Anyone who has worked on cases that have involved domestic violence will be welcoming news that the government is planning to consult about introducing a new criminal offence. This new criminal offence will look at covering the emotional harm as well as the physical harm that is caused by patterns of behaviour and incidents of domestic violence.
The government’s consultation will look at emboldening the law by stating that domestic violence covers coercive and controlling behaviour as well as physical harm. This consultation follows on from the drive throughout the football world cup to promote domestic violence awareness. During the world cup, police forces across the country had extra officers on hand, as it was expected that reports of domestic violence would double.
The latest statistics, reported by the Crime Survey for England and Wales, suggest that, at some point in their lives, 30% of women and 16% of men will experience domestic violence.
Recent awareness of the extent to which men will experience domestic violence, a rather under-covered subject, has been promoted by the work of such charities as the Men’s Advice Line, and even recent story lines in soaps such as Coronation Street, which ran a critically-acclaimed story with a female protagonist being the perpetrator of domestic violence.
This move towards creating a specific offence of domestic violence would send a very consistent message that non-violent, coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship is in fact a criminal offence. It would also be beneficial to have a known definition of what constitutes domestic violence; this would allow victims to be able to identify more readily what constitutes criminal behaviour, and encourage them to report it.
The right honourable Theresa May has been leading action in response to what she sees as "alarming and unacceptable weaknesses" in dealing with domestic violence and abuse experienced by men and women alike. As reported in the Guardian newspaper the Home Secretary went even further, saying:
tackling domestic abuse is one of this Government’s top priorities. The Government is clear that abuse is not just physical. Victims who are subjected to a living hell by their partners must have the confidence to come forward. Meanwhile, I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal.
This move has been welcomed by leading lights of charities that provide support for victims of domestic violence, such as Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, and Laura Richards, the Chief Executive of Paladin, who said that ’criminalizing’ such behaviour will ensure "better protection along with early identification, intervention and prevention opportunities to keep victims safe".
The Government’s support and pledge to consult on domestic violence has coincided with the cuts to legal services that offer support and legal advice on domestic violence. It can only be hoped that with the consultation proposing the introduction of a new criminal offence for domestic violence, the financial support allocated to victims of domestic violence will also be re-examined.