02/09/2014 11:55 BST | Updated 01/11/2014 05:59 GMT

New Law on Domestic Abuse

There are four certainties in life, we live, we die, we pay taxes, and the police will never understand the concept of domestic abuse.

Since 1992, when the practice of Lloyd Platt & Company was formed, I have dealt with victims of domestic abuse in one form or another. Contrary to popular belief, domestic abuse is not only perpetrated by men but is inflicted by women upon men too, with devastating effect.

In or about 20th August 2014 Theresa May, Home Secretary, announced that she was going to unveil plans to create a new criminal offence of domestic abuse that would carry a sentence of up to a maximum of five years. Theresa May has clearly identified the fact that domestic abuse consists not only of incidents of domestic violence but is often accompanied by an entire cycle of controlling and abusive behaviour which can be equally or even more distressing to those who are affected by it.

Whilst I utterly commend Theresa May's desire to tackle this huge problem, like many I am led to wonder exactly how it will be possible to be enforced taking into account the current existing structures.

What Theresa May wishes to cover is that those who verbally abuse their partner or control them with money or the children, or isolate them entirely from friends and family to maintain control, could now face criminal prosecution.

At the current time domestic abuse essentially covers acts of physical violence, leading to prosecution at various degrees depending on the extent of the violence. Commonly these would include assault, ABH (Actual Bodily Harm) or GBH (Grevious Bodily Harm).

The law relating to stalking and harassment was brought in to cover intimidating behaviour and although there have been prosecutions arising out of complaints from cohabitees, civil partners and husbands and wives, these are far less common and extremely difficult to deal with evidentially. How often have we heard as practitioners in Court the expression by Judges "It's six of one and half a dozen of the other!"

My concern is that many people who have not experienced domestic violence in any form are at a complete loss to understand the behaviour of those involved. The most likely to be sceptical and disbelieving are the very people who are intended to carry out enforcement of the law, namely police officers.

In most cases of domestic abuse the following are present:-

  1. Most victims of domestic abuse have been in the past, bubbly, popular and likeable people whose personalities will change over time.
  2. Perpetrators of domestic abuse seek out those who they detect they can control with coercive, persuasive, and dominant behaviour.
  3. Over time, victims of domestic abuse lose the confidence to trust their own instincts anything at all and hence are more likely to believe what is said to them by the perpetrator.
  4. The perpetrators of domestic abuse will hone in on the insecurities felt by the victim. In many cases the background of the victim will have given rise to some kind of insecurity about their appearance, about how they are loved, how they are perceived by their family, and a whole host of other issues.
  5. The perpetrators will target those insecurities to maintain control. In many cases the victim has been made fun of in their youth about their own appearance, this will be repeatedly referred to by the perpetrator to keep their partner in line to the extent that it will shatter the life of the victim.
  6. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are often intelligent and manipulative and can in some cases be bordering on the psychotic. They will carefully think through how they will explain their behaviour if it is ever questioned so that the victim is made to look as if they are ridiculous and making unwarranted suggestions and feel further isolated.
  7. If such behaviour is accompanied by violent outbursts followed by affection, the victim who is craving affection and approval will tolerate this behaviour far more than anyone who has not experienced this behaviour would ever have imagined.
  8. When others discover the fact that there has been abuse and seek to persuade the victim to leave, they will often become defensive and are more likely, if pushed too hard, to defend the perpetrator and remain in the situation, or alternatively return to it even if they start to take steps to free themselves from it.
  9. Many in the police force have such a lack of empathy and understanding of the factors that make up the components of domestic abuse that they will, in most cases, get the situation entirely wrong. They will either go in too heavily in a way that frightens the victim to such an extent that they feel compelled to stay, or fail to believe or take on board all that is being said in extreme circumstances that warrant immediate intervention.

The report recently into Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary this year found that thousands of domestic violence victims were failed by the police forces across England and Wales. I can heartily endorse this view, having dealt with cases over the last thirty four years. Put simply, the police should be ashamed of themselves for the way in which they have dealt with so many of these situations and the torment and feelings of double abuse they have engendered cannot be underestimated.

My view is that, unless there is an entirely new section brought into the police forces, where they are trained in an entirely different fashion from that at present, to really identify and act with clarity and sensitivity to this issue, there is absolutely no point in bringing in further such legislation. The government stated that they were concerned that the police and other agencies were not treating the issue of general domestic abuse seriously enough. The issue is that they simply cannot understand it.

How realistically is your general police officer going to assess who said what to whom and when if they have no understanding, experience, or desire, to deal with these issues since they see their vocation as catching criminals. Interviewing techniques employed by some of the officers are appalling beyond belief. When a man or a woman is terrified about the impact of speaking to a police officer about their loved one and what has occurred, fearing that the repercussions will be even worse, or that their partner will lose their vocation and hence the impact on their children, sensitivity must be a priority.

Whilst the definition of domestic abuse has been broadened to include "any incident or patterns of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged sixteen or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality". The police must be made to understand with absolute clarity the meaning of those expressions in order to carry out the law as it was intended.

As to the new proposals, it is only when there is an entire shift in the attitude taken by police force to victims of domestic abuse in whatever form that there will ever be any change or any merit in bringing in new definitions or new laws.

Vanessa Lloyd Platt ©

1st September 2014