Is this the way to keep women safe?

// 17 July 2011

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dvsq.jpg The Independent has reported today that “women could be given the right to know whether their partners have a history of violence under plans to be considered by the Government”. I have mixed feelings about this, even though on first glance it seems like a good idea. I heard a Woman’s Hour programme earlier in the week where the proposal was discussed by Michael Brown, whose daughter, Clare Wood, was murdered in 2009 by a violent partner; Jane Keeper from Refuge; and Brian Moore, the Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police.

Michael Brown supports the proposed law, which is being called Clare’s Law after his daughter. He believes that had his daughter known about her partner, George Appleton’s previous convictions for violence against women, she would never have got involved with him.

Greater Manchester Police have been criticised for not offering Clare the help she needed, but Mr Brown is insistent that any new policy had to be national, and not just relating to Manchester, and he talked passionately about the prevalence of domestic violence murders. He said,

“The statistics are frightening. There’s 2 ladies every week killed by domestic violence. Their partners turn on them. And I think if they were all clumped together and that was two coach loads of ladies going over a cliff face, the drivers and the bus would be taken off the road. And because these ladies are dotted all around the UK, the statistics don’t show that there’s somewhere in the region of 100 – 120 girls or women killed by their partners every year. And strangely enough there’s one man every 3 weeks. So the statistics speak for themselves. Had it all happened at the one time there would have been an enquiry, and because these ladies are dotted round the UK, it falls by the wayside and I think it’s shocking”.

The coroner at Ms Wood’s inquest is reported to have said that women should be able to be informed of any convictions for violence in the past of their partners, and the statistics from Brian Moore, the Chief Constable, appear to back this up.

He explained that research he carried out showed that there were more than 25,000 serial perpetrators of domestic abuse who offended against different victims over 5 year period. This does show that there is a real problem of abusers hurting woman after woman after woman, and if a law like the one proposed could help to prevent that, then surely we should try it, as one measure amongst many, to truly tackle the problem of domestic abuse.

But Jane Keeper from Refuge summed up concerns that I, too, share. She explained that the majority of victims of domestic violence still never go to the police. Therefore there are a lot of unconvicted perpetrators, who women could potentially check, and be informed that they are fine. Ms Keeper also discussed the practicalities of the proposal – do women call the police each time they meet someone new? At what stage in a relationship do you check? And she mentioned resources too, that police are frequently not even able to tell high risk victims that their abuser has been released on bail, so they would be hard pushed to respond to lots of queries from people in new relationships.

The aspect that worries me the most is the idea that a woman could be reassured by the lack of previous convictions of her partner. Lulling her into a false sense of security could be downright dangerous. It’s not that this law would simply not be ‘enough’, it’s that it could cause more problems when someone feels they have been assured safety.

A lot does need to be done about domestic violence and abuse, and no one solution can present all the answers. But I fear that this solution will cause new problems as well as some solutions. But then, in the cases mentioned by Chief Constable Moore, perhaps a law like this could have helped the women in relationships with these 25,000 serial offenders. I do not know which would be greater: the scale of damage caused by a lack of this law; or the scale of damage caused by a law like this being introduced.

[The image is adapted from a photograph by Elvert Barnes, issued under a Creative Commons License. This blog post is cross-posted at incurable hippie blog]

Comments From You

Rachel // Posted 18 July 2011 at 5:47 am

I don’t understand the logic of “luring women into a false sense of security.” For example, a woman starts seeing a man who, unbeknownst to her, beat his last two girlfriends repeatedly. However, they never went to the hospital, and no charges were filed. With out this law, the woman knows nothing about it, and assumes the man is safe. With this law, the woman checks on him, nothing comes up, so she knows nothing about it and assumes he is safe. With or without the law, men will be given the benefit of the doubt. Women aren’t going to be less likely to seek help, or realize something is wrong, just because they think it is the first time abusing.

kinelfire // Posted 18 July 2011 at 10:08 am

So this law comes to pass, and you find out that your new partner has a history of abusive behaviour. You gather up your courage (this lovely guy/woman might have already started to be abusive to you, but you’re trying to rationalise it; he/she didn’t mean it and you shouldn’t have said that thing anyway…) and ask him/her about it. They explain it away; it was all made up, the ex is a ‘f***ing storyteller’, the charges were trumped up, whatever.

What do you do?

You don’t *want* to believe what the police have said, and this person who is usually so lovely (except for that one time, and it was probably your fault anyway) is telling you what, really, you want to hear. And anyway. It’ll be different with you. They won’t be like that, not with you. They *need* you.

Abusers are incredibly manipulative.

Another thought just occurred; what would prompt someone to ask the police about any history of DV? An episode of abusive behaviour? By the time an abuser has done something that’s physically violent (and something tells me that few people would check after an episode or so of mental/emotional abuse) their target may be unable or unwilling to do something like that. Not least because if their abuser finds out, there would be hell to pay.

TL;DR: a nice idea, but I’m no convinced.

I also know that the man who repeatedly abused and assaulted me amost certainly has no police record.

sian norris // Posted 18 July 2011 at 11:39 am

i share your concerns too. i’m not sure what this law achieves. i am also very concerned that this is happening when refuges and domestic violence support services are being so drastically cut.

cim // Posted 18 July 2011 at 11:57 am

The existence of such a law would imply that we as a country think that the DV offenders we release from prison are still dangerous and likely to reoffend (which is almost certainly true for most of them). Isn’t the solution then to not release them in the first place, rather than to make it easier for their next victim to be blamed for not doing a background check?

aitch // Posted 18 July 2011 at 12:21 pm

I’m not sure, but isn’t one problem with this measure that it might not work very well, or even be counter-productive? I say this because a friend of mine was once seeing a guy and after a couple of weeks they were in bed together and he revealed to her that he’d beaten up his ex-girlfriend so badly she had to go to hospital. He claimed to be telling my friend this in the name of honesty and transparency – and because my friend was alone with him in his house she thanked him and said she was okay with that, but as soon as she left she cut off all contact.

I thought this was unusual behaviour on his part – surely telling a new girlfriend about his abusive past would ensure their departure – but actually a family friend of hers who works in an abused woman’s shelter pointed out that a lot of abusers do this very thing, as it means that when they start being abusive at a later date they can just say “well you always knew my history and you stayed with me anyway so who’s fault is this really?”

So while some people (like my friend) would use prior knowledge of their partner’s abusive history as a reason to break off contact, perhaps the people who decide to give their partners the benefit of the doubt/second chance would then be faced with a further form of emotional manipulation and abuse, and the feeling that they’d somehow gotten themselves into an abusive situation.

bigbluemeanie // Posted 18 July 2011 at 1:15 pm

It makes me incredibly sad that we, our political leaders, and the police are seemingly unable to deal with the epidemic of violence head-on via a long-term campaign of preventative education and by ensuring that appropriate resources are put into ensuring offenders are apprehended and convicted. Instead we fiddle around the edges with things like this. In any other context there would be widespread outrage.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 18 July 2011 at 4:12 pm

Thanks aitch, this is a good point. I think sometimes that an abusive partner ‘confessing’ like this, can act as a veiled threat too. Like a warning of what he’s capable of. Scary.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 18 July 2011 at 10:42 pm

Yet again those in power are deliberately not seeing the elephant in the room. As always the focus is on women taking responsibility for ensuring they don’t become entangled with violent and controlling men. No mention is made of how and why so many men and the above article states there are at least 25,000 men who commit violence against women, but we don’t know they are male because the sex of said perpetrators must not be mentioned.

Men learn as boys it is their right if they so choose to enforce male domination and control over women, particularly when the male becomes involved in a heterosexual relationship. He has learned as a boy that his biological maleness entitles him to dominate and control any woman, but especially the woman with whom he has become intimately involved with. The man learns as a boy that a woman exists solely to serve his needs; his demands and his rights and she has no rights whatsoever. If she dares to express any independent thoughts or actions she is supposedly challenging his male authority and he has to reinforce his male ownership and control over the woman and one very effective way is by the threat or use of male violence against the woman.

So instead of advising women to check if the boyfriend they are dating has a record why are not the great and good men in power looking at how our male supremacist society reinforces the lie that men have the innate right if they so choose to dominate and control women? For a start those great and good men (sic) should take a long hard look at how malestream media incessantly claims that men are dominant and women are passive; that men must always take the lead and women must meekly follow. That being a ‘real man’ means the man controls and dominates his woman (sic) in whatever way he wishes. But of course this would mean taking a long hard look at how male supremacy continues to proclaim only men are human and women exist to serve men 24/7.

What does our male supremacist society tell women? Why we are not as highly valued as men; we exist only as men’s disposable sexual service stations; we must constantly selflessly put men’s interests and men’s needs first and ours last. If we take a look at malestream media what do we find? Why male violence against women is ‘funny;’ it is acceptable for men to dominate women; it is acceptable for men to make misogynistic and insulting claims about women because we aren’t human are we? Only men are human and only men have the supposed right of being accorded dignity and respect.

Still this latest suggestion is fine is it not because for the umpteenth time it neatly ignores men’s accountability as well as how our male supremacist system operates. Don’t attempt to change how our women-hating culture operates instead let’s make the claim that women can protect themselves from violent men just by asking a police officer! I wish it were that simple but it is not. Finally, men will doubtless claim they are being targetted and victimised because they will claim ‘those males who commit violence against women are a tiny minority because most men never, ever dominate or control women.’ So of course men’s issues and men’s rights will once again become paramount and result will be nothing will be done to change how men learn as boys what it supposedly means to be the default human – aka male of course. But missing from all of this is the fact male domination and male power over women both individually and as a group exists and it is this male power which condones and justifies men’s violence against women.

kinelfire // Posted 19 July 2011 at 8:41 am

aitch – extremely good point and you reminded me of part of my experience.

Abusers don’t take responsibility, no matter what. The police saying that they’ve been arrested/charged/whatever it takes to create a permanent record, along with everything else, will be spun to be someone else’s fault.

lily // Posted 19 July 2011 at 10:44 am

Well said Jennifer. This sort of move places the responsibility for ensuring against domestic abuse once again firmly on women without giving women any real power to do so. This move asks women to check that a potential partner has not previously committed such abuse (the manifold difficulties with this itself being well outlined by Jane Keeper), to make a decision whether to place her trust in a potentially faulty police recording system or a new and unknown potential partner, and to then act firmly upon this potentially unreliable information with what is perceived to be the ‘correct’ choice. If a woman does not do any of these things, or does not make the ‘right’ choice (i.e. chooses to enter into a relationship with somebody who has a past history of domestic abuse or chooses not to check her new partner) she will then be blamed for her own abuse. The answer is not to ask women to check whether their partners are abusive but to alter the way our society perceives men and women to ensure that they are not.

nick // Posted 20 July 2011 at 9:35 am

why dont men who sign up to these site have to go through a CRB check first ? I mean, the men might not have record for DV, but may have convitions for armed robbery, arson, cruelty to animals, drug dealing, shop lifting etc, etc, etc. As least then women might have clue about the men on the sites.

Also, why cant men have the same protection as women ? I may not want to ‘date’ a woman who”s been convicted of DV either.

Cycleboy // Posted 20 July 2011 at 9:09 pm

While I understand the concerns the author and posters have expressed, I too heard the WH interview and I came away with a very different view.

Michael Brown was not claiming – for one moment – that his proposal would solve DV, nor did he think it would have a significant impact on it (at least, not initially). He is proposing that a woman or man should have the right to know as a matter of principle. He doesn’t think every woman would do it (frankly, the system would be rapidly overloaded with requests were that to happen), perhaps not even very many. However, his stand-point is that a person, who feels s/he has reasons to question the new partner, should have the right to know if that person has previous DV convictions. Nothing more.

Whilst concerns and criticisms are good discussion points, I believe that Mr Brown’s view would be that the law should exist unless it could be shown to be counter-productive.

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