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Entries in domestic violence (6)


FNFS AGM 2015 hears about new disclosure scheme for domestic abuse

A healthy turnout of members from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling attended the FNF Scotland 2015 annual general meeting last Thursday evening.  National manager Ian Maxwell conducted the business part of the meeting, presenting the annual report and accounts, and the other staff members John Forsyth and Alastair Williamson reported on their work during the past year.  

Four trustees were re-appointed. FNF Scotland's constitution allows for 6 trustees and expressions of interest in becoming a trustee are invited from individuals who have skills that would assist our further strategic development.

Chief Superintendant Barry McEwan of Police Scotland then gave a talk on the recently rolled out 'Clare's Law' in Scotland - more properly designated The Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse Scotland - or the Right To Ask. 

He explained that the scheme enables an individual or a member of his/her family or friends who suspect that a new partner may be a danger in terms of domestic abuse can request a police search of available evidence about the new partner.  The request can be made through an online request form and Chief Superintendant McEwan indicated that over 200 have been made since the scheme went live across Scotland on October 1st. 

He stressed that the scheme is not there to "vet" a new partner at the request of  individual, family member or friend through the scheme but is there to deal with concerns around potential abusive behaviour and described the analysis of risk that the police, social work, housing, advocacy and other agencies make jointly at a Decision-making Forum, before deciding to disclose any information to an individual about the new partner. 

If the Decision-making forum assess that the individual in question has a recorded history of abusive behaviour; or there is other information to indicate risk, the Forum will consider sharing this information with the person(s) best placed to protect the potential victim.

This will not include the person  who made a 3rd party initial application -such as a former partner - only individual or agencies who would be required to support the potential victim will be considered for receipt of the disclosure.  

If there are children in the household a disclosure could also be made to social work as part of the child protection process.

Chief Superintendent McEwan took questions about experience of the scheme from members present and on other issues that commonly are raised at group meetings. 

A key topic raised by various people was that of non-resident fathers who are exposed to the dangers of arrest when they turn up to collect their children for court-ordered contact and instead are subjected to abuse and a refusal to comply with the order. Many have spent the weekend in the cells instead of with their children. Their children may have seen them taken away in handcuffs. Even though charges are eventually dropped or they are acquitted in court many months may have passed with their contact with children disrupted or damaged. 

Chief Superintendent McEwan listened carefully and encouraged FNF Scotland to raise awareness with their members around ensuring that the best measures are in place for such contact, with consideration of a responsible person being present or  accompanying the non-resident father when collecting their child to protect/safeguard against allegations of wrongdoing, and the location of pick up and expected behaviour, to reduce potential disagreements at time of contact.  He further encouraged that FNF members raise their concerns with the current SG consultations on proposed changes to the criminal law.


Coercive control should include denial of contact

The Scottish Government recently sought views on proposals to change the law on various aspects of domestic abuse and sexual offences. The proposals, entitled Equally Safe: Scotland's strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls  were published last summer.

The proposals set out in the recent consultation focus on specific offences concerning domestic abuse and the non-consensual sharing of private, intimate images, the introduction of statutory jury directions in sexual offence cases, the extra-territorial effect of the law concerning sexual offences committed against children and the circumstances in which a court can grant a non-harassment order.

Of course, none of these are experienced only by women and girls.

The overarching question posed in the consultations is “whether the current criminal law reflects the true experience of victims of long-term domestic abuse,including coercive control, and whether a specific domestic abuse offence would improve the ability of people to access justice through effective prosecution ofdomestic abuse”.

We believe the current ‘gendered definition’ of domestic abuse is in danger of painting law and policy in Scotland into a cul de sac. Gendered analysis can be and often is a useful tool for interpreting issues in our society - in the same way as can analysis by age, class, race or sexuality - but it is not the holy grail. Even the statistics presented in the Equally Safe guidance in support of the proposals hardly sustain the heavy interpretation placed on them.

Both police recorded statistics and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey over many years have shown a consistent trend in which the domestic abuse is not exclusively experienced by women. The proportion experienced by men and boys has grown steadily over the 20 years in which statistics have been gathered.

However, FNF Scotland does not wish to stray beyond the limited area of our own casework and we focused our submission on the questions referring to 'coercive control'. The full text of our submission will appear on the consultation website in due course but the main points are:

  • Our casework reveals to us the wilful disruption of meaningful contact between a non-resident parent and his children is a form of coercive control that is currently overlooked, virtually never recorded and appears to be inconvenient to the prevailing narrative. It is overwhelmingly experienced by male non-resident parents. The further victims are a generation of Scotland’s children.
  • A high proportion of the non-resident fathers who contact us report that they experience the restriction or outright denial of parenting time with their children by their former partner as a form of domestic abuse.
  • We hear repeatedly of occasions where the non-resident father has arrived to pick up his children for agreed contact and has been told “they’re no coming – and there’s nothing you can do about it”! This happens even when there is a court order for the contact to take place as well as when there is an informal agreement for contact. In the latter case the entire control of whether to fulfill the arrangement  is in the control of the parent with care. We know that some non-resident parents (approximately 90% of whom are fathers) have attempted to report these incidents to police as instances of domestic abuse but are invariably told that this is a “civil matter”. One father was simply told by the desk officer to “go away and grow up”.
  • Our experience, drawn from extensive casework, is that control of a non-resident parent’s time with his children covers a spectrum from a casual cultural presumption that “it’s a mother’s right to give or withhold” to examples of overt intention to break the relationship entirely.  This is a scenario that is happening daily across Scotland and is a brutal form of coercive control that is used with impunity against former partners. It is also a form of child abuse in the damage it may do to the wellbeing of the children involved.
  • The legal remedies for failure to comply with a court contact order are at present slow, expensive and ultimately unsatisfactory because they require the victim of coercive control (the person whose contact is denied) to raise an action that may damage the relationship with the children if it is seen as the father threatening the mother with punishment.
  • We feel that unfounded and unjustified denial or control of the opportunity for a non-resident parent to fulfil his Paternal Rights and Responsibilities (as encouraged in other areas of Scottish Government policy) should be included explicitly as an offence within domestic abuse.

Partner Abuse State of Knowledge project 

The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project (PASK) is a US-based but international collaboration of academics in the field of domestic violence research. Their starting point is their observation that "Over the years, research on partner abuse has become unnecessarily fragmented and politicised."

By gathering and reviewing genuinely 'peer-reviewed' publication PASK is bringing together in a rigorously evidence-based, transparent and methodical manner existing knowledge about partner abuse that can easily be accessed both by researchers and the general public.

This comprehensive review of domestic violence literature will help to inform what can be a very heated debate in which the experiences of men who have been on the receiving end of domestic violence has been marginalised or even excluded entirely.

FNF Scotland's experience here is that the general political narrative of domestic violence as a gendered phenomenon has made it more difficult for male victims in general to speak up. Non-resident fathers in particular feel inhibited in case by speaking up they may have contact with their children withheld.

The conclusions presented in the PASK study are based strictly on the data collected. Approximately 12,000 studies were considered and more than 1,700 were summarised and organized into tables.

Fathers in Scotland seeking support specifically in connection with domestic abuse or violence can contact Abused Men in Scotland.


New English domestic violence guidelines

New guidance on handling cases of domestic abuse was published by the English Crown Prosecution Service at the end of 2014, following extensive consultation.

FNF Scotland welcomes the fact that this guidance includes very specific indications that withdrawing contact with children can count as abuse, and that there is severe underreporting of domestic violence agaist men.  We will ask the Scottish Crown Office to include similar indications within their own published information.

The key parts of the new guidance are as follows:

Prosecutors should be aware that there is a significant under-reporting of domestic abuse against male victims.  Many victims will be reluctant to report offending in the fear that it may damage their reputation, or pride; others may be hesitant as they fear the consequences that may ensue in relation to their family settings.  Prosecutors will need to deal with these issues with great care, to ensure that male victims do not feel undermined, or the credibility of their allegation not believed on the basis of their gender.

Prosecutors should also note that in some cases, female perpetrated abuse against male partners is a sensitive and complex area.  Some women may use children within the relationship to manipulate a male victim, by for example threatening to take away contact rights.  It is therefore essential that where such instances arise, prosecutors work very closely with the police to investigate and consider the whole picture, before any charging decision is made.


Study suggest women more likely to be aggressive to partners

Women may be more likely to be aggressive to their partners than men, according to a study presented this week as part of a symposium on intimate partner violence (IPV) at the British Psychological Society's Division of Forensic Psychology annual conference in Glasgow.
Dr Elizabeth Bates from the University of Cumbria and colleagues from the University of Central Lancashire gave a total of 1104 students (706 women and 398 men; aged between 18 to 71 with an average age of 24) questionnaires about their physical aggression and controlling behaviour, to partners and to same-sex others (including friends).
The fundings showed that women were more likely to be physically aggressive to their partners than men and that men were more likely to be physically aggressive to their same-sex others.
Furthermore, women engaged in significantly higher levels of controlling behaviour than men, which significantly predicted physical aggression in both sexes. 
Commenting on the findings, lead researcher Dr Elizabeth Bates said: "Previous studies have sought to explain male violence towards women as rising from patriarchal values, which motivate men to seek to control women’s behaviour, using violence if necessary.   This study found that women demonstrated a desire to control their partners and were more likely to use physical aggression than men. ”
Although this study is limited in scope and looked only at students, it does challenge the simplistic analysis of domestic violence and the focus of interventions.