We need to understand male violence

Little attention is paid to the idea that one way of tackling domestic violence might be to nip the problem in the bud
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yesterday, the Women's National Commission and Amnesty International called for a new approach to domestic violence. Presenting its report, What a Waste: The Case for An Integrated Violence Against Women Strategy, at a special parliamentary meeting, the two groups jointly called for the adoption of a range of measures: a more co-ordinated and consistent government policy across departments; a coherent, long-term approach to prevention; the mainstreaming of neglected forms of violence against women such as trafficking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and exploitation in the sex industry; more effective use of limited financial resources; and better knowledge transfer across sectors.

Yesterday, the Women's National Commission and Amnesty International called for a new approach to domestic violence. Presenting its report, What a Waste: The Case for An Integrated Violence Against Women Strategy, at a special parliamentary meeting, the two groups jointly called for the adoption of a range of measures: a more co-ordinated and consistent government policy across departments; a coherent, long-term approach to prevention; the mainstreaming of neglected forms of violence against women such as trafficking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and exploitation in the sex industry; more effective use of limited financial resources; and better knowledge transfer across sectors.

You'd be a fool to argue against any of these demands. All the report is pointing out is that the definition of domestic violence has to be comprehensive and widely understood, that appropriate responses to that violence also have to be widely understood, and that, as we all proverbially know, prevention is better than cure.

The Government will not be surprised by the report's criticism of its definition of domestic violence. Already the Women's National Commission has berated the Government for not even mentioning female genital mutilation or honour killings in its June 2003 consultation paper on domestic violence, Safety and Justice. If such criticisms seem needlessly politically correct, they're not really. It is very important for all of these things to be recognised as violations which women should be routinely protected from. At present, with regular and tragic results, they are not.

Further, the definition of domestic violence needs desperately to be redefined at a legislative level. At present, an attack by a boyfriend or former boyfriend who has never lived with a woman, is assault not domestic violence. This has real impact in the judicial process. For example, the victims of domestic violence can automatically apply for the adoption of special measures to protect them against courtroom trauma, while the victims of common assault cannot.

Likewise, it is probably not news to many people that there , in this country, a "postcode lottery" with regard to the support that victims of domestic abuse can expect from the police and the criminal justice system.

The issues surrounding domestic abuse have been brought to the public attention fairly aggressively. The result is that people assume that the culture surrounding woman and violence has changed a great deal more than it has in reality.

This is best illustrated when looking at rape convictions. So much publicity has gone into the recruitment of female officers, the setting-up of rape suites, and so on, that the public perception is that women find it much easier now to get justice when they have been raped. The truth is the opposite.

Last week, figures were published confirming that rape convictions are at an all-time low. Attitudes that have been advertised for years as archaic are still in many respects unchallenged. Even when new approaches have been ushered in, they are often inappropriately administered. In the police, for example, domestic violence specialists tend to be on call only during normal office hours. Incidences of domestic violence, however, can flare up at any time of the day or night.

Then there's prevention, an option which, often in discussions of domestic violence, seems like an alien concept. Amid all the reams of detail on domestic violence, it remains striking how little attention is paid to the strange idea that one way of tackling domestic violence might be to nip the problem in the bud and really start to investigate how the men who subject those in their family unit to pain and abuse might be turned away from such destructive behaviour.

The government's Safety And Justice is no exception. It spends much of its time discussing how important it is for those who perpetrate domestic violence to be punished as fully as those who perpetrate violence outside the home. Yet while I agree that there should certainly be no allowances made for those picking on people who are vulnerable - on the contrary - I do also find myself wondering whether it might be useful to look harder at ways of challenging violence, rather than simply mouthing the wish to bring it to an end.

When pressure groups run these campaigns - for violence against women to stop, or for violence against children to stop - it can almost appear that they are suggesting that violence is fine as long as men hit only each other. Such assertions irritate men's groups, who passionately cite that one in six men claims to be a victim of domestic violence, with the figure likely to be much more because of male sheepishness about admitting to attacks. And they irritate me too, because they imply that male violence is actually acceptable as long as it is only directed at the groups society proscribes, with repugnant bias, as non-vulnerable.

In Safety And Justice, discussion about perpetrator programmes - treatment courses for men who have a problem with violence - is minimal. And while there are a few courses looking at violent men, there are not many. Within Britain's large and bulging prison system, full of violent men, there is only one dedicated institution, HMP Grendon. But this prison deals only with the worst offenders. You have to have personality disorders to apply for Grendon, and still the facility is massively over-subscribed.

Otherwise, courses are few and far between. Funding is a major problem, with what facilities there are subsisting from one meagre grant to the next. Understanding of the problem is minimal, with perpetrators of domestic violence often sent to anger management classes, a classic category error when usually the perpetrator can control his anger everywhere else but at home.

The results of this failure to invest in research and development of psychological models designed to tackle violent behaviour are appalling. When the Women's National Commission undertook workshops exploring issues surrounding domestic violence, it found evidence that such courses and initiatives as there were often allowed men to meet and actually prop up their denial of the unacceptability of their behaviour. Yet many of the women also made pleas for it to be recognised that the people perpetrating domestic violence really did need help as much as condemnation.

Certainly this does not seem like a course that the government is yet thinking much about. While it's website dealing with perpetrator programmes for domestic abuse has not been updated for a couple of years, already the government is looking into making domestic violence part of the national curriculum, extending the new NHS policy of routinely questioning all pregnant women about domestic violence, and is exploring ways in which employers can be encouraged to spot and challenge abusers.

The Government has stimulated a positive debate about domestic violence, even if it has not yet had much practical impact. But without going to the heart of the matter and at least ascertaining which people can be helped to address their problem, and how, it can never, despite its lofty ambitions, stop domestic violence.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

Comments