On Monday, the UK published a new draft Domestic Abuse Bill, defining economic and emotional abuse alongside physical, and further enforcing Clare’s Law. Clare’s Law follows Clare Wood’s 2009 murder, by her ex-boyfriend who had previous convictions of domestic abuse. It gives potential victims the right to access police information regarding their partner’s previous convictions, within the realm of domestic abuse.
To have these developments to, and inclusions within, legislation is something to be celebrated. Inan ideal world, this enables people to gain knowledge of potential danger, and to prosecute emotionally abusive behaviour – but how much difference will this actually make towards domestic safety?
Though I am certainly not denying the progress that is access to a partner’s convictions, I am speculating the weight that this puts upon victims. I can’t help but feel that, in making it the responsibility of a potential victim to essentially background check someone with whom they are in love, we are mounting some blame.
‘He’d done it before.’
‘She should have known better.’
‘Why didn’t he check?’
‘Why didn’t she walk away?’
Placing it in the hands of the person who will suffer and expecting themto predict their own abuse, is not fair. Presuming that this knowledge will enable them to walk away unharmed, is also not fair. These presumptions suggest a complete lack of understanding of the intricacies of domestic abuse, the layers of emotional, financial, sexual, maternal manipulations that often lead up to abuse. At what point are you supposed to contact the police to find out if your partner has previously been abusive? When they’ve already hit you, but told you they had never done it before? When they start exhibiting warning signs, coercive behaviours, emotional manipulation? When you’ve already fallen in love with them?
What this law ignores is that if you think you love someone enough to stay after such behaviours, or if you don’t feel safe enough to leave, word from the police is highly unlikely to change your situation. Physical and emotional abuse goes so much deeper than this. Perhaps less women would be murdered by the partners on an annual basis if they knew their previous abuses, but perhaps they wouldn’t ever go looking to find out, perhaps they still wouldn’t have the ability to leave, even if this knowledge was obtained.
Enabling people to discover partners’ violent histories can only go so far in the reduction of domestic abuse in the UK. Defining new parameters of what constitutes abusive behaviour is an excellent starting point, if it is used to re-educate people on the kind of behaviour that does and does not represent love. And that is where the issue lies. In a world where the President of the United States was elected despite his attitude towards women and female sexuality, where the former First Minister of Scotland has just been arrested for multiple counts of rape, where Chris Brown can beat up Rihanna, be arrested for rape, and still make huge amounts of money, how do we teach people what behaviour is acceptable? When our mainstream views of ‘love’ are Love Island’s gaslighting Adam and violently jealous Megan, when people are watching Youon Netflix and feeling sympathy for a murderer because he ‘put in so much effort’, what hope is there? Anyone?