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