you, tell you lies, manipulate you. Because as long as you don't have a bruise, it's all fair game. That's just relationships.
That is most definitely NOT just relationships.
How can an abused woman pick up that phone to call the police, when everyone around her is telling her it's no big deal?
How can she make the decision that no, this is not acceptable behaviour and I do not have to put up with it, when the world around her is obsessing over the new 50 Shades movie where a man basically stalks a woman, stops her seeing her friends and forces her into situations she doesn't want to be in? When women all over the world are lusting after an abusive and controlling character in a book, how does the person who is living it stand up and say NO?
How can we as a society pass laws about domestic abuse, when we're not showing your average person on the street what it is? What is the point in that?
One in five 999 calls is for a domestic abuse situation.
I can tell you now, in the majority of abuse cases the police are never called. People suffer in silence, either because they don't realise it's not acceptable, or because they do realise, but they feel there's nothing they can do about it; it is just their lot in life. There is no help to be found. With funding for over-subscribed shelters being cut, no legal aid, no support, what is the point in changing any law, in any way?
Every week, two women die at the hands of their partners.
I remain unconvinced that Yvette Cooper's headline grabbing, though it comes from the right place and means well, will do anything significant to change that disgusting statistic.
Let's start with educating people. Not just with TV ads, but in schools. Show teenagers, this is not okay. Show police and healthcare professionals and teachers and politicians: this is not acceptable. Make it so that society as a whole does not allow abuse to happen. Otherwise, any law this or any other government passes will fare about as well as Prohibition in the USA: people will just carry on doing it, because they don't see anything wrong.