Started by cootewards, Aug 09, 2005, 08:22 AM
Next time could be too late Domestic crime is on the increase, but convictions are not. Shouldn't we start listening to the wives? Decca AitkenheadSunday February 22, 2004The Observer When a report on domestic violence was published last week, Harriet Harman sounded much like every vexed feminist has sounded for the past 20 years. In the study of nearly 500 reported cases of domestic violence, only 11 per cent had ended in successful prosecution; 21 per cent had gone to court. Half hadn't even been recorded by the police. 'We need to make sure men know they will be prosecuted and sent to prison,' the Solicitor General urged. Police policy is now to prosecute, she assured us, but it's a question of getting the message through to officers on the ground. Sending offenders to prison would have 'a real effect' on the prevalence of domestic violence, she said. Article continues----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------This prediction has been an article of feminist faith for as long as I can remember. We have insisted that the only way to stop men beating their partners is to bring the full vengeful force of the law down on their heads, and we have been reciting statistics for decades. By now few people can be unaware that one in four women will become a victim; that two women are killed by their partner or ex every week, or that more than a quarter of all reported violent crime is by men against women at home, making domestic violence the second most common violent crime. The solution to a crime this serious would have to be found within the criminal justice system. It seemed perfectly obvious. In this instance, if in no other, prison would work. But what if it turned out not to? It's an unthinkable proposition - but as Harman said herself, a policy of prosecution does now apply; the expression 'just a domestic' hasn't summed up senior police attitudes for years. The piteous 11 per cent conviction rate has to be explained somehow. Harman chooses to blame the legal system for failing to put its policy into practice across the board. But in last week's study, the problem with almost half the cases which reached the CPS was that the victim withdrew her complaint. We could say it was because she mistrusted the system. We could put it down to fear, or ignorance, or any number of feminist rationalisations available to account for this unexpected turn of events, where the women turn out to be more problematic than the police. But there would have to come a point where we accepted the victims' feelings. If women keep saying they do not want a punitive policy, to insist that one works becomes meaningless. I spent some time last year in a domestic violence CID unit in London's Paddington Green station. It was staffed by highly motivated, specially trained detectives. They were clever and ambitious, they wanted convictions - and most of the time, to their intense frustration, they could not get them. It drove them mad. The reason they couldn't put violent men in prison was that the victims didn't want them to. The modern solution is what police call 'victimless prosecutions'. Increasingly, they will try to gather enough evidence to secure a conviction without her testimony. The logic is neat: if the weak link is the victim, then get rid of her. Victimless prosecutions are supposed to be in the women's interests. Unfortunately, some of the women I met through Paddington Green didn't agree. In fact, they were quite annoyed. The police couldn't always comprehend these women's maddening reluctance to put their partners in prison - and so the women began to be perceived as part of the problem; an ungrateful, obstructive nuisance. Some of the officers seemed angrier with the victims than they were with the men who beat them up. It is easy to see how their sympathy could dissolve into irritation. But it is hard to see this as a feminist victory, or as progress. The presumption behind victimless prosecutions is that these women need their consciousness raising; that they are too frightened or diminished to know what's good for them, so the court will decide. But a policy which assumes that the police are right, and battered women are wrong, is a perplexing triumph for feminism. Tony Blair has described Harriet Harman's forthcoming domestic violence bill as 'a symbol of our determination to rebalance the whole criminal justice system around the needs of the victim'. Given more time, and more legislation, perhaps prosecutions will begin to work. But the wait cannot be limitless. An American academic, Linda G. Mills, wrote a book last year called Insult to Injury; Rethinking Our Response to Intimate Abuse. Half of all partners of violent men never leave, she reasoned. Those that do go will return to the man beating them on average five times before leaving for good. Few want their children's father locked up. What most of them want, according to Mills, is the man they love to stop beating them up. Mills wants couples to be brought into therapy instead of court. If they are helped to understand the dynamics of intimate violence, she believes they might be able to stop it. A pilot project in Canada looks promising. But policy in Britain is to exclude from couple counselling any couple where the man has been violent. It is a curious situation that, once a woman has been beaten, she is denied the support that might save her relationship and her life. So everything is left to the police. After demanding so much of them, you might say it was churlish - or at least impatient - to start wondering whether they really are the answer. Even raising the doubt risks reviving the despicable old suspicion that hitting your wife isn't really a crime. And the police are worn out; indignant. The morning after an attack, a Paddington detective officer complained: 'We'll call the victim up, and suddenly we're the trouble-makers. I say, "Next time you could be in a coffin." But no one can believe that their husband will kill them.' Next time she could be in a coffin. If one day we have to change our minds about how to defeat domestic violence, we had better be willing, because we do not have all the time in the world.
The modern solution is what police call 'victimless prosecutions'. Increasingly, they will try to gather enough evidence to secure a conviction without her testimony. The logic is neat: if the weak link is the victim, then get rid of her. Victimless prosecutions are supposed to be in the women's interests.