When you think about how domestic violence was perceived in this country only a few decades ago, it is shocking to acknowledge just how blasé society was in general. In fact, to some degree, it appears to have been regarded as the norm, and this would have represented one of the harshest injustices of the time. Even to this very day, in criminal law, domestic violence does not seem to be tackled in the same way as if you were to simply attack a stranger on the street, for example; the law is still apprehensive about interfering in matters that go on behind closed doors.
Nevertheless, it has been recently announced that there are to be broader definitions for what is to be classified as domestic violence – considered to be a step forward for many charities, but still not actually being set out in an official statutory capacity.
The new definitions for domestic violence will include people between the ages of 16 and 17 (whereas previously the laws on domestic violence covered people only above the age of 18) and also the act of threatening or coercive behaviour – whilst only acts of physical abuse are currently covered. Given the fact that reported domestic violence cases increased from 35,000 in 2005 to 74,000 in 2010 (more than doubling!), it is plain to see that something needed to be done about this particular area of the law. Further, it is also interesting to note the fact that rates for successful convictions have increased from 46 to 72 per cent in that time frame.
Looking at the inclusion of people between the ages of 16 and 17 first of all, whilst we can all recognise the necessity for this extension in the definition of domestic violence, we are still left with one very pertinent question in our minds: What about people who suffer domestic violence when they are 15 years old or younger? Why does this new definition extend to only 16- and 17-year-olds? Surely it would have made more sense to make this definition all-encompassing.
As far as the extension for the definition of domestic violence to go beyond purely physical violence is concerned – we can all perhaps see the ultimate benefits in this move. Basically, in the future, this will mean that if a person looks to control the life of his or her partner in a way that may be deemed excessive or disproportionate, this could prove to be tantamount to harassment and therefore it might be possible to bring a criminal case against the perpetrator. Such examples given here include stopping a partner from seeing the partner’s friends/family, barring the use of the telephone and keeping a person locked up in the house.
The new definition is written in such a way so as to include people in any type of relationship and even includes within the family unit itself:
‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality’.
This is definitely a good thing and means that any person who has been subjected to such abuse is able to come forward and pursue justice. Whilst the law is looking to move forward in the right direction, it must be said that the research material sourced in order to complete this article was quite shocking in that it nearly all completely emphasized how these new definitions have been put in place solely to prevent men from committing such acts against women. It is definitely fair to say that this is far from always being the case – as men become less ridiculed for coming forward over domestic violence acts in the future, the true ratio of cases will become more evident. In the meantime, it doesn’t help when the media still chooses to report such matters in such a sexist and outdated fashion.