Sixty Second Interview with Deborah McIlveen
Amy Taylor talks to Deborah McIlveen, Policy Officer at Women’s Aid, about new government policies on domestic violence and what has been achieved so far.
The government has announced plans for reviews to be carried out by local agencies following domestic violence homicides to ensure any lessons are learnt. What do you think about this policy?
Women’s Aid cautiously welcomes this new measure, provided that Women’s Aid organisations and other domestic violence services are fully involved in these reviews, and that there are sufficient resources allocated to implement this effectively, which must not be at the expense of funding women’s domestic violence advocacy services and children’s services in every local area.
Women’s Aid is concerned that limiting these reviews to persons over 16-years-old, dying of violence, abuse or neglect from a relative, intimate partner or member of the same household, misses an opportunity for more joined-up approach to domestic violence, family homicide and suicide. Suicide in the context of domestic violence should also be scrutinised under these provisions. In many cases both the adult/s (usually the mother) and children are killed by the same family member, who then kills himself. Part 8 reviews into child deaths do not always occur if there has been no history of child protection concerns; even when they do happen Home Office statistics on child homicide refer only to familial relationship, and the impact and context of domestic violence is not scrutinised so valuable lessons are lost.
Why are such reviews needed?
The Home Office has also published an annual report which outlines the progress that has been made against its National Delivery Plan for Domestic Violence. This highlights the need to increase the rate at which domestic violence is reported to the police. How can this be done?
More work needs to be done by the police to encourage women to report domestic violence. Consultation with survivors indicates that they want the violence to stop – women need to be confident that involving the police will result in this happening.
Women’s Aid supports the need for a strong response to domestic violence by the criminal justice system. Domestic violence is a crime and it’s the responsibility of the state, not victims, to bring perpetrators to justice.
The British Crime Survey indicates that only 24% of women domestic violence survivors reported to the police. (Walby & Allen 2004) so it is also important to ensure that there is support available for all the women survivors who are not involved in the criminal justice system.
The priority in any case must be to increase victim safety and local Women’s Aid support and advocacy services should be made available in every local area to support women long before, during and long after any court process.
The plan also states that there has been an expansion of the specialist domestic violence court programme. How does this help to tackle the problem?
The introduction of specialist domestic violence court pilots have demonstrated increased effectiveness in securing prosecutions. The evaluation of the specialist domestic violence court pilots showed that specialist advocacy and support for the survivor throughout the court process makes a significant difference.
The Crown Prosecution Service and the Police have made significant improvements in the way they respond to domestic violence and Women’s Aid welcomes the increase in conviction rates.
However violence doesn’t necessarily end at the point of conviction, and women still face a postcode lottery because responses on the ground are patchy and inconsistent.
The government also says that £2 million of funding for independent domestic and sexual violence advisors has also been provided. Are these advisors having an impact?
This funding has not been allocated yet.
Figures show that despite the progress that has been made 100 women and 35 men are still killed each year at the hands of a current or ex-partner, or family member. What needs to happen to reduce these numbers?
Proper risk assessment and risk management measures to manage the behaviour of the perpetrator following any intervention by the police must be carried out in every single case.
Women’s Aid would like to see:
– Support for women and children in every local area,
– Court-ordered programmes for perpetrators available in every area to manage their risk.
– Specialist courts in every local area.
– National training for all police officers, prosecutors and judges, and professionals held to account for poor practice;
– Contact orders with violent parents after separation only to be issued if they’re safe for children