By Heather Harvey, Lilith Research and Development Manager/Eaves Housing for Women

In July 2012, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), produced a paper called “Beyond Violence” by Dr Elly Farmer and Dr Samantha Callan. Many women’s organisations are concerned about the direction in which this paper is seeking to drive policy.

The CSJ report suggests that a ‘feminist’ analysis which looks at ‘power and control’ issues as motivating factors, is too narrow. They argue that most domestic violence is about things other than coercive and controlling behaviour and that a lack of progress in reducing domestic violence is due to the errors of a framework they see as misguided and narrow.

As a result the paper recommends that funding should be redirected from this “traditional approach” and refuge workers should have to undergo regular training on other factors that they think can equally cause domestic violence.  They suggest that these might include factors like poverty, alcohol or substance abuse, jealousy or the perpetrator’s own history of witnessing or being a victim of abuse.

It is the case that any of these factors may be exacerbating factors in an abusive relationship or be triggers for a particular incident of violence. However they are not the cause of the violence. Perpetrators choose to use violence because they think they are entitled to do so, they think it will help them to achieve their goal, enforce compliance and assert their power and superiority. Domestic violence is therefore directly linked to analyses of power, to a society’s concept of appropriate gender roles and so to how we conceive and enforce “masculinity” and “femininity”.

“Beyond Violence” relies heavily on an American publication, written in 2008 for the U.S. Association of Family and Conciliation Court. The American authors of that paper attempted to separate types of violence into five categories cited below:

Coercive Controlling Violence  “a pattern of emotionally abusive intimidation, coercion, and control coupled with physical violence against partners”

Violent Resistance “both men and women may, in attempts to get the violence to stop…react violently to their partners who have a pattern of coercive controlling violence”

Situational Couple Violence “is used here to identify the type of partner violence that does not have its basis in the dynamic of power and control”. It is used in response to a particular conflict or situation.

Separation-Instigated Violence: This category reflects violence that has occurred in the context of separation.  There is no history of violence nor does it continue after separation though the author stresses “It is important to differentiate this type of violence from continuing violence that occurs in the context of a separation.”

Mutual Violent Control: This category describes relationships in which both partners use violence to control the other.

The CSJ for some reason chooses only to cite the first four, but appears to amalgamate the fifth category into the third “Situational Couple Violence” – the category which it seems to believe to be the most common. What the UK publication does not do, is to engage with the several critiques of this work on differentiation  (see Bailey et al. 2010; Kaye et al. 2003; Meier 2007;  Wangmann 2008; Ver Steegh & Dalton 2008). These critics have raised concerns about how these categorisations were arrived at (methodology), how clearly they can be delineated, their practical application and risks associated with it and concerns about the skills and knowledge of those who would be required to make these assessments and act upon them.

Nonetheless, the CSJ paper uncritically adopts this categorisation. The paper also references situations where someone just flips out in a “hot, emotional” moment. Such a “hot, emotional” moment however could vary from shouting or cursing through to a violent and sometimes fatal blow.

The paper also suggests that a man who is violent to one partner might not be violent to another and that the relationship dynamics between the partners can be an inflammatory factor. It states: “Research shows that a man’s aggression towards his partner may or may not continue over time depending on whom he is with and on whether or not his partner is also aggressive. Women’s level of depression can also have some bearing on men’s violent behaviour”.

This is most alarming, as it offers the potential to blame the victim for the violence. Even if this is not the intention, in practice it would be the common understanding and application. It is at variance with the weight of literature on perpetrator behaviour and attitudes and the Home Office’s own policy (see for instance the introduction of Clare’s Law).

The CSJ focus on “Situational Couple Violence”, which they suggest makes up the majority (89%) of domestic violence cases, is particularly dangerous. This is said to be where both partners are mutually using violence in a very dysfunctional relationship. The paper suggests that therefore it is vital to work on the relationship not just the victim, stating:  “In many areas of social policy people are treated as individuals and the importance of interpersonal connections is lost. Domestic abuse is a problem with a relationship and solutions lie within this and other relationships”. The paper urges that a more relationship based approach can result in “healing and restoration” of the relationship and this is missing in current practice. It goes on: “Current policy and practice is dominated by the important but insufficient goals of punishing perpetrators and ensuring safety for victims”.

In a climate of cuts, there is an appetite to save money and to avoid the use of the legal and judicial system wherever possible. Mediation, anger management, couples counselling, behaviour contracts, reconciliation and restorative justice therefore become attractive alternative options. The risks inherent in such measures, where power imbalances exist, as in domestic abuse situations, cannot be underestimated. In 1991, Vandana Patel was stabbed to death by her husband in the Domestic Violence Unit in Stoke Newington Police Station in North London after the police had acted as mediators in bringing the couple together.

Another key focus of the paper is on the needs of the child and how negatively a child is affected by witnessing domestic abuse.  The paper says that there has been “too sharp a focus on the needs of the victimised parent” and recommends that approaches should,  “Ensure children’s needs are at the forefront of domestic abuse responses”.  It is absolutely the case that where children have witnessed domestic violence, they also need dedicated care and attention. However domestic violence is a crime against the victim and that is the priority whether or not children are involved.

It is already a huge problem for women victims of violence to be taken seriously and to access help, support and a refuge as a victim of violence if they do not have children. A further raft of statements and policy measures that focus on domestic violence as a problem to children witnessing it, is no help to the primary victims.

Even in some of the most extreme cases of “coercive controlling behaviour”, the police currently often fail to identify and act on the risk. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has recognised this and prioritised “gender violence”. They state, “A steady increase in the number of referrals and complaints made to the IPCC has highlighted incidences of violence and abuse against women. Gender violence can take the form of physical, sexual or psychological abuse. The increase in cases has resulted in the IPCC focusing a key part of its guardianship work on gender abuse”.

We need only look at the For Our Daughters website – two women a week, some with children and some without, are killed by their current or former partner whether during the relationship, during the separation or after the separation. In some cases drink, drugs, jealousy or a life of hardship are also present, in others not.

Taking the facts of the cases on this website, if we or the police at the time, had tried to categorise them according to the CSJ’s proposed categories, where would they have been placed? Several of them might not have fallen into the narrow category of “real DV” which is intended in this paper by “Coercive controlling”. The implication of this narrow band of “real DV”, reminiscent of “real rape”, is that only these cases are “high risk” enough to galvanise to action. Yet all of these cases had the same end result – Murder.

Note: FOD is grateful for this opinion piece, which raises important issues. It was based on a special edition of Eaves’ women’s weekly news. To subscribe to this weekly newsletter please go to: http://www.eavesforwomen.org.uk/newsletter/womens-weekly