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Is banning Community Resolution for domestic violence the right move?

The ‘i’ paper today has a dramatic and troubling front page. “Police letting off domestic abusers with a slap on the wrist” it proclaims.

Glossing quickly over the unfortunate irony to the metaphor, the full story is carried in the commuter tabloid’s grown up sibling, the Independent, with a rather more honest title. “Violent partners let off with ‘slap on the wrist’ orders, says Labour.” 

The story heralds a speech today by Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, which will flesh out more details on Labour’s proposed new  legislation that will, among other changes, ban the use of Community Resolution Orders (CROs) in cases of domestic violence. The story is fleshed out with statistics and quotes from Women’s Aid to illustrate and explain that domestic violence is not a trivial crime, it rarely occurs as a one-off, and should therefore be inappropriate for these community settlements. CROs are primarily designed to deal with very minor offences and anti-social behaviour offences by minors.

What is the scale of use of these orders? Well we are told that their use has more than doubled in the past five years

Figures from Labour’s data from 15 police forces show the frequency with which Community Resolution has been used to deal with domestic violence more than doubled in four years. There were 6,861 cases in 2012 and 2013, an average of more than nine a day, compared with 1,337, fewer than four a day, in 2009.

There are 42 territorial police forces in England and Wales, and I presume the figures above come from the 15 forces providing data. For sake of ball park estimates lets assume they represent about a third of the total, which means erring on the side of generosity, perhaps there are around 10,000 CROs issued for domestic violence each year.

This does sound like quite a large number.

On the other hand, in 2011/12 there were 796,000 domestic violence incidents dealt with by police in 2011/12 and around 90,000 prosecutions. There are real and pressing concerns that the number of cases police are prosecuting seems to be declining sharply (this is also the case with sexual violence) and a strong suspicion that this may be due to heavy cuts to police staffing levels and resources.

But the key point is that we have no idea whether the 10,000 CROs that have been issued with regard to domestic violence offences arise from more serious incidents which 5+ years ago would have led to criminal charges and have been effectively demoted, or less serious offences which five years ago would have resulted in a caution or no further action. Considering that we are only talking one CRO for every 80 reported incidents, and nearly 90% of domestic violence call-outs do not result in prosecution, I should think it  is highly likely that at least a large proportion of these CROs are not being offered as alternatives to prosecution, but as alternatives to no action at all.

What other factors could be contributing to up to 10,000 CROs a year?

At the risk of bringing down the wrath of the feminist movement on my head, let me utter a heresy: Not all incidents of DV/DA constitute serious violent crime. A couple argue in the street, one party pushes the other and a passing police patrol car intervenes. Bingo, you have a domestic violence statistic.

One of the most common reasons why police fail to prosecute DV/DA cases is that the victim refuses to co-operate. She or he (or perhaps a neighbour or passer-by) calls the police while an incident is frightening, but the moment the immediate danger has passed, there is no wish to involve the authorities any further. This, of course, is an immensely difficult and complex scenario to navigate as it is almost impossible to separate motivations – love, loyalty, fear, intimidation, distrust of the police and courts and many other emotions may be interacting and influencing the decision. Under these circumstances I can imagine some victims agreeing to be part of a CRO settlement when s/he would not agree to provide evidence as a witness for the prosecution.

We should also bear in mind that the group responsible for the most partner violence is young people. As a wee anecdote, I remember when I was about 15 one of my mates had an argument with his girlfriend and she slapped him hard enough to leave a mark. His parents saw it and interrogated him, then they hit the roof when he told them, and they reported the girl to the police. She was given a stiff talking to, my mate was mortified, and (sorry to say) the rest of us thought it was hilarious. Had there been CROs available, that might well have been the route the police would have gone down. Would that be so wrong? I don’t see it.

I realise that I am now starting to sound like an advocate for CROs as a response to domestic violence. I’m not. In most cases I can easily agree that it would be an inappropriate response.

If there is evidence that CROs are being used inappropriately, in such a way as to put a victim in greater danger, then that  should be identified, highlighted and stopped.  What I am saying, however, is that I do not accept that CROs can never be an appropriate response.

The truth about partner abuse is that it is a wildly diverse, complex phenomenon. A one-size fits all response from police and prosecutors is a retrograde step. I want victims to be given the most protection they can get. I want offenders to be deterred, dissuaded and prevented from hurting others and punished where they do. My concern over Cooper’s proposals are less about preserving CROs and more about preserving the principle that to provide the best possible protection for victims, we need flexibility, imagination and courage.

Comments

  1. Carnation says

    I read this article and I was dismayed.

    Most victims of DV simply want the DV to stop – they don’t want the abuser to have a criminal record and often they want the relationship to continue.

    Allowing the offence to be recorded and a warning to be given allows latitude, something that is sorely lacking in police procedure. It also allows the abuser to acknowledge he/she has acted in an unacceptable way and perhaps seek a course of therapy to prevent further abuse *without a criminal record* – and this is important. Most perpetrators of DV don’t commit other crimes.

    Just as DV is a spectrum, so too is being victimised by it. Many victims go through a process of abuse before taking steps. This process wil be made easier by a record being kept of the criminal acts suffered. My own thoughts are this – first time, most victims won’t want a criminal charge. By the third of fourth, they might, and they might have decided it’s time to leave the relationship.

    Allowing officialdom to get involved in a less severe way early on is surely the best thing for all concerned – including the abuser, who may want/acknowledge that their behaviour is dysfunctional, and the victim, who may not see themself as a victim.

  2. Ally Fogg says

    That’s exactly it, Carnation, thanks.

    The outcome, of course, will not be that several thousand people who would have had a CRO will instead be prosecuted. What will actually happen is that those several thousand people will simply be sent home without any action being taken at all.

  3. Carnation says

    @ Ally

    I agree.

    I personally know one woman who didn’t want the father of her children to have a criminal record (and lose his job etc). It wasn’t until the fourth assault that she realised she wasn’t helping her or the children by protecting him. And, perhaps, if he’d had a warning after the firs assault and realised his card was marked, so to speak, he might have changed his behaviour (it was following a divorce that the violence began). It took a weekend in the cells and a criminal conviction for his campaign of harrassment to stop – it didn’t need to be that way.

  4. Maria Hughes says

    I am usually in broad agreement with Ally; however, this time I am decidedly not.

    This article betrays a lack of understanding of domestic violence. Whilst the example of a street argument, with some pushing, may mistakenly be recorded as an incidence of domestic violence, and possibly dealt with using measures which may seem too extreme, CROs are NEVER safe to use where there is domestic violence in a relationship. Many people who are experiencing domestic violence don’t contact the police, not necessarily because they don’t want to criminalise the abuser but because they fear the consequences from the abuser. Abuse may have occurred many, many times before the victim decides that a particular incident requires the police and that their own immediate safety (or their children’s) overrides the danger they will be in from the abuser if they ‘tell’, especially if the abuser is then forced by the police to say ‘sorry’. Abusers may stop if they consider the very real prospect of jail time for what they’re doing; a ‘slap on the wrist’ won’t change their behaviour, but it will make them want to get their own back. And they do.

    I know how Ally’s threads work, I know I face the prospect of being asked for my evidence. If I can find the time, I’ll try and find all the links required so that they can be shot down in flames. Or you can take the word of someone who’s worked in this field for 11 years. CROs (like ‘anger management’ for offenders) are not safe for the victims, regardless of what is thought of their effectiveness on the perpetrators.

  5. Carnation says

    @ Maria Hughes

    I have sympathy for your point of view, but I think that the existence of CROs would encourage victims to contact the police. The police are also able to ascertain (or at least try to) the level of danger a victim (and children) are in. I support CROs because I believe that they will encourage and enable victims.

    DV often escalates in severity before decisive action is taken by the authorities or victim. Many victims worry about being believed and whether their abuser will use contact with children in a controlling way. The existence of a CRO is documented evidence of an abuser’s culpability and a victim’s experiences, and could (and should) be used in the messay divortce/family settlements that often follows a campaign of DV.

  6. Maria Hughes says

    @ Carnation

    It’s not a point of view so much as a professional opinion, not quite the same.

    The one thing that would encourage victims to contact the police above all others is that they are made safe from continued abuse. CROs would not do this.

    Furthermore, you give CROs far more credit as documentary evidence than is warranted; civil orders (e.g. non-molestation orders) have more weight in theory, but are breached at an alarming rate by certain offenders and are not necessarily given due consideration in the family court.

  7. Carnation says

    @ Maria Hughes

    “The one thing that would encourage victims to contact the police above all others is that they are made safe from continued abuse. CROs would not do this.”

    I accept this, but equally a police visit resulting in no further action, or an arrest and then no further action, or even an arrest and criminal charge which is then dropped also do not make victims safe. And as we have sadly seen on too many occassions, even crinimal convictions (and jail time) don’t make victims safe.

    I accept your points vis non-molestation orders and the family court, but I think that what you are talking about is a certain type of offender for whom very little in the way of state intervention will influence their abusive behaviour. For this type of offender, as it happens, I would be happy to see them arrested under a variation of terrorism laws and being allowed to be held as long as they are deemed a threat to others. This type of offender sometimes “burn-out”, sometimes after repeated nights in the cells, sometimes when they meet a new partner(/victim), or sometimes (all too rarely) when they realise the error of their ways.

    For a significant number of less severe types of DV, and as a way of allowing victims to contact authorities, I support CROs.

    I think we will have to agree to disagree on this (though I suspect that we agree on much), and I would like to say that it’s refreshing to discuss issues with someone who has a clear and realistic idea of the reality of the family court and non-molestation orders.

  8. Ally Fogg says

    Maria

    I totally agree with what Carnation says above, but just to add, where you say that pushing in the street is not domestic violence, I know what you mean. You don’t think it is domestic violence. I don’t think it is domestic violence. (We could probably both say the same thing about the slap from a teenage girlfriend.)

    However the point is there are a fair few of those kinds of incidents coming to the attention of police and they ARE recorded as domestic violence. When we read of 800,000 incidents per year, they include those.

    When police take measures to respond to incidents like these, they show up in the statistics as police responses to domestic violence.

    So when we have proposals from the likes of Yvette Cooper to say what police should and should not do in response to reported incidents of domestic violence, they have to take this into account.

    I’ll repeat the question I posed in the article. When a pair of irate parents turn up at the police station because a 15 year old girl has slapped her boyfriend, what should their response be?

  9. Ally Fogg says

    Just to add, I’m not deliberately putting words in your mouth, correct me if I’m wrong. but I think you are probably saying CROs or anger management or whatever are never the correct judicial response to an escalating pattern of coercive-controlling violence.

    I’d broadly agree with that.

    The problem is that a large percentage of incidents of so-called domestic violence that come to the attention of police do not follow that pattern.

  10. Paul says

    Good points Ally and yes you’re probably going to get it in the neck again in some quarters.But you’ve been there,done that and worn the t-shirt so it’ll only be one more battle scar to add to your collection.

    Without in any way detracting from the fact that the outcomes for female victims of dv are on average worse than they are for male victims i’m actually uneasy with the gendered rhetoric Yvette Cooper is using when addressing the issue of dv.For if this reflects the way any future Labour government is going to tackle this problem then are straight men and lesbian women who’re victims of dv going to come forward in the expectation they’ll get the support and understanding they need. ? Methinks they may not.

  11. Sans-sanity says

    @Paul
    You’ve made me wonder what proportion of the CROs were issued against men vs women. You read what Yvette is saying and there is the clear assumption that it is violent men getting the “slap on the wrist”. But considering that it is most likely that non-injurious violence will be resulting in CROs, you could reasonably expect to disproportionally find femal abusers being the recipients.

  12. Lucy says

    “A couple argue in the street, one party pushes the other and a passing police patrol car intervenes. ”

    This has never happened.

  13. Ally Fogg says

    Lucy, you’re kidding, right?

    Talk to any copper in any city in the UK, and I’d imagine many other countries too. It’s their bread and butter every Saturday night. Admittedly it is often a bit more than a push, it is more like grappling, but otherwise.

    By all accounts it is pretty much exactly what happened when the actress Sadie Frost was cautioned a couple of years ago. Other documented examples are rare because they tend not to be reported in the media.

  14. Lucy says

    “Admittedly it is often a bit more than a push, it is more like grappling, but otherwise.”

    Right, so.

  15. Lucy says

    “One of the most common reasons why police fail to prosecute DV/DA cases is that the victim refuses to co-operate. I want victims to be given the most protection they can get.”

    Bit patronising and patrician isn’t it? Maybe they’re experimenting with their relationships and working through some abuse issues. Aren’t domestic violence victims capable of making up their own minds about whether to continue in an abusive relationship? Or is that just if somebody is filming and selling it?

  16. Carnation says

    “Bit patronising and patrician isn’t it? Maybe they’re experimenting with their relationships and working through some abuse issues. Aren’t domestic violence victims capable of making up their own minds about whether to continue in an abusive relationship?”

    Or maybe they’re being intimidated. Maybe there are children involved. Maybe the officers have identified an escalating problem and are taking what steps they can before it’s too late. Maybe there are numerous reasons why a warning, something short of a conviction, is a useful and stark line in the sand. And maybe if things continue to deteriorate, then both victim and abuser realise what it means.

  17. Jacob Schmidt says

    Bit patronising and patrician isn’t it? Maybe they’re experimenting with their relationships and working through some abuse issues. Aren’t domestic violence victims capable of making up their own minds about whether to continue in an abusive relationship? Or is that just if somebody is filming and selling it?

    There was a similar objection to describing certain masculine behaviours as “toxic” (i.e. self destructive).

    Abuse and its victims, of course, vary wildly. PZ had a great anecdote about his parents:

    And then, my mother got a job to help out. And my parents argued. I knew that wasn’t right; if Dad can work, why can’t Mom? And then one night they fought. My father actually slapped my mother. I didn’t see it, but my sisters did, and they immediately started such wailing and crying and running through the house — that was wrong. Our parents were in love, they never ever hit each other. We were in total shock.

    I’ll never forget what my mother did. She left. She took my sisters and moved back to stay with her parents. Our family was torn right in half, and it was probably the most traumatizing, terrible event of my childhood…but I still knew my mother had done the right thing, and that was important. My mother has always been quiet, soft-voiced, the stereotypical sensitive one, but I also knew in that moment that she was also damn strong and righteous. Even if I was crying myself to sleep every night, I was proud that she had stood up for herself.

    The good news is that my father was also strong, and strength in this case meant admitting that he was wrong and changing his behavior. I never saw him drunk after that day; I never saw him strike my mother ever again. The usual description would be that he went “crawling back to her”, but that wouldn’t be it at all — it was more that two people who loved each other also realized that respect was part of the equation.

    Of course abuse victims are able to choose for themselves.* But that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by the context: by the threat of escalated violence should they seek help; by those around them diminishing their experiences; by manipulation from their abuser; etc. Being abused often occurs in a very disadvantageous situation.

    I don’t think the state should be forcing help on abuse victims, or pressuring someone to cooperate. I do think the state, in dealing with these situations, should emphasize that help is available; how to seek out said help; that what occurred was a potentially prosecutable crime; and that the current incident will be on record, should he or she change his or her mind, or should it or worse ever happen again.

    The cultural and situation factors that lead to abuse victims reporting less and cooperating less should absolutely be addressed, even if we must fall short of making choices for the victim.

    *I do think that abuse can sometimes lead to someone being effectively incapable of making informed choices about the situation, and that in those situations external interventions would be a good thing. I’m uncertain as to how we identify those situations, however, and am leery of an over-broad approach since that is tantamount to infantalizing capable adults. As far as I can tell, we should assume all involved are capable until shown otherwise.

  18. says

    I’m happy to see that this topic is finally reaching the tipping point where sentences are being considered and weighed more heavily. As stated in other comments, it’s the victims who give power to their abusers when they don’t fight to have punitive sentences enforced. They’d rather the abuse cease and their relationship continue. It has a greater effect on the masses and the psychology of abuse every time this occurs.

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