Last March I wrote a post here about the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, better known as ‘Clare’s Law’, under which people may find out from the police whether their partner has a history of domestic violence. In the post, I asked whether the scheme would actually make much difference. Whilst hoping it would help some people, I expressed reservations about the scheme and concluded that I did not think it would have much effect.
It seems that I may have been proved wrong. Figures obtained by the Press Association under Freedom of Information requests show that since the scheme came into force in England and Wales last March there have been at least 3,760 applications so far, resulting in 1,335 disclosures. In other words, at least 1,335 people have been informed that their partner has a history of domestic violence.
So, the scheme is being used, and a large number of people have been given information which may ultimately mean that they do not become victims of domestic violence.
All well and good, but I do still have reservations about the scheme.
The first one is: what do these people do with the information? Do they all immediately leave their partners, or do they try to ‘work through the problem’, perhaps discussing the issue? Either way, they will be in a situation of great risk.
Leaving an abuser is not necessarily as easy as it may sound. They may well react violently to the relationship being ended, and may try to follow their victim, wherever they try to go.
Staying with the abuser is obviously even more risky: they may well take exception to their violent past being raised, possibly denying that it ever happened. The whole issue of domestic violence is often a matter of control, and if the abuser feels that their partner is trying to wrest control from them they may again react violently.
Clearly, anyone who receives information about their partner’s history of domestic violence will need proper help and assistance. I suspect, however, that the level of such help and assistance will vary from one area to the next.
Then there is the problem of all those applications that did not result in a disclosure. Obviously, anyone who makes an application must have some suspicions or concerns about their partner’s behaviour. As I said in my previous post, a negative result may lead to a false sense of security (many abusers will not have police records anyway). Perhaps that person’s ‘gut feeling’ which led them to make the application was right. If they had followed that gut feeling they may have ended the relationship, but the negative result may make them feel confident that they can stay.
In my previous post I also expressed doubts as to how many people at the start of a new relationship with someone that they are obviously fond of were going to stop and check if that person has a history of domestic violence. Obviously, that doubt still applies, although the figures suggest that the scheme is taking off and that the number of people who are aware of it is increasing.
That, however, leads to another problem. The scheme does not just enable people to apply for information; it also enables the police to warn potential victims who do not apply, under the so-called “right to know”. If this becomes common knowledge, will people simply rely upon the police letting them know if their partner has a history of domestic violence, without bothering to check themselves? Obviously, the police may not do so – they may well be unaware of the abuser’s new relationship in any event.
It seems that Clare’s Law is here to stay, and if it stops just one person from becoming a victim of domestic violence, then that is of course a good thing. It does, however, have its limitations, and those must be understood by anyone using it or seeking to rely upon it.