top of page

“Not an Either/or Situation”: The Minimization of Violence Against Women In UK. DA Policy

"This is an important paper as narcissistic abuse is not just mental violence, it is mental torture, often described as intimate terrorism. 'Domestic Abuse' seems to be an outdated term which covers a whole spectrum and does not truly represent the narrative of coercively controlling, narcissistic abuse which incorporates mental or physical violence. The UNCRC say children have the basic human right to dignity. They have the right to be protected from violence, and '“violence” is understood to mean “all forms of physical or mental violence.

I beleive women have that right too, and 'Domestic Violence' seems more suitable. While not all victims of Domestic Violence are women, most are, and only recognition of the problem in language and in legislation will help us, as a society, to resolve it. "

Rachel Watson

Abstract Proposed new legislation in England and Wales on domestic violence and abuse—the “Domestic Abuse Bill”—is underpinned by changes to criminal law, specifically the introduction of coercive and controlling behavior as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015. The new Bill commits the British government to four main objectives with, it is claimed, prevention and protection at their heart. What is notable, however, is the rubric shift from “violence” to “abuse” in the proposed new legislation and its subscription to a gender symmetry paradigm that suggests a “watering down” of the government’s response to gendered violence. Minimizing “Violence,” Accentuating “Abuse” This article addresses the introduction of new policy on domestic violence and abuse (DVA) by the British government that shifts the focus away from violence to abuse, and specifically to coercion and control. The new legislation also overlooks the gen- dered nature of DVA and lacks synergy with both national and international strategies for ending violence against women (VAW) oversights are discussed with respect to their impact on the lives of women DVA victims and survivors, to broader gender politics and the “pandemic” of global VAW. To date there has been no official explanation for the removal of “violence” from the title of the British government’s Domestic Abuse Bill (DAB). It is perhaps rep- resentative of a simplistic kind of reductionism or semantic surrogacy whereby “violence” must make way for the a priori language of “abuse,” as if both should not, or cannot be included. This conflicts with many other countries’ policies as well as international strategies and mandates on domestic violence, intimate partner violence and VAW more broadly. In most national and global contexts the preferred term has been “domestic violence and abuse” (a term used throughout this article) or “intimate partner violence” to cover the range of perpetrator behavior in DVA, and the experi- ences of its victims and survivors. One informal explanation for the removal of “violence” in the United Kingdom legislative context has been that “violence” as a descriptor is not something to which victims/survivors can relate (Aldridge, personal communication, 2018), certainly not as readily as the term “domestic abuse”—but without any supportive evidence for this. And yet is also seen by some to be a deliber- ate move to underplay DVA as a gendered issue. Although the focus on nonphysical forms of abuse in the proposed new legislation is important as it helps to recognize and cement coercive and controlling behavior in law (note the use by some commentators of “coercive and controlling violence”—see Hester et al., 2017), the removal of “violence” as a key rubric suggests a “watering down” or obfuscation of the serious and gendered nature of DVA. In their research with men who use violence in their relationships with women, Kelly and Westmarland (2016) argue that “successive cross-government definitions have disguised, diluted and distorted the reality of men’s violences against women” (p. 114). With respect to the formulation of and consultation on the DAB, this appears to be evident not only in the removal of “violence” from the title of the Bill but also in the British government’s refusal to synergize the proposed new legislation with its Violence Against Women and Girls strategy (VAWG; Home Office, 2016). In 2018, the Home Affairs Committee called for the government to widen the DAB “to be a Violence against Women and Girls and Domestic Abuse Bill” (UK Parliament, 2018), but this did not happen. Following the consultation phase of the Bill the government did concede, however, that it would, “recognise that the majority of victims of abuse are female” in the accompanying statutory guidance as well as “refresh” its VAWG strategy (Home Office, 2019c).

Since 2015, neighboring country Wales has purposefully synchronized legislation on gendered domestic and sexual violence with its DVA policy in its Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 (Acts for the National Assembly for Wales, 2015); Ireland retains the rubrical language of violence in its Domestic Violence Act 2018 (Irish Statute Book, 2018), whereas Scotland was the first to refer only to “domestic abuse” in its Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 (Acts of the Scottish Parliament, 2018), which came into force in April 2019. In a statement released at the time by the Scottish government, it was stated that the new law represents “groundbreaking legislation that criminalises psychological domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour” and includes “An awareness campaign to increase the public’s understanding of the wide-ranging nature of domestic abuse and to encourage victims of abuse to seek help” (Scottish Government, 2019). It is notable that there is no mention of violence in the statement, and neither is there any reference to the gendered nature of DVA, even though the examples used in the state- ment are from Women’s Aid and a female DVA survivor.

The lack of reference to violence and the gendered nature of DVA was also notable in the British government’s response to the consultation and draft DAB published in January 2019 (HM Government, 2019). In setting out the government’s four main objectives in the DAB—promoting awareness of DVA, protecting and supporting vic- tims, transforming justice responses, and improving performance in responses to DVA—the Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Justice Secretary David Gauke failed to mention or acknowledge the serious violence women experience at the hands of cur- rent or former male partners, or that DVA is a gendered issue. And yet campaigners and women’s rights organizations were unequivocal in their call for the government to recognize the gendered nature of DVA when the Bill was introduced to Parliament in July 2019. As reported in The Independent newspaper at the time (Oppenheim, 2019), Adina Claire of national DVA charity Women’s Aid stated,

Women are more likely to have sustained physical or emotional abuse, or violence, which results in serious injury or death. Violence against women is rooted in gender inequality. It is essential that this is explicitly recognised in the domestic abuse bill. To solve any complex social problem, we have to start by defining it, and we know that a gender- neutral definition does not work for this highly gendered issue.

65 views0 comments


bottom of page