Domestic abuse has always been and still remains a prominent problem within society. What is abuse? It comes in many different forms such as physical, mental or emotional, verbal, neglect or even sexual exploitation. Abuse can happen to anybody including children, adults and even the elderly, however, that certainly doesn’t mean it should occur.
As a result of this, new legislation has been enacted by the government, specifically Parliament, to try and prevent such detrimental acts like abuse from taking place. In 2019, the government launched its “Domestic Abuse bill” which introduced the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse and controlling and manipulative abuse that isn’t physical. Until now, there has been no single dedicated law or policy concerning domestic violence and abuse, despite several important developments having been made in the past decade. Therefore, this new law is a significant breakthrough, but It is important that laws like this are implemented thoroughly into the system, especially since abuse in a domestic setting is often the hardest type of abuse to detect from an outward perspective.
Data records from March 2019 show that partner abuse towards women since the age of 16, excluding sexual assault, is 21.6% meanwhile, the abuse towards men is 9.2%. Since 2018 the authorities have worked on establishing and releasing new sentencing guidelines recognising the seriousness of domestic violence-related offences. Although developments have been made to try and reduce abusive tendencies in homes, it can be argued that the lack of a unified policy and legal framework for defining, identifying and responding to domestic violence has hindered progress.
In fact, the existing law that might be used in domestic violence cases is spread across various statutes. For example, In an article by the Independent, it states that “violent offences of assault causing actual bodily harm or the more serious offence of grievous bodily harm are contained in the Offences Against Person Act 1861”. As a result, this is not specific to the topic of domestic violence and abuse. Additionally, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 introduced specific “special measures” for victims of domestic violence before and during criminal trials.
Furthermore, this widespread method of legislation can then have a detrimental impact as it may lead to a delay in obtaining justice. This is because, the offences that the abusers are supposed to be charged and sentenced with may be regarded as indistinct, which could potentially make the cases reach a stalemate. In addition to this, the government has also been criticised for its so-called “special measures” because they protect domestic violence victims in criminal courts but fail to do the same in family courts. This then leaves individuals questioning whether the justice system is biased when dealing with issues of domestic abuse.
Individuals, particularly children, who endure neglect and other forms of domestic abuse are often subjected to limited support from local authorities and even the social care system. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making them feel worthless are also forms of child abuse and neglect. Regardless of the type of abuse, the result is serious emotional harm. Minors are currently known to be at risk of facing domestic abuse and violence. This is evident as a Sky news article states how “children’s care system is in a crisis as cases hit 10-year high amid unprecedented demand”. The system has been too slow to respond to the changing nature of demand–particularly for older children which means we now have a chronic shortage of safe places for our most vulnerable children to live. Therefore, not only are they getting neglected in their homes, but also by their local communities.
Children struggling with abusive parents tend to run away from their homes or as some of them call it “hell”. Some of them are only left with the option of facing starvation, homelessness, or being dependent on the protection of gang members who often manipulate and influence them to commit unlawful acts, such as knife crime. With the pressures of lockdown and school closures, as well as the very crux of the Black Lives Matter movement in addition to other problems that could arise, the safety and protection of our youth is more fundamental than ever– especially in low-income communities. Studies on childhood vulnerability estimates that out of England’s 11.8 million children, 2.1 million, nearly one in six, are living in families with risks so serious that they need some level of help. Of those 2.1 million, 825,000 are living in homes with domestic violence and 100,000 children were found to be living in a family with the “toxic trio”. This consists of mental health problems, domestic violence and alcohol or substance abuse.
Moreover, in order to minimise and, hopefully one day, eradicate such abuse. It would be highly beneficial if local authorities could reach out to more individuals and family homes in order to try and prevent grievances from taking place. This can be done by offering free counselling funded by the government to those suffering, whether it be mentally or physically, in an attempt to stop those individuals from taking the anger out on their partners or children.
By Irene Madanhi