It really hasn’t been a good week for women’s view of the “protection” of British law. After the “cautions for rape” cases earlier in the week, today it emerges that only 4 per cent of men convicted of domestic violence are sent to jail. Fifty-nine per cent are fined, which strikes me as a particularly stupid penalty, given that it inevitably penalises the victim as well as the attacker, in affecting the family budget (directly, if the couple are still together – as sadly they all too often still are, or indirectly if the father is providing child support); surely if you are going for non-custodial sentences community service would be more appropriate?
Now I’m not, even on an issue like this, a Daily Mail “lock ’em up and throw away the key” person. Jailing should be for rehabilitative purposes and, where necessary, for the protection of the community. (That protection might be particularly necessary if the couple are still “together”.)
But I’d like to see a comparison between a group of “domestic” assaults and “non-domestic” ones, grouped by the seriousness of the injuries caused to the victims. I suspect this would show that domestic assaults are still being treated as “less serious”, and particularly that “respectable”, relatively wealthy men who can present well in court are getting away with them, with a fine that will have little or no real meaning.
The government reflex of “make a new law” is not, however, likely to deal with this problem. The problem is not the law, or even the magistrates and judges, beyond the fact that they represent their societies. What needs to change are attitudes that make victims feel this is “just life”, or “their fault”, and attitudes among police, juries, lawyers — in fact everyone — that something “domestic” is somehow different to a random attack in the street. (Something that is actually statistically highly unlikely.)
To put this in context:
The annual BCS [British Crime Survey] estimate says that there were about 401,000 incidents of domestic abuse in 2004-05. However, the special BCS study points at more than a million victims each year, with 15.4m incidents involving threats or force happening each year in England and Wales. Researchers say the number would be even greater if the many sexual assaults that take place within the home were also included.
It should not be forgotten — indeed it should be celebrated — that we have come a long way in only a couple of decades in at least recognising that these assaults are crimes. We still have a long way to go in treating them with proper seriousness.