I mentioned in our last lecture that the current situation of containing people at home would have particular implications for victims of domestic abuse. See, for example.
While many associate domestic abuse with physical abuse (which can certainly feature) and perhaps sexual abuse (less often talked about), abuse is always defined by control, known as ‘coercive control’ (Stark, 2007). This describes how the perperator may, for example, submit their partner to endless scrutiny and demands, belittle them, interrograte them and may expect them to abide by particular behaviours and routines. Perpetrators will seek to isolate victims from family and friends; they may threaten the victim with suicide or blame them for illness. For many victims, this is the real horror of domestic abuse, because it takes over their mind.
This behaviour was not recognised until recently in the criminal law in England and Wales. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced an offence to address coercive control, although prosecutions are still low.
Part of the issue is that victims are negotiating an ‘unreal’ situation (Williamson, 2010), which they may not recognise. Some feel shame about anyone knowing; others have children and/or are financially co-dependent (often the partner takes control of earnings). Domestic abuse is most commonly perpetrated by men, but abuse can certainly occur in different gender and relationship configurations (see e.g. Hester and Donovan, 2015; Seelau and Seelau, 2005). It also occurs across the age range, from teens to elder women.
Years of austerity has meant cuts to services and some refuges and organisations (and expertise) have been lost. The capacity, therefore, to respond to extra need now is lacking.
So in this difficult context, informal responses are important: looking out for friends, family and neighbours. Nicole Westmarland and Rosanna Bellini give some practical suggestions here.
© Natasha Mulvihill and Criminology Tales, 2020.
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