I see hope in the domestic violence figures, says Lucy Mangan.
A document by the National Police Chiefs Council – serendipitously leaked just before the Budget – has revealed that they are asking for an extra £18 million to deal with domestic violence cases. A closer read showed that incidents have dramatically increased since 2013 – by 61% for domestic violence, while sexual assaults have surged by 130% since 2012. I was pleased.
“Ah,” you are thinking. “She’s finally lost her mind. Well, times are tough and we’re all struggling…” No. That day is undoubtedly coming, and yes, I have become unnaturally adept in the post-Referendum, Trumpocene era at shovelling through gargantuan mounds of sh*t to find the single gleaming grain of hope therein, but actual insanity is not yet here.
But here is the grain: a rise in crimes according to police stats is not the same as an actual increase. It often simply means that there has been an increase in reporting and recording them. And that, according to research earlier this month into how the police investigate domestic violence, is at least partly what’s happening here.
Victims are finally feeling able to come forward, fuelled perhaps by recent high-profile moments of support. Like the open letter to a DV victim by the Lochaber and Skye police, encouraging her to come forward and assuring her of their support. Or Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s support for a register of abusers. A fight to include it in a DV bill began in September, after a five-year-old boy was murdered by his stepfather, a man the boy’s mother had no idea had a history of violence with other partners. In short, steps like these mean victims are hopefully becoming more confident about being believed. I’m old enough to remember early campaigns by charities for “battered women”, as they were known, being greeted with rolled eyes, while the idea of taking incidents to the police was risible.
And yes, this is only a grain. The rates of arrests and of referrals to the CPS have decreased over the last three years, and it would still be a stretch to say that every police force is staffed only by the most woke feminists in the land.
But we are in an age of precedents. Most of them bad, but some of them good. And the destruction of denial is one of them. If Weinstein et al have given the world nothing else, they have forced us into admitting galvanising truths: that abusers don’t stop voluntarily any more than lesser bullies do. That none of them are good men simply with someone who “drives them to it”. That they are bad men who will only stop if they are caught. And that they are legion, and that they always were.
I feel, ironically, both safer and more hopeful now that these truths, if not yet all the individuals responsible, are in the open. I feel that if everything is up for grabs, the good stuff is, too. We use the new knowledge of the bad stuff as leverage. We need to parlay it into pressure. Firstly to fund the support services and charities that DV survivors – and their children – rely on, instead of leaving them woefully underfunded by years of (ongoing) cuts. Secondly into calls for stronger incident responses, such as a mandatory arrest-and-charge policy in DV incidents (as the charity Refuge has long called for) when there are reasonable grounds, instead of leaving it up to officers’ discretion. And thirdly, well, a million other things. But they all feel closer to our grasp than ever before. In this sh*t show, something’s gleaming.
Images: Harry Burk / Keenan Constance