The recent BBC Drama 'Murdered by My Boyfriend' broadcast on the 23rd of June shows the brutal reality of domestic violence and its tragic consequences. Its greatest success is leaving the audience horrified without the use of explicit and overt violence. The absence of physical abuse scenes, bar two, unsettles the audience as the realisation that domestic violence is often unnoticed and its victims silenced. The debate continues as to what our supposedly civilised society can do in order to support victims and prevent this monstrous act whilst domestic violence, sexual assault and rape related crimes remain a modern day reality.
According to Women's Aid the police receive a call from the public for assistance for domestic violence in the UK every minute. 'Murdered by My Boyfriend' highlights the need for greater support and intervention as shame, love and fear prevent Ashley (the victim in this drama) from escaping her abuser. At the end of the programme the following statistic remains on screen, "It took 4 YEARS for Ashley to die. In that time at least 229 other women in Britain were murdered as a result of domestic violence".
The horrifying reality of domestic abuse is that it happens in the home, often over a period of time in which abuse may escalate into severe violence. However because of the ongoing nature of this sort of crime, it becomes inexcusable that there is a deficiency in effective intervention and prevention. There is of course a variety of charities and outreach programmes fighting against this epidemic, but it is not enough if these statistics continue to be.
The primary reason thought to be an obstacle in the late intervention of these abusive relationships is that the victims often have no voice. They are silenced by their abusers, they feel obliged to protect their loved ones or worse are made to believe that they are to blame. This stigma sadly surrounds both domestic violence and rape, two crimes principally, although not exclusively affecting women. The recent high profile cases of Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris, both found guilty of assaults, only highlight how hard it is for victims to begin to speak up. During the Saville investigation in 2013 the Ministry of Justice and Office for National Statistics estimated that a mere 1.18% of sexual offences committed in Britain end in conviction and the Crown Prosecution Service has also reported that as few as 1% of rape allegations are false.
So how can we as a society encourage victims to speak out without fear of not being believed? Public appeal for more victims after rape or abuse allegations is controversial. The Oxford Union President Ben Sullivan, recently cleared of rape charges stated that "there should be some sort of happy medium whereby your identity is protected initially, until at least the conclusion of a preliminary investigation", in essence innocent until proven guilty. The flaw in this is that this creates an atmosphere where the victim is not believed. Allegations of this kind are often difficult to deal with when innocent peoples' names are linked to such a publicly condemned crime, but is it not more dangerous to give anonymity to guilty parties preventing further victims from coming forward? The balance is hard to strike but it is clear that the way in which these allegations are treated by the public and the police needs improving to encourage those most vulnerable in society to seek help.
I do not speak from experience, I am lucky. 'Murdered by My Boyfriend' is an eloquent and sensitive drama that underlines the silent crimes of sexual and domestic abuse. Is it not the wider public's responsibility to give victims a way to escape their abusers? I have focussed mainly on domestic violence within the UK, but it is a global problem where statistics range from 6% of women experiencing physical violence up to 48%. It is not only an issue for women but it is a sad fact that they make up the large majority of victims. These statistics need to decrease, and they need to decrease before another 4 years go past.