Yesterday Labour announced that it is their intention, should they gain power in the next election, to bring in a new law that would prevent abusive partners from avoiding prosecution.
Under current laws, offenders can apparently avoid prosecution by using a "community resolution" whereby they apologise to their victim, pay for any damages and so on, and walk away without so much as a police caution.
According to data compiled by Labour, in 2013 there were 3,305 uses of community resolutions for domestic violence - an increase of more than 250% since 2009.
The police argue that community resolution is only used for first time offenders, where they have admitted guilt and the victim's feelings have been considered. Also it's important to remember that the definition of "domestic violence" encompasses anything violent that happens in or around the home. An example I heard used on the radio was a situation where a couple split up, and the man is upset and angry and breaks the wing mirror off the woman's car. It's classed as domestic violence under the law, but he has never been violent before, and so an agreement is made that rather than prosecute him, he will just pay for the wing mirror to be replaced.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Except, how many of these are cases where it was a first offence were just cases where it was the first reported offence?
How many of these 3,305 cases were incidents where the victim was still partly under the abuser's spell, not really sure what was going on, had been made to feel guilty for getting the police involved in the first place?
I could lose my job over this, my children will go into care, you'll be responsible for having my children taken away from me; you know how much I love my children; how could you do this to me? How could you do this to my children? Don't worry though, we can fix this; just tell the police you'll accept an apology and we'll go right back to how things were.
I can tell you from my own experience that it took me a long while to realise, and admit to myself, that what I had gone through was abuse. An abusive person is very good at getting right inside of your head, to the point that a single look or gesture can change what you say or think. They can make you believe that you are in the wrong, even as you're standing there with bruises, scared to move for fear of what they will do next. They can make you believe this is just how life is, and that you're just being prissy and stuck up for acting as if it's out of the ordinary.
I am very concerned about a system that allows, or even encourages, an abuser to have any further contact with their victim at all.
The police had a representative on Radio 4 yesterday. Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan from Greater Manchester Police said that using community resolutions is "specifically attuned to low level domestic abuse particularly where victims want that course of action."
Hang on... low level domestic abuse? LOW LEVEL?
Can someone please explain to me exactly what is classed as low level domestic abuse?
And while we're at it, assuming low level domestic abuse exists, do we assume that taking the perpetrator home and having them apologise to their victim is an end to the entire situation?
Do we not think that even with supposed low level domestic abuse, there might be some sort of punishment for having called the police?
For me, the problem is not so much with the police as with society as a whole.
When we see domestic abuse, there is a lot of victim blaming. People say things like "she gives as good as she gets" or "she deliberately aggravates him." "She wound him up until he blew" or "he's such a gentle person, they must just have incompatible personalities."
When we're not blaming the victim for being abused, we're blaming them for exaggerating the abuse. Personally I have been told such gems as "he's just bit moody sometimes, you have to learn to live with it" and "men are just like that, that's what a relationship is." Something else that is mentioned a lot with emotional and mental abuse is "it's not like he hits you." As if it's perfectly fine to call you names, convince you you're worthless, convince you every problem they've ever had is your fault, use children against you, tell you lies, manipulate you. Because as long as you don't have a bruise, it's all fair game. That's just relationships.
That is most definitely NOT just relationships.
How can an abused woman pick up that phone to call the police, when everyone around her is telling her it's no big deal?
How can she make the decision that no, this is not acceptable behaviour and I do not have to put up with it, when the world around her is obsessing over the new 50 Shades movie where a man basically stalks a woman, stops her seeing her friends and forces her into situations she doesn't want to be in? When women all over the world are lusting after an abusive and controlling character in a book, how does the person who is living it stand up and say NO?
How can we as a society pass laws about domestic abuse, when we're not showing your average person on the street what it is? What is the point in that?
One in five 999 calls is for a domestic abuse situation.
I can tell you now, in the majority of abuse cases the police are never called. People suffer in silence, either because they don't realise it's not acceptable, or because they do realise, but they feel there's nothing they can do about it; it is just their lot in life. There is no help to be found. With funding for over-subscribed shelters being cut, no legal aid, no support, what is the point in changing any law, in any way?
Every week, two women die at the hands of their partners.
I remain unconvinced that Yvette Cooper's headline grabbing, though it comes from the right place and means well, will do anything significant to change that disgusting statistic.
Let's start with educating people. Not just with TV ads, but in schools. Show teenagers, this is not okay. Show police and healthcare professionals and teachers and politicians: this is not acceptable. Make it so that society as a whole does not allow abuse to happen. Otherwise, any law this or any other government passes will fare about as well as Prohibition in the USA: people will just carry on doing it, because they don't see anything wrong.
BEFORE: In this photo you can see my rather dodgy roots & split ends
I don’t usually go to the hairdresser. My daughter is two years old, and you don’t even need the fingers of one hand to count how many times I’ve had my hair cut since she was born! There are always more important things to be doing in my child-free time. I hate the forced conversation, the mirrors where it feels like the whole room is watching you… while you watch them! I hate ending up with a hair-cut that looks great, but only when they’ve spent twenty minutes styling it, and two weeks later it looks awful and you have to book in for another cut!
Last week though, I went to Jas Hair on New Street in Salisbury. Fed up with my DIY blonde hair, grown-out layers and general mop of a hair do, I decided enough was enough.
My stylist was called Pippa, and she started by asking what colour I would like in my hair. I suggested one colour, and Pippa politely pointed out that since I’m rubbish at having my hair done with anything approaching regularity, it might be wise to have two colours: one lighter, and one my natural colour, so that I don’t end up with horrendous roots as it starts to grow out. I liked her thinking! I have very thick, long hair and it took around 90 minutes to put foils through my whole head of hair. During this time, I quizzed Pippa on the best way to ensure my hair doesn’t begin to resemble a bale of straw again any time soon. Pippa’s top tips included:
Always wear a sun hat when it’s bright out - the sun doesn’t only damage your skin, and a hat can help prevent coloured hair from becoming too dry and brittle.
Use a treatment mask once a week. If you don’t have time (or you’re lazy!) you can put a little in the ends of your hair before you go to bed, and it won’t add any more time to your usual routine in the morning.
Use hair products that are relevant to your hair type: silverising shampoo for blonde hair to avoid brassiness; treatments for coloured hair; oils and serums to protect the hair.
One very interesting point Pippa made was that I should buy a “time restore” treatment mask for “older” hair - not because I am old, but because once your hair gets to a certain length, the hair itself is old. This is not something I had considered before, but it made sense!
If you’re going on holiday, use a protective conditioning spray before and after going in the sea or pool
The most important point I took away from my appointment was that it’s better to protect your hair from damage, than to try and repair it once the damage has happened!
When it was time to have my foils removed, the dye was washed out and a treatment put on - all while I had my feet up! I was offered a massage while the treatment worked its magic - and happily accepted! I had a lovely scalp, neck and shoulder massage which was lovely and really relaxing. Suddenly my trip to the hairdresser was becoming a pampering experience! The treatment smelled amazing too, which helped.
Before cutting my hair, Pippa smoothed some hair oil along the lengths and ends, something I’ve never bothered with before. She explained that because my hair has just been coloured, it’s important to really look after it and ensure it is protected against the heat of a hair dryer, sunshine and any other products we put on it. She also used some volumising spray. We discussed possibilities for growing out my layers, and what I could do in the meantime. Unsurprisingly, I probably need to have my hair cut more regularly, if I want it to look better!
Once the cut was finished and my hair dry, Pippa used more oil on my hair before spraying it. The finished result was amazing, and I’m really pleased.
AFTER: No roots!
What I loved about visiting Jas was the attention to detail: a massage while you’re waiting for a treatment to work; magazines with hard plastic covers so they don’t flop over while you’re reading them. Foot rests that don’t wobble; air conditioning on a hot day; equipment stored in drawers next to work stations, rather than displayed on shelves. A mirror as you go down the stairs after your cut. The music is not whatever the person in charge is in the mood for that day, but clearly something chosen specifically to create a relaxing mood. When they bring you a glass of water, it comes with a small glass of grapes. Staff who engage you in a genuine conversation instead of the standard script of questions you often get in a salon. Also I think this was the first time I’ve been to a hair stylist who has worked practically with me and my aversion to getting my hair done properly, to ensure I have a cut and colour that will last without my needing to go back before I’m ready/can be bothered. Ironically, this very detail makes me want to make a note in my diary to return in six weeks for a trim!