Scourge of domestic abuse needs tougher laws

Gabrielle Bertin

The Prime Minister has made tackling violent crime one of his top priorities, pledging to cut it by 20 per cent. As the Treasury and No 10 align, and the need for a longer-term spending review looms, the new Chancellor will be thinking of how his department can help meet this target.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak should look at a recently published document, signed by around 80 organisations including policing and health bodies, calling for a new strategy to address perpetrators of domestic abuse. It urges the Government to invest in proven ways to manage the risk that perpetrators pose and do more to challenge them to change.

A third of all violent crime is domestic abuse, and Office for National Statistics homicide data released last week shows that more women are being murdered by their partners or former partners than at any time since 2006. We also know that children growing up in abusive households are disproportionately likely to use violence themselves as adolescents. In short, the Government is unlikely to shift violent crime statistics unless it prioritises domestic abuse.

Yet the idea that violence behind closed doors isn’t a high priority still persists. Domestic abuse does not form part of the Government’s serious violence strategy and the UK’s first Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, doesn’t yet sit on the Prime Minister’s round table on violent crime. She should. The manifesto pledge to “take violent criminals off the streets and protect us” is quite right but those protections must extend beyond the street.

The Domestic Abuse Bill, when it finally re-emerges, will be an important step in the right direction. And ministers deserve praise for the efforts they have put into this landmark legislation.

In calling for a perpetrator strategy, police, academia and frontline domestic abuse organisations point out that while society and government has rightly been focused on the safety of victims, we have been letting perpetrators get away with their behaviour. We’ve been sympathetic about the former, while tending to turn a blind eye to the latter. With a growing body of evidence about what works to manage or change perpetrators’ behaviour, this myopia can no longer be justified. The Government can help shift us from an era when less than one per cent of perpetrators receive specialist intervention, to one where every perpetrator is effectively challenged.

It is unacceptable perpetrators can move from one victim to the next when we have evidence of what can stop them. We should be planning ahead — and that means services for those perpetrators who know they’ve got a problem and want help, as well as tough measures to tackle those who refuse to change. We need perpetrator strategy that works to protect all victims and survivors.

  • Baroness Bertin is the Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse and sat on the Scrutiny Committee for the Domestic Abuse Bill