Domestic violence is much in the news at the moment. Millions are gripped by a dramatic storyline in popular TV soap opera Coronation Street, in which character Tyrone Dobbs is repeatedly beaten by fiancée Kirsty Soames.
Actress Natalie Gumede said of recent episodes:
“The level of violence with Kirsty has escalated to a really dangerous point now. Her sense of reality is starting to become quite warped, I think. I think the story is really taking quite a dark turn. It’s been very uncomfortable to film – worthwhile, I think we’re telling a great story – but it’s becoming quite harrowing to be a part of.”
‘Harrowing’ is a word few of us would hesitate to use about domestic violence. Family law is mostly a civil affair – certainly in the legal sense and occasionally in the behavioural sense too! But domestic violence is the one area in which we family lawyers intersect most starkly with our criminal colleagues. While they attempt to put the perpetrators behind bars, we pick up the pieces and help to deal with the consequences for affected families: divorce, separation, adoption and fostering.
If they think about it at all, many people think of domestic violence as an aberration, something bizarre and unpleasant that happens somewhere else and on women by men. But in fact violence in the home is shockingly prevalent – we read last week that domestic violence accounts for ten per cent of all emergency calls across the country to the police, a rate compiled from Home Office figures. The news is especially dire in Merseyside, where more than one fifth of calls to the police are reportedly related to domestic violence (21.2 per cent).
But whilst I’m pleased that this subject is being played so realistically (and last night’s episode made me shudder) I’m delighted that Corrie has broken with traditional taboos and tackled violence against men.
In the past my own experience of assisting the script writers with storylines in which legal advice has been required is that they do tackle difficult subjects (in my case involving grandparents seeking a residence order of their grandson where the father was alcoholic) and also that they go to great lengths to ensure accuracy. So in this case, where so many commentators on my blog do complain that violence by women against men is consistently ignored by politicians, at last a major TV series has taken notice and done something about it. Unlike perhaps, the majority of (female) politicians who still tend to ignore violence by women.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper for example made the observation:
“Last year the domestic violence rate was twice as high as the burglary rate. Two women every week are killed at the hands of their abuser in England and Wales, yet it still isn’t given enough priority to keep people safe.”
She too therefore, like her colleague Harriet Harman, seem to downplay the potential for women to commit crimes of violence against men. But not Corrie!
Meanwhile, the government on the one hand regularly declares a firm commitment to getting to getting to grips with domestic violence, and on the other hand it continues to slash funding for services. I suppose this is yet another symptom of a wrecked economy, one arguably wrecked long before they took office.
The government has, to be fair, made some positive legislative moves in recent months. In September it announced plans to broaden the definition of domestic violence to include intimidation and coercion.
And now Home Office minister Jeremy Browne has unveiled new practical measures. Alongside new offences relating to stalking, which come into force today, amongst other measures he announced a new funding stream for so-called ‘domestic homicide reviews’, in which authorities involving in tacking domestic violence cases carry out an in-depth assessment of killings in a domestic or family context, in order to try and learn lessons.
These are all steps in the right direction. But clearly there is much more still to be done. In the meantime, all credit to Corrie