When does behaviour become domestic abuse? Is it when huddled in a corner surrounded by shopping bags, a young couple engage in a heated argument outside a local shopping centre? Could it be when he begins protesting his innocence, pleading for her understanding and forgiveness, only to be met with taunts of, “I told you! You should have left that f***ing shop when I told you to!” Perhaps it’s when his desperate apologies are ignored, she runs off in the rain leaving him alone in floods of tears begging her to come back. Or maybe it’s the moment when his attempts at reconciliation are met with stony-faced silence for the entire train journey home. After the occasional 'shut up', ordering him against his wishes to ‘get off the train now’, it has to be the moment when she holds him close on the platform telling him that she loves him, whilst at the same time laying down the law on his unacceptable behaviour.
Southwark Council's recent work in support of women’s safety is very welcome. In launching a public consultation, the Safer Communities Team is playing its part in a wider national approach to addressing violence against women and girls. Its remit is to answer two fundamental questions: what is domestic abuse and what can be done to address it? But what about the men?
It’s clear that domestic abuse is not the preserve of any one socio-economic, ethnic or gender group. According to the National Centre for Domestic Violence, 1 in 6 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, with police receiving a 999 call every three minutes from a male victim. Flourishing wherever ignorance reigns, domestic violence is one of the silent demons of our age, and we all bear some responsibility for it: passers by refusing to step in; overlooking a friend’s subtle yet threatening behaviour towards their partner; neighbours ignoring thuds, screams and whimpering; authorities failing to intervene and question at the first hint of a problem – domestic violence is society’s problem and needs fixing fast by all of us. But what can be done?
- It’s vital that front line services, including doctors, police, teachers and social services, are well trained so that they can respond to the mere whiff of domestic abuse before it escalates. Joined up thinking is essential, sharing of records and reporting of signs however slight.
- Residents, employers and businesses must be encouraged to report it when they see it, hear it or suspect it - neighbours acting as the eyes and ears on the street.
- Families must be strengthened by promoting positive family role models and values, together with nurturing communities where individuals are responsible for one another.
- Tighter controls on the availability of violent and sexually explicit films, programmes, music and games must be put in place.
- A tougher stance on sentencing must be taken by the justice system with offenders serving a decent spell in prison; short sentences send out the message that a victim’s life is of little value.
- Rehabilitation of offenders must be a key part of the solution, as perpetrators of domestic violence need help as well as punishment.
- After the consultation, Southwark council must embark on a multi-platform campaign aimed at men and women across Southwark, with the aim of destroying outdated gender stereotypes around the roles of victim and perpetrator.
|Image from hubpages.com|
One last thing: both gay and heterosexual men are victims of abuse, so are gay women. Southwark Council is right in its desire to learn more about other situations where domestic abuse may be happening. However, it’s a shame that its proposed Women’s Safety Charter fails to address the sexual harassment experienced by everyone, including men. Don’t agree? You should do – domestic abuse and harassment are issues that affect us all...
Domestic Abuse: Southwark Council's Online Consultation (closes Friday 17th October)
Women's Safety Charter: Southwark Council
Standing Together Against Domestic Violence
National Domestic Violence Helpline