Monday, 25 November 2013

Clare's law - the police still don't hold the answer

A law which enables women to check out the potential violent pasts of their new partners is to be expanded nationwide in March 2014.  

I wrote about Clare's law  Last year when the pilot was first launched across several counties in England and Wales, and questioned whether women really would seek to find out whether their partner had a history of violence, and whether men should be happy to submit themselves to such scrutiny on the basis that if they have nothing to hide then it doesn’t matter. 

Interestingly the articles I have read about the expansion of this law have not given any indication as to the success of the pilot scheme, actually there has been reporting that police have been confused about what kind of information should be given.  And yet the scheme is being expanded, and I can’t help wondering why, and whether anyone really benefits, or whether this is just a way to make it look as if more is being done to prevent domestic violence without actually doing anything more, but putting the onus back on to the potential victims.  

Last year 88 women were killed by abusive partners.  That’s just under two women a week.  I wonder how many of those abusive partners had a history of domestic violence that was known to the authorities.  I wonder how many of those women would have gone to the authorities to check out their partner’s history before embarking on a relationship with them, and if so, whether they would have decided against starting the relationship in the first place? 

Some people will say that one life saved makes it worth it.  But surely there is more that can be done without encouraging women to start out their relationships on a basis of mistrust and suspicion?  And a police check is not a security net – in fact it creates a false sense of security, because reality is that many women never report domestic violence, many women stay in abusive relationships for years and do nothing, or leave, ensuring they get away and never take steps to report their abusers, thus leaving them free to go on to abuse other women, women whose police check may have shown them up to have no history.  But in fact no history doesn’t mean not violent, it just means no known history.

Those 88 women who were killed by their partners knew they were violent.  As a general rule there is a history of violence before someone kills their partner.  And yet those women will have stayed in those relationships for a time before either leaving and then being murdered (as often happens) or being murdered during the course of the relationship.

Perhaps rather than putting the onus on women to ensure that their partner doesn’t have a known history, we should be investing more in ensuring that women who find themselves in abusive relationships can get the support to leave before they potentially become a statistic.  Perhaps we need to encourage women to speak out if they are being abused so they can get the support to leave.  There is no shame in being a victim of abuse – the abuser is the one at fault, but by staying in such a relationship women can only continue to be victims.  More needs to be done to try to encourage women to leave before it’s too late.  

And if this law can have one positive outcome, perhaps it should be that if a woman feels that she ought to be doing a police check into the background of her potential new partner, perhaps that is a sign that she shouldn’t be embarking on the relationship in the first place.  If it feels wrong from the outset, to the extent you would consider speaking to the police about a potential past, then nothing positive can come of it

Monday, 4 February 2013

Have we lost the art of compassion?

Ordinarily I write here about events in the news which I have opinions on, however something I experienced yesterday has compelled me to share it here and to ask the question, have we lost all sense of compassion?  


Yesterday on a train from London Charing Cross a woman got on at Waterloo East, stood at the entrance to the carriage and began to speak.  Initially I thought she was some kind of religious evangelist about to speak the word of whichever religion she might represent, however after telling the carriage her name and saying that she meant no offense, she then proceeded to say that she was homeless, that she had nowhere to sleep tonight, and that she would be very grateful if people could spare any change they might have in order that she be able to be safe and warm tonight.  She said that the streets of London are no place for a woman to be sleeping, and please would people consider helping her out.


The previously quite noisy carriage was stunned into absolute silence, and no-one said a word as she shuffled through the carriage.  No-one gave her any money either.  As soon as she’d gone people resumed their conversations, all apart from a group of young girls behind me who started talking about how awkward that was etc. 


A few minutes later she came back through the carriage and got off the train at Lewisham.  I can only assume that she may have continued to get on trains, going from one stop to another and then ultimately back again, and who knows how far she had come or how far she would go.


But what surprised me most was the reaction I got when I posed the question on Facebook and twitter, “if a woman silenced the train carriage you were in then said that she was homeless and could people please give her money, what would you do?”  I had expected a few people to say that they would give money, or food, had expected some to say that they would ignore her and do nothing.  However the responses I got ranged from “I would wonder where she got the train fare from,” as the majority response, with one stating that “I would see the train manager and ask for her to be removed since she clearly won’t have paid to be on the train,” of about 25 replies only three would have given her anything, two would have given money and one said he would give her food.  One even stated that she would move to another carriage. 


I will be the first to hold my hands up and state that I wouldn’t likely give money to a homeless person, not necessarily because I think that beggars are fakes just wanting to make money, but because a lot of people on the streets have substance abuse issues and I would feel uncomfortable giving someone money in the knowledge it might go to fund an alcohol or drug habit. But there are many homeless charities out there and I would give to those, and am about to sponsor a friend who is going to go to Everest base camp in order to support such a homeless charity. 


But while I might not give to individuals, I do wonder how we have developed into a society who can display such open hostility towards someone who is clearly in a worse off position than they are. Hostility that would state they would move to a different train carriage to avoid being in the same space as that person, for instance. 


There is no way of knowing whether the woman on that train was genuinely homeless or not.  However given the response she received I don’t imagine that riding a train line on a Sunday afternoon asking for money is a very lucrative pursuit, therefore I can only conclude that she was indeed someone who is in a worse off position than the majority of people who would see fit to judge her, and is at least deserving of some compassion if not our cash. 


So how is it that so many people feel unable to even feel compassion for someone in a potentially vulnerable position?


Have we lost the art of compassion?