Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/20/domestic_violence_database/

ACPO proposes new domestic violence database

Fears over unsubstantiated and malicious allegations

By Jane Fae Ozimek

Posted in Law, 20th November 2009 11:02 GMT

The latest wheeze to emerge from ACPO and the Home Office is yet another new law and order database – this one including individuals who are unconvicted, but against whom there exist unsubstantiated allegations of domestic violence.

Critics are also not impressed by the fact that this and other recommendations put forward this week are in a report from ACPO whose scope was limited by the Home Office to looking only at how the issue of domestic violence affects women and children – and specifically excluded men.

The report - "Tackling Perpetrators of Violence Against Women and Girls" – includes proposals to make data on "offenders" available to their new partners, the creation of a database to track serial perpetrators of violence against women and girls, and the creation of a new offence based on a "course of conduct" against different victims of interpersonal violence "without the need for constituent cases to meet the Code for Crown Prosecutors Full Code Test".

This "course of conduct" offence would also apply in cases where a victim takes their own life as a result of the actions of the perpetrator.

These proposals are not new in principle and reflect an approach to policing and law-making that the present government has encouraged. The idea of criminalising an individual for a "course of conduct" consisting of acts that did not amount, in themselves, to criminal behaviour first surfaced with the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Speaking to El Reg, the Home Office confirmed this week that it was likely that new "Go" orders, giving police the power to remove a suspected violent partner from premises without any evidence from the alleged victim, will be signed into effect by the Home Secretary before the end of this parliament.

The review suggests that ACPO would like to extend this power, arguing for police to be given the right to issue such an order without further recourse to the courts.

Meanwhile, police in four counties - Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Hampshire and Warwickshire - are already trialling a scheme under which individuals would be able to obtain information on whether a new partner was a sex offender, with an announcement just this week that the initiative would now be extended further inside those counties.

There are fears, however, that the combined effect of these initiatives will be a culture in which an individual may find their right to enjoy relationships – or even to stay in their home – is increasingly determined by reference to databases that could include unsubstantiated and in some case malicious allegations.

There is also some debate over whether it is right to put forward such far-reaching proposals on domestic violence on the basis of a report that looks only at how the problem affects one gender. Both ACPO and the Home Office were happy to confirm that this report was part of a Home Office initiative directed at tackling violence against women. ACPO were therefore asked to look solely at the effects of domestic violence as it affected women and children.

Research in this area is constantly stymied by the conflicting views of special interest groups, with even the question of what "counts" as domestic violence – and therefore how big a problem it actually is - up for grabs.

The current Home Office definition of domestic violence is "any violence between current and former partners in an intimate relationship, wherever the violence occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse."

This represents a rowing back from earlier definitions, which included terms such as "belittlement", which increased the headline victim count, but also produced the unexpected finding that men and women were almost equally victims of domestic violence.

Current Home Office policy appears to be based on estimates taken from the British Crime Survey, which suggests that between one in five and one in three victims of domestic violence are male.

The research was headed up by a team from Wiltshire police, under Chief Constable, Brian Moore. It was supported by a steering group weighted towards women (75%) and representatives from Women’s support projects, such as Refuge and Women’s Aid.

In justifying the need for a gender-specific report on violence against women, the Home Office claim that this is necessary because the impact of violence is greater on women and a source of gender inequality. A spokesman for the Home Office told us: "We must look at this from a gendered perspective, because the violence is being fuelled primarily by gender inequality".

Campaigners for men’s rights contest this, arguing before the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs that the issues faced by male victims of domestic violence are different from the issues that women have to deal with, and that they require different solutions.

They also maintain that the Home Office approach is part of a wider discrimination, that insists on viewing domestic violence as an almost exclusively female issue – despite their own figures that showed significant numbers of men also suffer from it.

George Macaulay, a spokesman for the UK Men’s Movement, condemned the report as being hugely discriminatory, since it utterly failed to look at how men were impacted by domestic violence.

Whether all these initiatives will survive the arrival of a conservative government committed to cutting back on “unnecessary” collection of data by the state is a question that we may soon find out.®

Bootnote

Yesterday (November 19) was International Men’s Day.