Specialist Domestic Violence Courts – How special are they?

A report commissioned on Specialist Domestic Violence Courts (SDVC) by the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, found evidence of defendants ‘gaming the system’ by pleading not guilty to domestic violence offences in the hope that the domestic violence complainant will not turn up at court and the case will then be dismissed. This was confirmed in observations of 170 domestic violence cases in which significant numbers of defendants changed their pleas from not guilty to guilty at the last minute when the complainant did appear at the court. The authors of the report emphasised that because of the nature of domestic violence crimes, and complainants’ vulnerability to ongoing coercive control, they may not appear in court as a result of intimidation. The authors argue that this reinforces the need for well-funded Independent Domestic Violence Advocates  (IDVA) services and for adequate training for magistrates and court staff in order to support victims of domestic violence to pursue prosecutions. Cuts to IDVA services and for training for sentencing and SDVC court staff are a concern.  Of interest for our study, the authors note that defendants cited alcohol misuse on the part of complainants as a way to undermine her claims of victimisation. In addition, alcohol intoxication as mitigation for an offenders’ behaviour was observed to go unchallenged by courts although this is not part of sentencing guidelines. The report notes: ‘There were concerns that the most frequent mitigation was that the perpetrator was in drink and that the courts did not, in any hearing, point out that there is no known causative link between the two’

You can access the report here.

 

New article published indicated the link between brain trauma and IPV

 

An article has been published in JAMA this month that focuses on brain trauma due to IPV and the devastating consequences this can have on patients. The article focuses on work conducted the Barrow Neurological Institute’s Concussion and Brain Injury Centre in Phoenix.  The author Rebecca Voelker points out that

‘some experts say what’s lacking is attention to the long-term consequences of being hit, punched, or kicked in the head over and over. Concussion and chronic traumatic encephalitis (CTE) among professional football players who take continual hits to the head have grabbed headlines, but for survivors of partner violence—some who’ve been hit every day for years—brain injuries have essentially gone unnoticed.’

She acknowledges that domestic violence patients may not have time to recover between injuries which can lead to further complications. Staff in homeless shelters are now being trained to screen all women for domestic violence who come into shelters who have sustained head injuries. The article covers further research and findings in this field.

You can access the article here. 

Janet Street Porter advocates considering alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent women

A Loose Women lunch time show on television this week discussed reforms for women who are sent to prison and the impact on their children of prison sentences. Janet Street Porter spoke on the programme and is an advocate of the campaign to find alternatives to prison for non-violent mothers. She discussed how many of these women are substance users and in domestically violent relationships and require support. She argued that many support services and refuges are being closed because of cuts in funding for women in domestically violent relationships. The programme also highlighted the government’s new strategy to divert women away from prison sentences by piloting residential centres for women rather than building new women’s prisons.

A government press release discussing this strategy is available here.

End Violence Against Women (EVAW) call for responses to the UK government Violence and Abuse Bill Consultation

The End Violence Against Women Coalition is a UK-wide coalition of more than 70 women’s organisations and others working to end violence against women and girls (VAWG) in all its forms, including: sexual violence, domestic violence, forced marriage, sexual exploitation, FGM, stalking and harassment.

EVAW has drafted a response to the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill Consultation and is calling other contributors to read their response complete their own response or send suggestions to them to contribute to their working document.  The submission date is 31 May 2018. EVAW accept the consultation document is long and stress it is not necessary to complete every question. You can access their call to action here.

Their draft response to the consultation includes a short Executive Summary which will be enclose with the submission and will cover key points about overall disappointment at the ‘narrow offer’ being made. This includes the lack of commitment to guaranteed protection and advocacy for women despite the drive to increase reports to police. They also urge a broader role for the new Commissioner in this area. EVAW also identified it is important that the Government provides a strong response on questions related to the following areas:  the domestic violence definition; relationships education; women offenders; the ‘no recourse’ question concerning women with insecure immigration status (number 15); work with perpetrators; the Istanbul Convention (question 50); and the proposed new commissioner (question 59 & 60).

You can access the draft submission for the consultation here.

You can get in touch and suggest changes to EVAW here.

Protests about legal outcome of gang rape in Spain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thousands took the streets in Madrid to protest over the gang rape ‘Wolf pack’ case. A court acquitted five men of gang rape charges. The rape took place during a bull running festival last year. The protests are because the men only received a 9 year sentence between them and fines, their charges were reduced to sexual abuse rather than rape.  The prosecution had been pushing for a 20 years worth of sentence due to the gravity of the case.

According to a police report, the men promised to walk the woman to her car and then surrounded her and forcibly removed her clothes and had unprotected sex. Some of the men filmed the rape and posted footage on a Wattsapp group bragging about their conquest and sharing the videos. They also stole her phone.  Many argue that if she had consented as the men  claimed they would not have stolen her phone afterwards.  Altamira Gonzalo, vice-president of Themis, a Spanish organisation of women jurists, told Efe news agency: “It should have been a courageous sentence. The courts can’t be so distant from society.”

 Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez tweeted his outrage  “If what the ‘wolfpack’ did wasn’t group violence against a defenceless woman, then what do we understand by rape?”

You can read more about the coverage of this story in The Guardian here. 

The UK Government’s UK, 2017 Drug Strategy

The stated aim of the UK Government’s 2017 Drug Strategy is to “build a safer, healthier society: one that works for everyone.” Furthermore to, “to improve life chances and protect the most vulnerable.” The government hopes to achieve these key aims by cross-government working and engaging those from the drugs field, health and criminal justice setting including specialists from academia, practitioners and service users.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) and abuse has been given a particular remit within the 2017 drug strategy – to explore links between substance misuse and IPV, with a view to producing innovative approaches to working with both victims and perpetrators to reduce the offending behaviour and the substance misuse. The need to support those families where domestic violence features, is also recognised. In particular, The Troubled Families Programme has been expanded to include supporting family members where domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health problems are prevalent.

A copy of the 2017 Drugs Strategy can be downloaded here.

 

 

International Women’s Day 2018 – 8th March

 

 

The Centre for Violence Prevention Institute of Health and Society based at the University of Worcester are a group of multi agency professionals (police, nurses, social work, specialist domestic abuse workers and counsellors) training together to address domestic abuse.  This photo was taken to promote international women’s day (IWD). Find out more about their training events, publications and conference here

March 8 sees the annual IWD campaign theme kick off for the year ahead, although many groups around the world adopt and promote the campaign theme from early in the year. The IWD campaign theme provides a unified direction to guide and galvanize collective action. Throughout the year many groups worldwide adopt the IWD campaign theme for further campaign work, gender-focused initiatives, continuing activity and events. A great example of this was in 2017 when the USA Women’s Hockey Team went on to adopt the #BeBoldForChange IWD campaign theme.

Collective action and shared responsibility for driving gender parity is what makes International Women’s Day successful. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist  once said  “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

Started by the Suffragettes in the early 1900’s, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911. International Women’s Day belongs to all communities everywhere – governments, companies, charities, educational institutions, networks, associations, the media and more. Whether through a global conference, community gathering, classroom lesson or dinner table conversation – everyone can play a purposeful part in pressing for gender parity.

You can find out more on how to get involved on the IWD website here.

 

 

UK home secretary has revealed a number of proposals regarding treating survivors of DV in court

The UK home secretary Amber Rudd proposed in February 2018 a series of proposals to aid the treatment of domestic violence survivors in court. One measure seeks to make it automatic that victims of domestic violence will be eligible to give evidence behind a screen (to prevent them having to face their abusers).

Some DV charities such as Women’s Aid have welcomed the measures but highlight that domestic abuse survivors are still being subjected to the “abhorrent practice” of being interrogated by their abusers within the family courts. Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, commented  “We know that the cross-examination of victims in the family courts by their abusive former partner is far too common.’

The practice of abusers being permitted to question their partners was originally going to be prevented under the prisons and courts bill. However, this was side-lined when Theresa May called a general election.

Rudd’s proposals will form part of a consultation on what to include in the Domestic Abuse Bill. Amber Rudd commented on the consultation in the Times saying:

“It [the consultation] will ask how we can improve our response in the home, in the community, in the courtroom, through to public services, accommodation for women fleeing their abuser, as well as how we can strengthen our laws to stop perpetrators and when possible rehabilitate them.’

The new bill is described here.

However, there is an overhaul proposed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government which includes plans to remove refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing from the welfare system. It is suggested this will result in vulnerable women fleeing abusive partners being unable to pay for their accommodation using their housing benefit. To put this in perspective on average housing benefit makes up 53% of refuge funding.  It is anticipated the impact will be far reaching if these proposals go ahead.

Women’s rally in London 21 January 2018 – one year on

womens march 2018

A March has been organised in London by the Women’s March London team, the Time’s Up anniversary rally will start opposite Downing Street on Sunday 21 January. In a statement, the event organisers said: “One year on, we are coming together to say Time’s Up.”

The Time is up Initiative was launched at the start of January 2018 as a response to the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Spearheaded by women working in the entertainment business in the US, the initiative provides advice and support to women across all industries who have experienced sexual harassment or abuse at work. Women of all ages and backgrounds have spoken out about their experiences of harassment and assault, reshaping assumptions about the prevalence of sexual misconduct. In the UK, a coalition of MPs and women’s groups demanded the government  strengthen laws around sexual harassment.

The rally organisers are also hoping to focus attention on a wide range of issues including gender-based violence, sexual harassment and abuse; Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, transphobia, homophobia and ableism; the gender pay gap; underfunding for domestic violence services; menstrual poverty and climate change denial.

 

Authors find people link different types of alcohol with different emotions

A new paper has been published discussing how choices of alcohol can affect emotions. The authors used an international cross-sectional survey and investigated alcohol consumption choices among men and women and included different settings where alcohol was consumed.

An anonymous online questionnaire was completed by people aged between 18 and 34 who had drunk alcohol in the previous year. The questions probed the type of alcohol drunk and associated emotions, and were asked in 11 different languages, with participants taking part from 21 countries around the world.

The findings showed that red wine was most linked to relaxation but also tiredness by people completing the survey and spirits were more closely seen as producing the emotions of self confidence and energy.

As one of the authors describes “From a public health perspective a lot of the time we have focused on issues around cancer, heart disease and liver disease – but an important aspect is the balance of emotional outcomes that people are getting from alcohol,” said Mark Bellis, co-author of the research from Public Health Wales NHS Trust.

Read a Guardian article that describes the study here.  

You can view the BMJ paper here.