Domestic violence has long been an uncomfortable matter for police. “What happens between a man and his wife is none of our business,” was the mantra of old, as blind eyes were turned again and again. Up until the 1980s, domestic abuse wasn’t even viewed as a crime.
A shift in attitude led to the first Home Office circular on domestic violence in 1986. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004 reinforced the law.
And yet it hasn’t been enough. Many victims are ambivalent about calling the police, believing that they will not be taken seriously, thus provoking further violence. Perhaps they even subscribe to the same traditional viewpoint that it is a private matter. Not a “real” crime.
It is not encouraging to hear that the “slap on the wrist” policy is still commonplace. Community Resolution, as this is known, is effective in the case of young, petty offenders, where a talking-to will be enough to deter them from committing further trivial crimes. The notion that domestic abuse falls into the “trivial” folder in the eyes of our police force is horrifying.
Labour’s proposed Violence against Women and Girls Bill would be a step in the right direction. But we need more. Education of our police force – and indeed society at large – is necessary to teach us that you do not need physical bruises to be a victim of abuse. That “you just made me so angry” is not an excuse. That it is not acceptable to be degraded or controlled in any manner by a partner. The law will offer scant protection if victims are ignorant of it, and perpetrators feel confident that they can ignore it.
Police in the UK receive a domestic violence call every minute, according to Women’s Aid. For abused women – and indeed men – it can be physical and psychological torment, hardly a “petty” matter. Let’s not treat it as such.
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