No hiding place

Domestic violence is a crime cloaked in secrecy and kept from
view. Unsurprisingly, few victims want to admit their partner hits
or emotionally abuses them and few assailants own up to taking out
their frustrations on their hapless partner.

The subject was pushed up the political agenda last month when home
secretary David Blunkett allocated £14m over three years to
help tackle domestic violence (news, page 7, 20 February). The
money will help England’s 376 crime and disorder reduction
partnerships develop strategies for dealing with domestic violence.
The Home Office is also financing a new co-ordinator, to be based
at the Local Government Association, to work with councils and the
police to address local domestic violence effectively.

Blunkett said the government’s impending domestic violence
consultation paper, due in the spring, will detail how the law can
be changed to bring perpetrators to justice more successfully. A
bill will follow, the first legislation since 1976 to address the

About one in four women and one in six men experience domestic
violence in their lifetime.1 The Crown Prosecution
Service handles up to 13,000 cases of domestic violence a year,
according to figures released in November 2001. A snapshot of 3,221
of its cases over three months reveals that just over half resulted
in convictions. The defendant was bound over to keep the peace in
14.1 per cent of cases and the CPS dropped just under 35 per cent
of cases. This is against a backdrop of some 742,900 cases of
violence against a person being recorded by the police in England
and Wales in the 12 months to September 2002.2 Although
this figure includes domestic violence, the exact number of
incidents is unknown.

Homelessness charity Shelter helped 3,193 people with housing
problems related to domestic violence in 2002. Its analysis of
government statistics found that 22 per cent of homeless people
helped by local authorities in 2001-2 cited relationship breakdown
– either violent or non-violent – as the reason for losing their
home. Shelter also worked with the BBC to put together its Hitting
Home season of radio and television programmes broadcast last month
about the impact of domestic violence (news, page 7, 20

Last year the government established a domestic violence
ministerial group to co-ordinate action across government to reduce
and prevent domestic violence. Chaired by crime reduction minister
John Denham, its members include social inclusion minister Barbara
Roche and solicitor-general Harriet Harman.

The group is to closely influence the work of the Home Office’s new
domestic violence unit. Although the deadline for applications to
head it was early January, the Home Office is reluctant to give
specific details of the unit’s remit.

A Home Office spokesperson says the unit will not be officially
“launched” in the way other units were but will continue work
already being done. Nor, she adds, are there specific targets, just
an aim to “gain a better understanding of the size and scale of
domestic violence”.

Tina Hall, strategic development manager at crime rehabilitation
charity Nacro, says the quality of domestic violence services
depends on where you live. Nacro operates a domestic violence
helpline in Liverpool and 90 per cent of calls are from women. Hall
says: “There is an assumption that domestic violence is
class-related and it doesn’t happen to people in professional jobs
but just to working-class service users.”

But this is not the case and domestic violence can affect any woman
from any walk of life, she adds.

This is also true of men. Stephen Fitzgerald, national organiser of
men’s civil rights charity Mankind, last year personally took 700
calls from men suffering domestic violence. Mankind launched a
domestic violence helpline for men in December because of the 2,000
calls it receives on the subject each year. He says domestic
violence services must consider the needs of men who are victims
and not assume that it only happens to women.

Fitzgerald says: “The men are traumatised and feel ashamed because
they haven’t been able to stop it. They don’t want to speak to the
police about it because they feel they won’t be believed.”

But some police forces are aware of the problem. Detective sergeant
Steve Luxford of Sussex police says: “There is a difficulty in
getting men to come forward because they think they won’t be
believed if they are six foot tall and their partner is an eight
stone, five foot, woman.”

Luxford is based at the anti-victimisation unit in Brighton and
Hove, and his team works on domestic violence, homophobic and race
crimes. Sussex police deal with 12,000 cases of domestic violence a
year and 18-25 per cent of the 3,500 cases in Brighton and Hove
feature men as victims.

It is not just adults who are scarred by domestic violence.
Children who witness or hear it are also badly affected, says a
recent report from Barnardo’s.3 The children’s charity’s
principal policy officer, Alan Coombe, says: “The emotional impact
of domestic violence on a child is pervasive and long lasting. In
90 per cent of cases a child is present or in the next room when it
is happening.”

Social care professionals are in the ideal position to report to
the police their concerns about a client potentially experiencing
domestic violence, says Luxford.

But is there not a danger that if a social worker does this the
police will storm in with their size nines? “We’re not in the
business of knocking down doors,” he says. “We’d look at how we can
investigate a suspected case and whether it is tied in with any
other information we already have on the person.”

Coombe adds that, when professionals are dealing with domestic
violence, they must remember to acknowledge children’s needs and
address them.

Hall urges the new domestic violence unit to monitor the number of
people approaching agencies nationally because of domestic
violence. Although she welcomes the government’s new funding for
domestic violence, she believes a longer-term approach is required.
“One of the difficulties is that we have short-term funding and we
have to re-bid for it,” she says. “Agencies at the front end are
constantly having to deal with crisis situations instead of doing
preventive work.” CC

1 Research Study 191, Domestic Violence:
Findings from a New British Crime Survey Self-Completion
, Home Office, 1999

2 Home Office, Crime in England and Wales: Quarterly
, Stationery Office, 2003

Bitter Legacy, Barnardo’s,

Behind closed doors…

Many people would think Beatrice had the perfect life. Her
husband’s job meant money wasn’t a worry, they lived in a
good-sized house and she could afford to stay at home and look
after their four young children. But behind closed doors it was a
different story. 

Beatrice had been regularly beaten, assaulted and belittled for
years by the man who had promised to “love and honour” her. She
wanted to leave him but was worried how she would manage with the
children, three of whom were under four, because he controlled the

Last summer Beatrice plucked up the courage to telephone the
domestic violence helpline at crime reduction charity Nacro. With
its assistance she took out an injunction against her husband
banning him from their home. She also had locks put on the windows
and doors by Nacro’s anti-burglary partner agency and was helped to
access the necessary benefits.   Nacro also provides a care package
which includes a telephone alarm system. She has begun attending
counselling sessions with an agency Nacro referred her to and is
rebuilding her and her children’s lives.

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