Philobiblon: Four per cent of domestic attackers jailed

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Four per cent of domestic attackers jailed

It really hasn't been a good week for women's view of the "protection" of British law. After the "cautions for rape" cases earlier in the week, today it emerges that only 4 per cent of men convicted of domestic violence are sent to jail. Fifty-nine per cent are fined, which strikes me as a particularly stupid penalty, given that it inevitably penalises the victim as well as the attacker, in affecting the family budget(directly, if the couple are still together - as sadly they all too often still are, or indirectly if the father is providing child support); surely if you are going for non-custodial sentences a community service would be more appropriate?

Now I'm not, even on an issue like this, a Daily Mail "lock 'em up and throw away the key style person. Jailing should be rehabilitative purposes and, where necessary, for the protection of the community. (And that protection might be particularly necessary if the couple are still "together".)

But I'd like to see a comparison between a group of "domestic" assaults and "non-domestic" ones, grouped by the seriousness of the injuries caused to the victims. I suspect this would show that domestic assaults are still being treated as "less serious", and particularly that "respectable", relatively wealthy men who can present well in court are getting away with them, with a fine that will have little or no real meaning.

The government reflex of "make a new law" is not, however, likely to deal with this problem. The problem is not the law, or even the magistrates and judges, beyond the fact that they represent their societies. What needs to change are attitudes that make victims feel this is "just life", or "their fault", and attitudes among police, juries, lawyers - in fact everyone, that something "domestic" is somehow different to a random attack in the street. (Something that is actually statistically highly unlikely.)

To put this in context:

The annual BCS [British Crime Survey] estimate says that there were about 401,000 incidents of domestic abuse in 2004-05. However, the special BCS study points at more than a million victims each year, with 15.4m incidents involving threats or force happening each year in England and Wales. Researchers say the number would be even greater if the many sexual assaults that take place within the home were also included.

It should not be forgotten -- indeed it should be celebrated -- that we have come a long way in only a couple of decades in at least recognising that these assults are crimes. We still have a long way to go in treating them with proper seriousness.


Blogger Sukanya M said...

Have I missed it or havn't u posted this weeks Femme Fatales??! And I keep marvelling at the number of posts you manage....many on the same day...(and feel terribly embarrassed at my dwindling..not only in numbers but quality of posts)!

4/16/2006 05:50:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

Domestic abuse victims who follow through to prosecution and imprisonment are rare. In many cases, the victims are addicted to being in an abusive relationship, or they may simply be scared. These people are often financially and emotionally dependent on their abusers, and there may be kids in the equation too. Its a little like trying to persuade a drug addict to come off drugs, and thats just to get your victim to prosecute. At the back of their minds, most in the system will be aware that victims of domestic abuse will have been beaten before, will be beaten again, and that the level of prosecution merely determines the extent of their next beating.

Domestic abuse victims require a comprehensive package of support to either monitor their long-term situation, or get them out of an abusive relationship, protect them, and ensure they are not left destitute. There is little of the infrastructure required for this, however many times the problem appears on the BBC's "Casualty". Many folk simply refuse to understand that is is possible for a person to be addicted to being a victim in an abusive relationship, or take the same harsh line they do with drug addicts-its their own fault, lack of will-power, stupidity etc.

In the circumstances, 4% is quite high. You really have to kick the crap out of someone in Britain today to get banged up. It is exceedingly difficult to get jailed for minor crimes any more.

Much of Britain's population live on sub/urban estates, most of which have one or more gangs of youths and younger kids. It is normal for these gangs to commit persistent acts of vandalism, intimidation, theft, harrassment, and assault. They typically victimise specific families on the estate, on racial or social grounds. This is endemic throughout the UK.

All of the offences are classed as minor, but they happen day-in and day-out, damage the lives of all residents, and destroy the lives of those victimised. Clanger has first hand experience of such activities, having lived next door to a victimised family.

This is not seen as criminality by the gangs, but as a default leisure activity.

Generally the police will do nothing. If the papers have been publicising the problems, they may send junior officers, elderly officers, community officers, or WPCs round to take statements (a 3 hour procedure with a blunt pencil and a sheet of paper-no PDAs, no Camcorders). They know there is little point. The most that will happen is that 1000 individuals acts of criminal unpleasantness, and about a year later, one member of the gang may get an ASBO, or a behaviour contract, or something similar, and for the duration, they will only be able to take part in gang behaviour in spirit.

Actually making a complaint to the police is certain to get you a lot of personal attention from the gang.

Police officers will not arrest anyone if they can possibly help it, and if juveniles are involved, will hit the sirens early to make sure the perpetrators have pegged it down a back alley before they arrive. They know that nothing will ever come of any prosecution should it trundle through the courts for a year, by which time you'd be hard put to find a witness who can remember what happened. What were you doing on this day last year? If of course you can find anyone mad enough to be a witness, and so guarantee that they will be victimised next. There is in fact very little they can do about smaller children, and we have few effective laws in the area of parental responsibility.

The police could stake out estates using covert surveillance from unmarked vans, but they don't have the staff, the resources, and perhaps cannot be naffed. It isn't really that exciting is it? Most police officers want to be Bodie and Doyle. Chasing 8 year olds who are terrorising a pensioner (and who will make false accusations of physical and sexual assault if the police catch them) doesn't really do it for them.

To stop gang criminality, the entire gang has to be 'processed' in one go by the police, the courts, and the education and welfare agencies, rapidly, coherently, and effectively, using video evidence, so no victims are forced to give evidence. This can work, but neither the police, nor local councils will pay the bill. It is actually quite common for local councillors to deny that their is any problem at all on their patch. This of course makes garnering funds and support to fix things, almost impossible.

Perhaps the real problem lies with the magistrates, who seem to be hell bent on avoiding both jailtime and effective sentencing. Victims see a drunken youth or teenager urinating on their car or front lawn, or throwing a bottle through their window. The courts see that same teenager, dressed smartly, apologising to the court for what they have done, saying how sorry they are, as instructed to by their brief.

Magistrates might like to consider that when they give such a person a second chance, their victims will have gone through a year of hell, the police will have rounded up witnesses with promises that their statements will be taken seriously, and after much suffering, they have finally got one member of the gang into court, only for them to 'get off' with a small fine, and a bit of litter picking. Just imagine what that does to the faith of victims in the judicial system.

One final example. On Clanger's estate, a resident had his shed burnt to the ground in the middle of the night. Luckily, the fire didn't spread to his or other houses close by.

A suspect was seen running from the fire and the police were informed. Police arrived at a house on the estate. The mother refused them entry and they had to get a court order to get past her. They found their teenaged suspect hiding under his bed. He was charged, but about 4 months later, the case was quietly dismissed-insufficent evidence.

This is typical in such cases. This is why so few people have any faith in the criminal justice system. Nothing to do with grand miscarriages of justice. Merely the evidence of their own eyes.

Anti-Terrorism, serious fraud, and serious crime are actually a lot easier (and a lot more glamorous) to deal with. The police love doing it. Lower-level (social) crime is more complicated. Its messy-exactly how would you deal with an 8-yo terrorising a pensioner, when their mother is screaming at you for being a nazi pig and the kid is accusing you of touching them up? It requires far more coherent, complex, expensive, and above all, faster systems of detection and prosecution than exist. You need to be able to rely on magistrates to deliver effective verdicts that protect victims. You need novel sentences that physically move offenders away from victims. And when faced with gang criminality, you need to sort the whole gang out in one go: just picking off a ringleader doesn't work.

It isn't just domestic violence where the system isn't working.

The system is failing so badly that it beggars belief. Fly-tipping, vandalism, drunk-driving, theft, assault (domestic and otherwise), gang intimidation, and Friday/Saturday night drunken violence are commonplace. I suspect that the police merely pick off the most serious or most obvious targets. The bar of acceptability has been lifted well above the level of criminality.

And if you don't believe me, a couple of months ago, the police in Hull announced that they were no longer investigating minor crimes, as they were busy chasing a govt. target on more serious offences. Suddenly, Hull became the best place in Britain to do your Christmas shopping: just keep your engine running and wear your trainers.

Crime has become commonplace in the UK, tolerated most obviously by the police themselves. Those gangs of youths and kids (who are only a small proportion of the nation's youth) know this only too well-and they work the system like pros.

Clanger's best tip for those on an estate where youth gang violence is perceptibly increasing: Move. Currently, there is no effective alternative on offer.

4/16/2006 01:38:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Domestic abuse victims who follow through to prosecution and imprisonment are rare.

Not exactly true. Of those who report to the police (admittedly a minority) 63% support a prosecution.

I find it interesting that whenever poor conviction rates for crimes of violence against women are discussed, that it is invariably the victim who is seen to be responsible and not the system...

4/17/2006 07:55:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

63% of those who report an offence, but (as you say) a much smaller percentage of the actual number of assaults that take place, day in and day out. Prosecution in such cases takes a lot more effort, and in social, communal, and domestic offences, the police still don't exactly relish getting involved if they can help it. The opportunity to walk away, as soon as it is offered, one suspects, might be taken.

The system is at fault, but this is a system that, as I pointed out in my comment, doesn't even work when the victims are demanding justice.

The victim is not at fault, but when a victim has to be persuaded to follow through all the way, with as much support and persuasion as it takes to get someone off drugs, and perhaps long term assistance to escape an economic and emotional dependency to an abuser, the system is going to cope even less well.

The low percentage is not simply down to a hell-bent desire throughout the judicial system to discriminate against all female victims, but because the system doesn't work on a good day for anyone, and domestic abuse requires more support and more complex attention than most other crimes.

4/17/2006 12:21:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

domestic abuse requires more support and more complex attention than most other crimes.

I disagree. No detective work is required to identify the offender and witnesses / victims are not exactly clamouring to appear in court in a whole range of crimes. Moreover, many crimes also don't have witnesses to their occurrance. Recent pilots have also demonstrated that the support required by victims of domestic violence is little more than common courtesy and a reasonable amount of empathy. In the pilot areas the conviction rate improved significantly.

Whilst only 63% of domestic violence crimes reported to the police have a victim willing to appear in court, there are also successful prosecutions without the victims support.

I am not arguing that the criminal justice system works well, but it works a lot better for crimes that are not overwhelmingly experienced by women. Funny that.

4/17/2006 04:02:00 pm  

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