A new crime of domestic abuse?
28 August 2014 by Charlotte Knappett
Plans currently being considered by ministers could introduce a new offence covering not just incidents of physical violence, but incidents of psychological control as well. The Home Secretary, Theresa May is involved in the consultation on creating the offence as part of an attempt to improve police performance and the protection of victims of abuse. Mrs May has already ordered chief constables to come up with domestic abuse action plans by September this year in order to improve the current situation.
There are criminal laws covering acts of violence, harassment and stalking, but none actually refer to personal relationships or the official definition of domestic abuse within England and Wales which is “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”
A report released in March by the inspectorate of constabulary was highly critical, stating that domestic abuse victims were at risk of serious harm because of failings within the force when it came to dealing with offenders. The report found that less than a quarter of forces were responding well to domestic abuse, hence the request for action plans by September this year. Theresa May stated “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. I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal.” The aim of the consultation is to determine whether making a specific crime would end any ambiguity in relation to when the police can intervene.
In the year to April 2014, the CPS achieved a record number of convictions in cases involving domestic abuse. The government also launched a scheme allowing the police to disclose information regarding previous violent offences by a partner. These are positive steps forward, but many believe more needs to be done. The statistic from Women’s Aid that 2 women are killed as a result of domestic abuse every week shocks many, and reveals the gravity of the problem.
A number of people have been campaigning to get a domestic abuse law through parliament via a private members’ bill. Whilst the consultation has been welcomed, it is hoped that it will not delay or hinder the possibility of the bill getting through parliament this year. The proposed bill, sponsored by Elfyn Llwyd, would create a crime of domestic abuse and place duties on the police to combat it.
It is clear that the government is aware that the current situation is far from ideal, and hopefully change is imminent.
It is important to remember that domestic abuse effects men and women of all age groups. There are various charities and support agencies that are able to help, and their details can be found here. Details about the options available to somebody suffering domestic abuse can be found here.