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Domestic Violence and the Police Essay

In this essay I have chosen to study and discuss an article about domestic violence in Britain. The aspects I have chosen to concentrate on are the police response to domestic abuse, recent government initiatives and the financial and logistical problems faced by women who are trying to escape from violent domestic situations. The statistics relating to domestic violence are very disturbing. According to the Women’s Aid website, one incident of domestic violence per minute is reported, with an alarming two deaths a week perpetrated by a current or former partner. In addition to this, they report that one in four women have suffered some kind of violence in the home. The statistics, from the British Crime Survey 2012, only represent reported violence, and associations who support women that have suffered violence, suspect that many more incidents go unreported(Walby & Allen, 2004). So what the definition of domestic violence? The government definition of domestic violence is “Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional), between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”.

Domestic violence is not a new phenomenon. Before the 1970’s it was something that happened, but was kept firmly behind closed doors and treated as a private matter. The rise of feminism in the 1970’s and the work done with battered women in refuges at that time, led to a heightened awareness of the problem. Studies completed by feminists at the time claimed to have found a link between the dominance of men in society and the way that incidences of domestic violence were ignored or denied. Conservatives at that time debated the findings and claimed that violence towards women had more to do with the fragmentation of family life and “dysfunctional families”. They also claimed that the statistics were flawed and that actually men were also victims of domestic violence. Straus and Gelles 1986(cited in Giddens), suggested in their report that men were less likely to report domestic attacks, so it was not possible to make a fair comparison. Feminists retaliated by pointing out that attacks on women were being regularly beaten by their husbands, whereas men were usually only attacked as a “one off” incident, and that often the woman was defending herself or responding to repeated attacks. (Rawthorne 2002,cited in Gibbens).

Feminists could also argue that the police force itself is a patriarchal. The fact that the police force is still male dominated with only 36,443 female officers out of a total of 137,139, indicates that it is still a male dominated profession, which may make it difficult for the majority of officers to empathise with the plight of women in an abusive situation. So why does domestic violence occur? Dobash and Dobash (1980) found that one of the major factors that cause domestic violence was the husband’s belief that the woman was failing to keep the house properly. With an increase in the number of women working it would not be unreasonable to expect men to do their share of housework, but a study by Arlie Horschchild(1989)(cited in Giddens), found that in reality, working women still do most of the daily chores and it is considered to be their responsibility. Feminists argue that violence against women is symptomatic of a patriarchal society’s attitude to women.

Mackinnon (1989) claimed that the subordination of women is the central reason for men’s violence to women and children. Functionalist theorists such as Talcott Parsons (1956) (cited in Giddens) stated that one partner in the family should stay at home to assume the “effective” emotional role. In the vast majority of households, that person is usually the woman. Feminists argue that this disadvantages women as they then do not have an income of their own to enable them leave if they need to. In recent years reported domestic violence figures have decreased but unfortunately they have started to increase again. Professor Sylvia Walby (UNESCO Chair in Gender Research at Lancaster University), published a report in February 2012 that stated a rise in the number of cases of domestic violence, and voiced concerns about funding cuts to women’s’ refuges and services. She fears that the recession, combined with local government cuts to services that keep women safe, may be leading to the current increase.

Evidence in the past has indicated that spousal abuse is more prevalent between low-income couples (Cherlin 1999 cited in Giddens). William Goode (1971) felt that whilst men on higher incomes can control women by holding the purse strings, men who are unable to exert this financial control use violence instead. If this is the case, the recession may well lead to many more incidents of domestic violence as couples struggle financially and men face redundancy. The article I have chosen features a lady who was being abused by her husband and how she tried to get away from her situation. It is disturbing to read that that the police completely failed to assess the situation adequately and left the women unsupported and vulnerable to further attack. Logic would suggest that as this lady had two small children, the man should have been the one made to leave. Instead the policeman involved implied that by staying, she was inviting further violence! The police also did not offer to remove the lady and children to a place of safety, or arrange any sort of support for her.

In response to this kind of incident, the Association of Chief Police Officers has worked with the CPS to produce a “charging checklist” (appendix 1) to enable police officers to get a clearer picture on how to obtain a watertight conviction in cases of domestic violence, and to ensure that the officer has thought about the safety of the complainant. Importantly, the form also records previous incidents of a similar kind. This would have helped Sabina Akhtar (also mentioned in the article) who was murdered by a former partner, despite several appeals to the police to help and protect her. The British Crime Survey found that, while for the majority of women leaving the violent partner stopped the violence, 37% said it did not. 18% of those that had left their partner were further victimised by other forms of harassment. 7% who left said that the worst incident of domestic violence took place after they had stopped living with their partner. Worldwide figures show that 44% of female homicides are perpetrated by a current or former partner, compared to only 6% of men.(Human rights website).

Unfortunately, the current system of allowing bail to the perpetrators, gives them the opportunity to re-offend. The current government has acknowledged that domestic violence is still a big problem in this country. The Home Secretary has allocated more than £28 million for specialist services to tackle violence against women and girls until 2015. Problems caused by cultural beliefs such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation, have been given a higher profile with specific units being set up to help the victims of such crimes. They have chosen several key areas to focus on, the first being early intervention This is aimed at young people to ensure that they understand the importance of healthy relationships and understand that they have the right to say “no”. This campaign has been heavily advertised on the television and in schools. Professionals are being trained to spot early signs and risk factors of domestic and sexual violence, child sexual abuse, and harmful practices.

The system itself disadvantages women experiencing abuse. There are problems with the way domestic violence is recorded and dealt with by the police. According to the article there are currently eleven cases that being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The police are accused of failing to take women’s fears seriously and of failing to provide protection for women who are being abused on a regular basis. The government and the police have acknowledged that attitudes to women and domestic violence are still in need of change. Under the new government initiative, the police have been given new powers to help domestic violence victims break the cycle of abuse including piloting Domestic Violence Protection Orders which allow police to ban alleged abusers from returning to the victim’s home for several weeks. In conclusion, it appears that the problem of domestic violence is starting to be brought out into the open.

The sad fact is that even if a woman leaves her abusive partner she still is not safe. She often has to give up her home and sometimes even her family to get away. There also the question of financial support. Very often, abusive men control the finances as they use this as another way of keeping control of their partner. According to the Refuge website, men have been known to force women to give up their jobs, take out loans in their name, and generally run up debt. This makes it harder for her to leave because not only has the woman got no money to support herself and her children, but she also has debts against her name. Although the government has made dealing with domestic violence a priority, they are also cutting funding to councils and other associations. It remains to be seen how effective their new policies are and whether they continue to provide funding to enable the services to function.


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