A reflection on domestic abuse in the Grampian area: policing and the justice system

JanineJanine Ewen is Co-Director of Grampian Women’s Aid appointed in 2015 to work on policy and governance. It is her intention to convert personal experience and circumstance into improving the outcomes for other women and children who have endured domestic abuse.

At the Law Enforcement and Public Health (LEPH) gathering in Amsterdam 2014, Rob Wainwright, and Chief of the European Union’s law enforcement agency (EUROPOL) introduced a European insight on women who experience domestic violence in this way:

“Across Europe 42,000 women cannot reach out to health services because of intimidation and violence from male partners. This is a daily crime that requires actions from health, non-governmental organisations and law enforcement.”

Local numbers from Grampian Women’s Aid (GWA) reveals that 320 women a year seek help from our holistic services, an average of 10 women per week in need of assistance. Figures from Scottish Women’s Aid confirms more than 1000 women and children in Scotland are getting support from Women’s Aid services on any given day. I and my family are recipients of Women’s Aid support.

My mother experienced domestic abuse by my biological father over a ten year period when we lived in Northern Ireland. My personal interests on the policing of domestic violence stems from my own child memories of watching Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers encouraging my mother to enter back into our house to calm down my father after making a call for help; a call for help during times when we had to seek refuge in our neighbour’s home.

It was, at the time, an ill-judged decision by the PSNI officers to put my mother at further risk in dealing with my father’s violent behaviour, but it also illustrates a different period of time (over 15 years ago). Talking to police officers from the Domestic Abuse Specialist team in Aberdeen gave me the platform to talk more openly about such policing examples. The police need to hear from individuals, from all backgrounds and experiences, for a continuous exploration on their practice approach.

Alison Hay, Manager of Grampian Women’s Aid says, “In our experience the police deal with domestic abuse in a very sensitive way and are very good at working in partnership with agencies like GWA.”

Clare’s Law

Scotland’s major success to prevent domestic abuse through policing and inter-agency collaboration has come from the introduction of the Disclosure Scheme ‘Clare’s Law’, named in remembrance of Clare Wood who was murdered by her violent ex- partner, George Appleton, in 2009. The Disclosure Scheme targets women and men to reduce their risk of experiencing abuse.

Aberdeen was the chosen Scottish city for the Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme Pilot. The pilot disclosure parameters are determined by the ‘Right to Ask’ (the right to ask police about a partner’s past) and ‘The Power to Tell’ (power to tell a person information if they are thought to be at risk). With the focus on keeping people safe, the pilot aimed to provide a way of sharing information about a partner’s abusive past, with a potential victim. It gave people at risk of domestic abuse the information needed to make informed decisions on whether to continue their relationship. The scheme was rolled out across Scotland in July 2015. Since then, a number of applications have been made and processed in Grampian:

– 45 applications
– 24 ‘right to ask’
– 10 ‘power to tell’
– 14 disclosures

The average application request works out as 1 per week; this may be viewed as an extremely low number but the communication on the existing scheme and the education behind the application process will take time. The value of having one application should not be diminished.

“It is one number that could help to save a life, which is huge progress to me and my team.” (Detective Inspector Graham Smith, Police Scotland Aberdeen).

The Disclosure Scheme represents more than a route to prevent disastrous consequences (experienced violence or death); it provides people with choice for which can often be blurred or invisible through intimidate partner violence. For women especially, having more autonomy and capacity over their relationship status should be deemed as a triumph for gender equality and their human rights. However, we still need to carry out extensive research from individuals on the impacts of going through the disclosure process. It would also be useful to evaluate the police handling of phone calls from delivering sensitive information. We must ensure that the majority of individuals are benefiting from any new knowledge.

We need to keep to the forefront of our minds what still needs to be done to improve the justice approach.

Coercive control, child contact and media reporting

Domestic abuse is defined as encompassing effects of both physical and emotional harm. Unfortunately Courts still only recognise domestic abuse when the abuse is physical violence; the coercive control which involves other forms of abuse is difficult to evidence. Women in contact with GWA on a regular basis affirm that the emotional abuse takes even longer to recover from than the physical abuse: therefore the justice system needs to be reminded on the need to recognise what abuse is.

There are continuing challenges asked of women with regards to child contact with an ex-partner. Family courts often don’t acknowledge that abuse can continue to happen during child contact from granting regular access for fathers. Children can be affected by this. Women face fear and anxiety from disobeying Family Court Orders, including the worry of being questioned as a reasonable parent in the effort to be granted sole custody of their child/children. The justice system must help to adequately assess and determine the best outcomes for children.

A recent example in Grampian from a domestic abuse case has brought attention to the problems that can arise from press releases issued by Court Reporters. Court reporters are to only report on the facts placed before the courts and such articles can be viewed as a fair and balanced account (a public denouncement when a woman acts aggressively towards a man who abused her for a period of time). As far as giving out the victims personal details and picture for the press release is concerned, this is a judgement call the courts to decide what is placed in the public domain. The general point is that media understanding of the impact of domestic abuse is important.

Local and national press have covered numerous stories in recent times on domestic abuse and what that entails, all with the intent to improve victim support. Reporters must ensure they fully understand the facts with more thought on what the long term implications for victims of abuse may be from a public denouncement.

Grampian Women’s Aid website: http://grampian-womens-aid.com/
E-Mail: info@grampian-womens-aid.com
Call Us: 01224 593381

I would like to acknowledge Alison Hay, the Manager of Grampian Women’s Aid for encouraging my involvement with the charity and who continues to help me deal with the past. I would also like to thank Detective Inspector Graham Smith for providing recent numbers on Clare’s Law in Grampian.

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