Cross government overhaul needed for Domestic Violence & Abuse services

Written response by Kudakwashe Nyakudya below.

Today Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published a report, Everyone’s Business: Improving The Police Response To Domestic Abuse, that reveals critical weaknesses, as well as some strengths, in UK’s police forces’ response to  Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA).

The results of the report are appalling as only 8 out of 43 forces were found to be performing well at managing DVA cases. As the police are the primary statutory service for adult and child victims, it is paramount for the required improvements to be made radically.

However police do not stand alone in statutory service provision for DVA. There are other services also involved, like Social Services, the NHS, Social Housing, Crown Prosecution Services, and other legal services. For the police to work more effectively, an overhaul is required in all services across government too. In the bigger picture, police are actually performing better than other services.

From my personal experience of suffering DVA, in a Christian community that prohibited me from seeking help from the authorities, the police actually became my good Samaritans when I eventually contacted them against what I was permitted to do. They immediately told me that my welfare and the welfare of my children was their priority beyond anything else, and they also clearly informed me of the inter-agency assistance that was available to me.

In addition they quickly organised for my children and I to go into refuge, where we stayed in safety for almost 6 months, and they were available to assist me in any need that required their services at the time I was was in refuge. The response of the police boosted my strength to fight for my ultimate freedom from abuse and fear.

After we were rehoused back into the community, the local DVA services continued to work together with the police ensuring that all safety measures where in place in our new home, to aid quicker intervention when my ex-husband sought to continue abusing my children and I.

The other statutory services that were involved in my situation, post-separation, performed really appallingly. Where the police had done a great job to keep my children and I safe, the courts, CAFCASS, and Social Services tore that safety net and re-introduced my ex-husband into my new life, making way for increased post-separation abuse.

I have been educated that the law gives perpetrators of DVA some rights. One of those rights is that of contact (visitation rights) between the perpetrator (abusive parent) and his children (who are victims too). Adult and child victims many times struggle to accept such rights, given the atrocities perpetrators commit that devastate their lives, and the violation of their own rights by perpetrators through DVA.

But that is the tough reality we have to bear. Attempts to go against that reality lead to victims being branded as “hostile” to their perpetrators or “obstructive” to contact. Victims may actually face punitive measures for trying to genuinely fight against these rights given to their perpetrators, especially that of contact.

The law works from the framework that an abusive parent has a “human right” to have contact with his children, regardless of the atrocities he committed (or continues to commit) against them or their mother. I have learnt that the only exception is where child sexual abuse occurs.

But it is known that perpetrators cunningly take advantage of these right provisions under the law, by using legal proceedings as another avenue for exerting abuse towards adult and child victims at post-separation. Many times they are actually more informed about the law than the victims.

The quality of parenting given by a perpetrator to his children does not seem to matter to the courts, Social Services and CAFCASS, unless there is very tangible evidence of physical abuse. This is regardless the fact that emotional and psychological abuse have more far reaching devastation to a child’s life, than the acceptable evidence of physical abuse required by these services. Hence in a high level of cases victims say they are not protected by the law.

The courts have an overriding decision that has a far greater impact on the lives of adult and child victims than the intervention of the police. If the courts do not work to sufficiently protect victims legally, the police are powerless, and both adult and child victims continue to experience DVA at post-separation. This causes cycles of preventable harm to women and children.

My personal experience, and the experiences of other women I have assisted, demonstrates some of the positives, as well as weaknesses, revealed by the HMIC report on the responses of police to DVA. The report shows that the polices’ first response, in the 999 control room, are good. In addition 4 out of 5 victims are reported to be satisfied with the initial work of the police when they attend the environment of abuse.

However, it is the recording of evidence at the scene of the abuse, and the work that follows the initially good responses, where police failures are observed. The leadership of the police, and other operational practices within the force, have been highly criticised, especially because most police forces claim to have their response to DVA as a major priority, but do not have practices demonstrating that claim.

The report however, does not examine the dire need of pro-active and effective policing at post-separation. It mainly focuses on assisting victims at crisis point – the point where there is an incident or where they leave their abusers. DVA occurs on a general continuum – grooming period, co-habitation period, and post-separation period. At these 3 stages, effective policing is required. Not only so, other effective statutory services are required too, especially where children are involved.

In addition emphasis needs to be amplified on targeting perpetrators. Perpetrators are the key agents of DVA, and are entirely accountable for all their behaviours; and responsible for the impact of these behaviours. Any work designed to eradicate DVA must unreservedly focus on perpetrators as the core problem to the DVA dynamics.

I would emphasise that if the recommendations of the HIMC are to be acted upon “urgently”, the UK police force will require corresponding resources and sufficient training and education, for all recommendations to take place. In addition a cross government framework needs to be employed. The police do not work alone. Other government services too need such scrutiny and relevant recommendations made to them.

The legal framework that police work in must not be overlooked. DVA is not yet a specific offence or category of crime in the UK. Elements of DVA like physical assault and rape are recognised as offences, but the broader DVA is not. When this pandemic becomes an offence, its core abuses – the emotional and psychological – which are a result of a perpetrators exercise of control and misuse of power, must be classified as offences.

This legal anomaly supports the non-recognition of emotional and psychological abuse as offences. Many adult and child victims affected by these types of abuse do not find help from statutory services or from society, simply because there is a wide mis-conception that physical abuse that causes injury or leaves marks, is the only recognisable offence.

Victims of sexual violence and abuse in the context of marriage also face complex difficulties, and are left vulnerable to prolonged sexual violence and abuse. When DVA becomes a recognisable offence, this predicament found in marriages too could be tackled more effectively.

The offences that the HMIC has used to compare police responses to DVA to, are in recognised offences or crime categories. This indicates that policy and law must shift to upgrade DVA to an offence, in order to assist the police to take improved action.

© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Updated 31 March 2014

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