Domestic violence is a nasty crime, one that shatters the sense of safety we all need to feel when at home. It is also a gross abuse of the trust and openness at the heart of family relationships.
Many of us, when we hear about a particular case will wonder ‘why?’ What motivates a person to inflict violence on a person they supposedly love?’ It seems inexplicable…and yet domestic violence is unsettlingly common. According to Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, approximately one million women a year experience some form of domestic violence – a shocking figure. And here is one that is perhaps even worse: no less than 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence, a legacy of trauma they will undoubtedly carry well into their adult lives. Some will, I’m sure, go on to re-enact the scenes they have witnessed with their own future partners.
I will leave the question of the motivations behind domestic violence to the psychologists and the sociologists. What I want to do today is consider an interesting new pilot scheme which has just been launched in Greater Manchester, as well as Gwent, Wiltshire and Nottingham.
The scheme, which is currently set to run until September 2013, gives women the right to officially enquire whether their partner has a history of domestic violence. Enquiries can come directly from members of the public – known as the “right to ask” – or from agencies wishing to protect a potential victim, known as the ‘right to know’.
In both cases, if police checks then reveal that a person does have a history of domestic violence, the police will consider revealing this information to the person at risk.
This initiative, dubbed ‘Clare’s Law’, was inspired by the truly tragic case of Salford single mother Clare Wood, who was brutally murdered by ex-boyfriend George Appleton in February 2009. Unbeknownst to her, Appleton had a long history of violence towards women. Shortly after the murder, Appleton hanged himself.
To quote Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood of Greater Manchester Police: “This pilot…helps individuals make an informed decision on whether or not to continue a relationship, and will provide help and support to them when making that choice. It will enable police to act in the best interests of those people who believe they are at risk of violence by sharing information on a partner’s violent past.”
Of course, only time will tell how effective Clare’s Law proves to be, but anything which could help prevent further murders and suffering is to be welcomed. The problem with current mechanisms for the protection of victims – for example, occupation orders or non-molestation orders – is that they come late in the day and are no bar to the truly determined. By the time such an order has been obtained, a pattern of abuse, violence, stress and loss of self-esteem will already have begun and a disturbed perpetrator is unlikely to pay much heed to orders issued against them.
Clare’s Law could allow victims to escape the toxic cycle before it has even begun.