“It Doesn’t Involve Them”: Did House of Lords Ignore Wider Impact Of Domestic Abuse?
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 stands to protect survivors better. But are there other risks that have been purposefully overlooked?
I think, first, we have to praise the most recent adjustments to the Domestic Abuse and Violence Laws in the United Kingdom. For myself the adjustment that pertains to non-fatal strangulation being made a crime of Domestic Abuse. And for many others, the illegal release of sexual images. Most pertinently, laws that protect women and children from homelessness in situations of Domestic Violence.
I consider myself a survivor of two separate Domestic Abuse circumstances. Two years ago, I was released from the physical, emotional and psychological manipulation of a non-UK National who has since left the country. On three occasions he made to unlawfully subdue me by strangulation; he has returned to Cyprus and will not be punished for this. Justice comes in strange ways; enactment of this law is one.
But I feel we must put aside this small victory; for something concerns me far more. I do understand that there is a myriad of services that provide support and intervention for the most vulnerable, as well as direct victims; children, vulnerable adults and the disabled. However, it is still yet to be enshrined in law that these people are also victims of Domestic Violence having even played witness to the crime of Domestic Abuse. In the case of young students, young housemates and young carers, there is absolutely no protection at all from the emotional impact and resulting trauma.
These adjustments and addendums to the Domestic Violence Act remain on the by-line again and again and again. In the case of the adjustments made in 2021 inclusion of this was disregarded by reason of indeterminable impact or evidence. It is, apparently, impossible to determine that there will be any resulting harm done to these people that result from situations of Domestic Violence. Following statutory law, should a child, disabled, or vulnerable person seek justice for themselves, it would result in an abuse or neglect case against both parents; condemning the direct victim of Domestic Abuse to having committing a crime by assent. Not only is this wrong, it restricts members of an otherwise turbulent household, forcing them to literally choose between protecting their wellbeing, or their family/ close household member.
Throughout my study, further professional experience in working with children and vulnerable adults, and exploration into the topic of trauma and treatment thereof, I must protest as to why. There is a preventative framework, a network of services; But no law to acknowledge the knock-on effect of Domestic Violence on those who are in guardianship/ trapped in Domestic Violence situations.
The government itself identifies the potential harm for those who witness domestic abuse.
Beginning with children; UK Law indicates already that the majority of children who witness domestic violence are likely to withdraw from social activities, experience a variety of mental health problems, struggle to engage with school work, and experience unstable behaviour and emotion. They are also most likely to abandon education, engage in anti-social behaviour. They are also most likely to become victim to, or perpetrators of violent crime. Several studies also indicate the medical and psychological outcomes are significantly poorer for these children as they enter adulthood (Stiles. MD, 2002. Unicef, 2006.)
Vulnerable adults, young adults, or disabled people are at great risk of mental health problems including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to a reduction in independence, safety and less control of their already limited environment. This is proven to have a lasting effect on their willingness to access or seek additional support services. Physical wellness is greatly impacted by stress-related illness which, for those with established medical problems, can prove debilitating if not fatal.
University students, fresh out the nest, form the majority of high-risk victims being in their 20s or 30s, with those under 25 most likely to suffer interpersonal violence. Even more so in the pandemic due to the reliance on social media and the sending of illicit images, but also young adults living in unfamiliar environments under such stressful conditions (universitiesuk.ac.uk, 2021).
There is an aspect of victim blaming which eludes us all, that prevents people witnessing domestic violence from reporting these crimes. Values regarding social attitudes towards domestic violence between 2014 and 2019 have had no significant change. I do note the Disclosure Scheme in Scotland has only recently been introduced to include coercive behaviour and this may have a positive impact. To elaborate, the Disclosure Scheme in Scotland requires police services to inform future partners of people who have been reported for violent offences of the potential risk of harm, and they do so without jeopardising any future reports of violence. This removes the responsibility of concern from previous victims, present victims, or the victim’s friends and family, to intervene by contacting a new partner of their own accord (an act that is most often construed as stalking).
Is it possible that the percentage of reports of Domestic Abuse would increase if the law were to include the protection psychological and social impact on those who report witnessing, and having been affected profoundly, by domestic violence?
The social attitudes survey also indicated that people, since the introduction of the Disclosure Scheme in Scotland, are less likely to be confused or embroiled in “context” of domestic abuse and more willing to accept a victim’s perspective on events.
From my personal experience, witnessing and experiencing the emotional and psychological Domestic Abuse in my youth prompted trauma responses that have affected me my entire life. Witnessing Domestic Violence in childhood carries a 50% chance of history repeating itself either by becoming a victim or a perpetrator. I, myself, have fallen prey to a violent offender who now, not only will not see justice, but had a definitive reason to blame me for his crimes. He, himself, witnessed Domestic Abuse in his youth.
By not sanctifying the safety of a child, disabled, vulnerable or dependent person within a Domestic Abuse situation, it is left to them to explain why they “didn’t see it coming” or “wouldn’t leave” or “continued a pattern of behaviour” when they knew the lasting results of that situation.
It lends itself to the victim-blaming cycle allowing the presence of an unreasonable doubt; that due to their own family history, their own personal history, people in situations of Domestic Violence should be able to see the red flags better than any other victim. In addition to this, the resulting traumas and impact on life experiences of those who witness domestic violence are left with no reasonable structure for seeking restorative justice, or an aim in healing. I find this frightening and unacceptable; there is no protection for these victim-witnesses who are just as vulnerable and vital to a case against Domestic Violence.
Witnesses are more likely to seek reason, confirmation or context to events of domestic violence due to curiosity, a perceived sense of safety, or to mediate. By law they are permitted to explore the abuser’s reason: a sort of restorative justice.
Restorative Justice is proven to promote healing, growth and acceptance with witnesses of traumatic events and abuse identifying a sense of catharsis even by being able to identify and explore the trauma. Studies completed in the 1970s indicated that the only argument against the seeking of restorative justice was a lack of sustained evidence on objective psychological impact. Victims, however, reported improved mental wellbeing. As of 2020 the University of London said there is still a lacking in substantial evidence to indicate that restorative justice of any form is not effective (Lloyd, 2020).
It is impossible to provide this literature if changes are not made to accommodate the seeking of restorative justice, or appropriate and safe alternatives are not made available to give the same opportunities for analysis. Given that this is a very recent study, I feel it makes my argument all the more pertinent. In lieu of subjecting direct victims of domestic abuse to potential re-traumatization, victim-witnesses might provide valuable insight into how restorative justice psychologically affects those involved in events.
Regardless of what is done, what remains is this:
If we have known for over three decades, unequivocally, that the witnessing of Domestic Violence and Domestic Abuse is, in and of itself, a perpetuator of negative future outcomes for children and vulnerable people. Why is it then that these lives are still not protected from the outset of justice being enacted against the perpetrator? What is the reasoning in publicly ignoring the wider impact Domestic Violence and Abuse has on services, on society, on our culture, and on individuals who see it?
By acknowledging that Domestic Violence, shown to be inevitable behind closed doors by increasing numbers of calls during the pandemic, is something that affects each and every one of us, that has the potential to impact each and every one of our lives, that should be responded to and condemned by each and every one of us in society; could it be that systemic change in the overall attitude to domestic violence in the United Kingdom might just be possible if law backs all victims.
To find further information on Domestic Violence in the United Kingdom, you can visit the following website: www.refuge.org.uk
If you are aware of someone at risk, or are at risk yourself, you can call this number 24/7 for guidance and advice: 0808 2000 247
Stiles, Melissa. M. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Dec 1;66(11):2052–2067
Unicef, 2006. The Impact Of Domestic Violence On Children. Behind Closed Doors. [online] New York: Unicef Child Protection Center. Available at: <chrome-extension://gphandlahdpffmccakmbngmbjnjiiahp/https://www.unicef.org/media/files/BehindClosedDoors.pdf> [Accessed 16 May 2021].
Lloyd, A., Borrill, J. Examining the Effectiveness of Restorative Justice in Reducing Victims’ Post-Traumatic Stress. Psychol. Inj. and Law 13, 77–89 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12207-019-09363-9