I probably shouldn't say this but, I don't get it. All the right ingredients are there; we have our first female prime minister in decades. Women are earning more than men in their 20's and we are, apparently, more empowered, educated and employed than ever before. So why doesn't the Domestic Violence situation in the U.K. reflect all of this progress?
This week, the 'not guilty' verdict in The Archers had millions of radio listeners celebrating as domestic abuse victim Helen Titchener was cleared of attempted murder. In a dramatic climax to the Domestic Violence storyline that has had the nation gripped for two-years, the mother-of-two was acquitted of trying to kill her husband Rob during a record-breaking hour-long episode. The issue is that for those of us who work with domestic violence every day, Helen's 'happy ending' is not a common one.
Yes, I have been impressed that Domestic Violence has been a gripping headline with over 5 million people tuning in as actress Louiza Patikas brilliantly portrayed her character's experience with Domestic Violence. Yet here in the real world, a third of local authority funding for domestic abuse services has been cut. A third of all referrals to refuges are being turned away as I write this.
At the very same time as The Archers storyline was reaching its conclusion, the full impact of Domestic Violence in London emerged, with new figures showing that 25 murders were committed by domestic abusers last year.
The tally (which includes 17,676 crimes of assault with injury) represents over a quarter of all violent crimes committed in London. We read about Domestic Violence every single day. Just last week, media and communications lecturer Dr Lee Salter left his job.
The trouble was he left months after being found guilty of attacking a student, 24-year old Allison Smith who he repeatedly punched in the face, knocked out, stamped on and poured salt into her eyes and ears. He was handed less than six months and suspended for eighteen and the university allowed him to continue in his senior lecturing post. This is the reality for Domestic Violence victims. Criminologist Jane Monkton-Smith says her examination of over seventy domestic abuse killings has shown how sentences for manslaughter convictions have been mitigated by "ridiculous claims, like how much the perpetrator said they loved the victim. It's a refusal to have a robust approach to the offender. And even at the level of homicide we're seeing sentencing lower than the level we're seeing for stranger homicides."
These cases are heart-breaking, frustrating and frankly infuriating. Abused women and children are just not getting the support and protection they deserve.
In 2008, Maria Stubbings aged 50, was murdered by Marc Chivers at her home in Chelmsford, Essex, in 2008. Her inquest heard she had begun a relationship with Chivers without knowing he had murdered his former partner in Germany. The jury concluded that Essex Police failed in almost every part of the investigation. The catalogue of errors began in July 2008 when Ms Stubbings first contacted police after being assaulted by Chivers. In December, despite several 999 calls, officers did not visit her house for a week.
Her daughter, campaigner and Ambassador of Domestic Violence charity Strength With In Foundation, Celia Peachey, said: "We are grateful to the jury for their finding of a whole catalogue of police failures in the final days of mum's life, that contributed to her death at the hands of Marc Chivers."
We must remember it is women and their children that suffer in domestic abuse situations. Just recently the nation was stunned by the murder of Ellie Butler, a child of Domestic Violence. Her father had already been convicted of assault after strangling an ex-girlfriend outside a nightclub in 2005. He went on to meet Ellie's mother, Jennie Gray, and the abuse started early on. Jennie had been so dominated and controlled by Butler that the judge ruled she had become incapable of defying him or protecting her children from him. The surviving sibling revealed that they had grown up watching him 'hit mummy and make her cry'.
In the weeks leading up to Ellie's death, Butler became more and more angry and frustrated about his relationship with his wife and resentful at having to look after the children whilst she worked. Ellie was the victim of daily beatings that culminated in her dying of head injuries like those sustained in a car crash.
I could go on and on here since so many women and children have been failed by the system. Something has to be done. Whilst storylines like The Archers do a fantastic job in raising awareness for Domestic Abuse, the sad reality is that there is rarely a happy ending. I hope that the media continues to raise awareness for Domestic Violence on the level that BBC radio just has; but until things change, real life happy endings will just not be representative of the world we live in.
'If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms, and it would be the lead story on the news every night.' Mark Green