Monday, July 25, 2011

Clare's Law: an effective measure to prevent domestic violence?

You have to have sympathy with Michael Brown, a man who's seen his daughter brutally murdered by her violent partner. I can only imagine the pain he's gone through, and he will quite rightly be looking for ways in which this violent tragedy could have been prevented.

Clare Wood met George Appleton online in 2007. In their relationship, she was subjected to repeated, horrific physical and sexual violence. She ended the relationship, but Appleton continued to harrass her and ultimately murdered her in 2009. Appleton had a history of violence towards women, which the Police were well aware of. Michael Brown argues, supported by his local MP Hazel Blears and the Victims' Commissioner Louise Casey, that the Police should have been able to tell Clare about Appleton's violent past. Then she would have been able to make an informed choice about whether to continue with the relationship.

On the face of it, this sounds like a good idea. Any woman, particularly if they have children, is bound to be wary of allowing a new person into their lives. Developing an intimate relationship with a complete stranger always has its risks, but this would be a great way of minimising them, right? It would keep more people safe.

Except, imagine if you meet this really cute, sweet, kind guy. He's baby faced, looks like he wouldn't hurt a fly. You go to the Police. They tell you that he was in and out of their cells because he'd beaten up his last partner. By this time it may well be too late. You may already be into deep with this guy. He may have told you already about his evil ex partner and how she doesn't let him see his kids and how she had affairs all over the shop and wrongly accused him of beating her up when, in fact, it was the other way around. He might have told you about how unfair it was that he'd been put in the cells, how the Police had got it all so wrong, how the law is totally stacked in favour of the woman, who is free to make all sorts of false accusations with impunity. You may well have read something in the Daily Mail that makes all this sound plausible. And he really seems genuine. And you really are falling for him. What do you do?

One of the key skills of perpetrators of domestic abuse is the ability to manipulate and control their victims. Making this information available isn't necessarily going to stop new abusive relationships being formed. By the time the victims realise that the Police were right all along, they're in too deep and don't always seen an escape route.

And what happens if both parties to a new relationship discover that each has previous issues with domestic abuse - and often abusers accuse their victim to escape justice themselves. You can see that this is not quite as clean cut as it looks.

Hazel Blears writes on Labour List why she thinks this is a vital step.

Women in Clare's position rarely know that they are at risk from men like Appleton. Despite his record of systematic domestic violence against different women she had no way of knowing that he posed such a threat. Information about his violent and vicious past was known to the authorities but she was left in the dark.
We need to change the law to give women like Clare the right to know of the threat that they face. It's important to stress that this change would also give men the right to know - we want to tackle serial perpetrators of domestic violence regardless of gender.
I tend to instinctively have more sympathy with family law barrister Lucy Reed's article in last Friday's Guardian. She argues that:
Such a system also risks creating a false sense of security and a tendency to rely on official agencies rather than a person's own instincts when judging the suitability of partners. There are many violent and potentially violent offenders who would be given a clean bill of health under the proposed scheme. Would that make their partners safer?
I think that maybe the issue I have with it is that it's yet another solution that puts the responsibility on the person entering the relationship to protect themselves rather than highlighting that abusively violent behaviour within a relationship is simply not acceptable. Don't get me wrong, I do think it's important that people grow up learning to recognise and achieve healthy dynamics in their personal relationships, but there needs to be a strong emphasis that violence and abuse are wrong and those who perpetrate it are never, ever justified. Society needs to show, in a much stronger way than it currently does, that it does not tolerate abusive behaviour  within relationships. The conviction rates are embarrassingly low given that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence and there's much more cultural acceptance, or turning a blind eye, than we would like to admit.

I think Clare's Law is the wrong approach, even as part of a wider ranging strategy to tackle domestic violence. I'm just not sure it will save lives and may even make the situation worse.


Jennie Rigg said...


Anonymous said...

Blears: "Despite his record of systematic domestic violence against different women she had no way of knowing that he posed such a threat. "

I have a problem with this, while I don't know the specifics of this case, it is not generally the case that people suddenly snap and murder a women they have been sweetness and light too up until that point.

Most women murdered by their partners are murdered after a prolonged peirod of escalating violence. If being beaten by your partner is not enough to make you realise that they are a danger, you are not going to be convinced when a police man tells you so.

The problem is not informing women that they have dangerous partners, it is making them understand that they can act on this information, and seek help.

Melaina25 said...

First I have to address anonymous; women who suffer domestic violence often suffer from something called "battered women's syndrome." Yes they may be suffering prolonged periods of violence but that doesn't mean they can just up and leave OR even suspect worse things will happen. Unfortunately these women are so abused, torn-down and mentally scarred they can't think rationally about their partner and what is being done to them.

What needs to happen is more education around domestic violence and teach boys that violence is not acceptable. We also need to support these women who do reach out for help and in that respect get more much needed funding to Women's Aid groups.


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