When a Definition is not Enough

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2015 National Women's Conference
13 October 2014

When a Definition is not Enough.

Conference welcomes the Home Office Consultation “Strengthening the Laws on Domestic Abuse” and wants to ensure that a change in the law is affected to better reflect the definition of Domestic Abuse. However, conference notes that one in four women still experience Domestic Abuse.

Conference also notes that the definition of Domestic Violence was amended in 2013 to include coercive control and psychological abuse, however, conference is concerned that the law has not caught up to reflect this change in definition.

Conference understands at present, the criminal justice system and the laws related to domestic violence and abuse are structured around individual incidents of violence and that many women cannot get help from the criminal justice system because the cumulative effect of many instances of non-violent forms of abuse cannot currently be taken into account.

Conference recognises that the law is often unable to protect women experiencing psychological abuse and coercive control where no obvious physical violence or injury occurs.

Conference further notes that the laws used to prosecute domestic violence, including breaches of restraining orders, damage to property, assault, rape, kidnapping, murder, do not describe domestic violence/abuse in its essence, these laws miss the fact that domestic violence/abuse is about fear and a pattern of continuing acts and not one or two individual acts of violence.

Conference states Enough is Enough, and that the law should be changed to reflect the change in definition. A new criminal offence of domestic violence and abuse should be introduced which includes physical and psychological abuse and coercive control along a continuum rather than focusing on individual violent incidents, conference believes, strengthen the protection available to women. It would also extend protection to a larger number of victims who currently sit outside the law.

Conference understands that psychological abuse can have a life-changing effect on victims and where a victim is experiencing psychological abuse, the end result of domestic abuse can still be fatal. Domestic Violence is a serious crime that leads to two homicides every week, two too many. Conference, believes that the seriousness of the pattern of abuse is not always understood or identified as the law does not recognise many women currently in abusive relationships as victims of ongoing abuse because there is no evidence of physical violence or physical injury.

Whilst the consultation period ends in October 2014 conference wants to be assured that this issue receives the priority it deserves.

Conference therefore calls on the National Women’s Committee to:

1) Campaign for a change in the law to better reflect the definition of domestic abuse

2) Raise awareness amongst UNISON members

3) Work with Labour Link to lobby Labour MP’s and Police and Crime Commissioners to work to change the law

4) Work with other sympathetic MP’s and Police and Crime Commissioners

5) Work with the relevant organisations to promote this issue