Sounding tough on domestic violence saves no one

Olivia Piercy examines tougher measurers for perpetrators of domestic abuse in The Times.

Olivia Piercy’s article was originally published in The Times, 20 October 2022, and can be found here

The BBC reported that domestic abuse survivors are calling for tougher measures for perpetrators who breach injunctions, including tagging. The overwhelming complaint is that the court orders are not worth the paper they are written on.

Supposedly ‘tougher measures’ will be available next year, with the introduction of Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs). Breaching a DAPO will be a criminal offence and the court will have the power to monitor compliance with electronic tagging.

Whilst DAPOs sound like an effective solution, they will, in reality, have little or no impact on the safety of victims. The introduction of these orders continues a trend of creating numerous practically identical criminal offences and civil ‘remedies’ to give the impression that domestic abuse is being prioritised. There are currently six very similar legal remedies available to protect victims of abuse. The breach of most of those remedies is a criminal offence, yet when breaches are reported to police, so often nothing happens. The police are woefully under resourced to deal with the scale of the crisis. Creating more, very similar types of orders, will not improve their response.

The demand for protection is going up, with non-molestation orders increasing by 89% in the last five years. During the same period, prosecutions have almost halved. Meanwhile, the Crime Survey of England and Wales 2020 found that only 18% of women experiencing partner abuse are reporting it to the police. So whilst the statistics in relation to police response are sobering, they represent just a small fraction of the abuse taking place in homes across the country every day.

A lack of resources, not a lack of legal remedies, traps people in domestic abuse situations. Successive governments have performatively championed the issue with the criminalisation of forced marriage, the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour, offences relating to FGM and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Such changes cost nothing and create a smoke and mirrors effect, hiding the chronic underfunding of refuges, Independent Domestic Violence Advocates, rape crisis centres, counselling, affordable housing, legal aid and appropriately trained police officers.

Underpinning the resourcing crisis is a total lack of interest in tackling the causes of abuse. Responsibility is placed on the victims to identify the problem and remove themselves to safety. As most domestic abuse is perpetrated by men against women, it is generally viewed as a ‘women’s issue’. No-one is asking why so many boys grow to adulthood being incapable of entering intimate relationships without controlling or harming their partners.

The UK did commit to addressing the root causes of gender violence when it signed the Istanbul Convention 10 years ago. That commitment included educating children, running awareness campaigns, training professionals and setting up treatment programmes for perpetrators. So far, in spite of finally ratifying the convention last July, the UK has taken no steps to comply with its obligations.

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