Refuges reject claim that women don't want violent men jailed

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The Independent Online
WOMEN'S HELP and refuge groups last night attacked a study which claimed victims of domestic violence are to blame for the low number of men being prosecuted for battery and assault in the home, as "ridiculous" and "misleading".

Dr Carolyn Hoyle, of Oxford University Centre for Criminological Research, says that it is the attitude of women, rather than the police or lawyers, which stops cases reaching court.

According to Dr Hoyle's findings, released yesterday, few prosecutions take place because women do not want to pursue the matter.

The study was attacked by women's organisations, which argue that the police do not take domestic violence seriously and often dissuade victims from bringing charges.

But Dr Hoyle argues that woman want their abusers treated, not punished. She also asserts that the police and Crown Prosecution lawyers are wrongly maligned for being reluctant to arrest and prosecute violent husbands and boyfriends.

Dr Hoyle spent seven months in two police stations in the Thames Valley area of south-east England, examining 1,300 cases of domestic violence and interviewing nearly 400 officers and 100 victims.

The findings, say Dr Hoyle, "directly challenge feminist orthodoxy" and show that most domestic violence victims are satisfied by the way the police handle their complaints, and that the reason few cases end up in court is that police and prosecution lawyers are simply responding to victims' wishes.

But Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, the national 24-hour helpline for victims of domestic violence, disagreed with the thrust of Dr Hoyle's book, Negotiating Domestic Violence: Police, Criminal Justice and Victims.

She said: "To blame the women is totally misleading. The biggest single step to preventing abuse is to ensure that the police and CPS charge and prosecute men. These men are criminals ... they are not patients and should not be treated as such."

But Doctor Hoyle said: "The majority didn't want a prosecution ... A lot simply want the relationship to stay together."

Victims of domestic violence frequently just want their abusers to be treated and rehabilitated, she added. "What the victims want more than anything is for the men to stop being violent, whether they stay in the relationship or not."

She said that often, when abusers do go to court, the penalties are so small that the women thought the effort was wasted. "What is missing is a sentence that works; that prevents women being abused in the long term," she said.

But Sandra Horley said her group gets calls every day complaining about the treatment by the police. In one recent case in London, a woman had her front teeth knocked out by her husband. When the police arrived they did not arrest the man, failed to interview the neighbours who had reported the incident, and left the woman to make her own way to hospital.

"Negotiating Domestic Violence: Police, Criminal Justice and Victims", by Carolyn Hoyle, is published by Clarendon Press on Thursday. Refuge's helpline is 0990 995443.