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The Brief Discussion On Legal Responses To Domestic Violence

Literature Review

Domestic violence as a crime is a common crime in most societies, to which legal responses have only just been made. In the UK, the statutory definition of domestic violence was only made in 2012, under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 making it a crime that has only recently been defined in the statute (Groves & Thomas, 2013, p. 47). Other laws in the UK work to punish domestic violence. For instance, the Serious Crime Act 2015 responds to the coercive or controlling behaviour against an intimate partner in s. 76 by making such behaviour a punishable offence. Common law responds to domestic violence by recognizing rape, assault, and threatening behaviour as domestic violence in intimate partner relationships. The House of Lords recognised the offence of marital rape within the common law in R v R, [1991] UKHL 12. This case is a landmark case because at the time of this judgment, there was no such common law precedent for an offence if a husband forcefully rapes his wife. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is also relevant here because it makes it an offence for an intimate partner to threaten or abuse his partner and the victim of such abuse has recourse to non-molestation orders, occupation orders and domestic violence protection orders under the Act. The court can even order the suspected perpetrator to leave the house where the victim is also residing in order to prevent the acts of harassment against the victim. All these laws are responses to domestic violence in the UK and the range of responses depict the seriousness with which the law views the offence of domestic violence in the UK.The range of responses also depict how law responds through different ways to the issue of domestic violence using both civil and criminal law responses in such cases.

The feminist movement of the 1970s may be credited for creating more awareness about the crime of domestic violence and also increasing advocacy about domestic violence victims (Groves & Thomas, 2013). This led to demand for the legal responses to the problem of domestic violence (Groves & Thomas, 2013). With the defining of domestic violence in Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the statutory definition is finally made for domestic violence. Even prior to the statutory definition of domestic violence, domestic violence was defined by the Home Office as follows:


“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional” (Zimmerman & Watts, 2003, p. 4).

Domestic violence, as revealed in the definition above, has been defined as incident or patterns that see controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour that can be of the nature of psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse. It is important to note that domestic violence is defined in the context of intimate relationships where victims are 16 years or more of age. Therefore, domestic violence occurs in specific context of intimate relationships.

The brief discussion on legal responses to domestic violence above is made with the purpose of gaining an insight into the legal mechanisms that respond to domestic violence. Although this research does not relate to legal responses to domestic violence, the discussion creates a background that leads to the definition of domestic violence, which as seen from the literature above, is related to specific context of intimate partner violence. Therefore, violence that may occur in contexts other than intimate partner violence, such as parental abuse, would not be defined as domestic violence.

Domestic violence has attracted significant academic interest in the recent time, due to the growing incidence of domestic violence. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) conducted a study on incidence of domestic violence in 2014/15, in which it found that 8.2% of women and 4% of men experienced domestic abuse in this period (Woodhouse & Dempsey, 2016). Translated into these statistics the numbers show that 1.3 million women and 600,000 men experienced domestic violence in this period of 2014/15 (Woodhouse & Dempsey, 2016, p. 3). These numbers suggest that there is a high incidence of domestic violence in the society. However, these numbers do not really portray the true status of the crime in the society for the reasons discussed below.

Domestic violence is an area of crime, which has traditionally proved to be difficult to quantify in terms of actual state of crime, because of the disposition of victims to not report the crime due to social or economic reasons. Statistics often do not present the accurate picture of the crime in the society because there are social factors that may prevent the victim from reporting the crime, as exemplified in South Asian communities wherein social conditioning is such that victims are often discouraged from reporting to authorities as this is seen as a private family matter in which police should not have a role to play (Izzidien, 2008). In this respect, the underreporting of domestic violence is seen to be driven by similar factors as seen in the case of rape, where the victims are either scared to report the crime or may be afraid of the social consequences of reporting the crime, which may be related to social censure or community censure (Izzidien, 2008). It may be said that much of domestic violence forms the dark figure of crimes, which may not have been reported at all, and the official statistics may not be the accurate indicators of the incidence of domestic violence in the society (Izzidien, 2008).

Due to the nature of social objections to reporting of domestic violence to authorities in the South Asian communities, there is also a link to the lack of police action against domestic violence. To start with, police has traditionally viewed domestic violence as a family matter and not a police matter; although attitudes towards domestic violence have changed recently (Hayes, 2012). Despite the changes in police attitudes to domestic violence, these changes have not had much implication for social contexts. To explain further, the changed attitudes to domestic violence do not impact the social attitudes to domestic violence, particularly with respect to certain communities, especially immigrant communities, where issue of reporting domestic violence to police is still seen with disapproval by the members of the community because of the issue of ‘honour’ which is supposedly jeopardised if a woman reports domestic violence (Veigh, 2015). The social issue of community disapproval on involving police in family matters, is therefore an important social factor that may impact domestic violence incidence (Siddiqui, 2005). This is because social disapproval of domestic violence may not be as great in some communities, and there may even be acceptance of some forms of domestic violence in some communities, which may be a socio-economic indicator of domestic violence. These communities may be immigrant communities, or Black and Ethnic Minority communities. Literature reveals that there is link between domestic violence and socio-economic status of the victims of domestic violence (Gill, 2014; CPS, 2016). Socio-economic factors relevant to the domestic violence incidence are indicated in the context of migrant families, immigrant brides, poor families and even certain ethnic groups (Gill, 2014; CPS, 2016). These factors are discussed below with reference to the literature on this area.

With respect to immigrant women and domestic violence, one study on immigrant South Asian women who have suffered violence conducted interviews with eleven women from the community who had left their partners subsequent to the victimisation (Ahmad, et al., 2013). The study is significant because it demonstrates the significance of socio-economic factors in case of domestic violence. The study found that that the women who finally managed to leave their abusive partners, did do after they found some avenues of increased autonomy (Ahmad, et al., 2013). One of the social factors responsible for giving victims the strength to leave abusive partners was the higher sense of belonging to their adopted country (Ahmad, et al., 2013). The study indicated that women from immigrant communities have greater courage to leave abusive partners if they have a sense of identity, sense of reciprocity and a desire to contribute to their community, which leads to the women having more confidence that there will be fewer social repercussions for leaving their abusive partners (Ahmad, et al., 2013). This study is significant because it notes that socio-ecological approaches can lead to better responses to counter domestic violence incidence in South Asian immigrant communities (Ahmad, et al., 2013).

Immigration is an important socio-economic indicator of domestic violence as depicted in literature (Menjívar & Salcido, 2002). Immigration-specific factors are shown to make the already vulnerable position of women who belong to certain class, and race as immigrant women may find that they are made more vulnerable by the fact of their being in a foreign country (Menjívar & Salcido, 2002). Immigrant women of different nationalities, linguistic backgrounds, and religious backgrounds may find themselves vulnerable to domestic violence because of their increased vulnerabilities of being in a foreign land, language limitations and financial limitations (Menjívar & Salcido, 2002). On the other hand, some research does indicate that it is simplistic to think that women battering happens more commonly in minority cultures rather than in White homes, and in immigrant cultures rather than in local communities in Western nations like the United States and the UK (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005). It is argued that it is wrong to presume that women battering happens only in families of low socio-economic status (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005). It is argued that reducing the issue of domestic violence to such simplistic explanations is misleading and can even have implications in the legal system as seen in the American case of People v. Dong Lu Chen, where a Chinese immigrant husband was let off with a reduced sentence for manslaughter for brutally killing his wife by bludgeoning her with a claw hammer in response to her infidelity because the anthropologist expert in the case was able to prove to the court that such violent impulses were normal in the culture of origin (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005).

However, a counter-argument may be made that the anthropologist was correct in his testimony and there is indeed evidence to show that domestic violence is more tolerated in certain communities. This means that immigration may be a good indicator of domestic violence and immigrant women, especially from Asia and Africa may share commonalities in their vulnerability to domestic violence as compared to women from White communities (Menjívar & Salcido, 2002). This argument is supported by a research study based in the United States, which collected its data through interviews with 137 immigrant women in the United States from 35 countries, that led to findings showing commonalities of experience with domestic violence for immigrant women from different socio-economic backgrounds (Erez, et al., 2009). The authors found that immigration is an intersection with gender with respect to domestic violence and the experience of immigration may shape the understanding of women regarding domestic violence (Erez, et al., 2009). An important factor why domestic violence may find more vulnerability in immigrant women is because they are limited in their access to resources, and in their access to legal and other state based responses to domestic violence (Erez, et al., 2009). This research provides a counter narrative to the argument made by Sokoloff and Dupont (2005) who have argued that it is simplistic to consider that experience of domestic violence is exarceberated by immigration and minority status because on the contrary, immigration and minority status may provide the gaps in which the victim may be made more vulnerable as compared to women who are from White families and may have more access to resources or may not be hampered by their lack of understanding of laws and legal responses. Immigrant women on the other hand may be disadvantaged due to their lack of awareness on such laws or even be restricted in their access to legal help because of their language limitations.

Research on ethnic groups that are of South Asian origin also shows a link to domestic violence with clear social factors that are linked to victimisation as well as social compulsions on victims to not report the violence and abuse faced by them. One of the social factors that is relevant to the South Asian communities in terms of domestic violence victimisation is that of social practices and norms that dictate family values and sex relations on the basis of a patriarchal system. The South Asian community shows social systems within which family values are considered to be essential as per the negotiated social and moral order of South Asian communities, as per which the values and beliefs of the communities become important. The determination of rights of persons as well as their social and familial duties, becomes based on the values and beliefs of the community itself (Grillo, 2011). Within such negotiated order, relationships of marriage, the duties of the wife towards their partners are determined by the dominant patriarchal patterns within marriage as per the values of the community (Grillo, 2011). The victims of domestic violence within these communities are often bound directly or indirectly by such norms and practices, and subjected to complex layers of pressure and passive coercion by the family and even the wider community, that they find it hard to resist or report such abuse (Grillo, 2011). Therefore, a social factor that may be relevant here is that of family or community pressure to conform to certain norms of behaviour from the female party to the marriage, which may include subjection to abuse without reporting to the authorities (Grillo, 2011; Gill, 2014).

Another social factor that is relevant in this context of South Asian communities and community values is that of arranged or forced marriages, where the brides may be immigrants to the UK after marriage with British citizens (Gill, 2014; CPS, 2016). The pressure or coercion exerted on the victims of forced marriages in such communities, or immigrant wives who are trying to settle into the new communities in foreign land, may include threats, physical and sexual violence; or even emotional and psychological pressure and importantly financial pressure (Queen Mary University of London, 2016). In such victims, the social and financial or economic factors may be interlinked or intersected because these victims may be facing social pressure to conform to patterns of male dominance as well as may be in a financially dependent position so that they are not able to leave the abusive relationship. The socio-economic factors may be such that make the victim of domestic violence passively submit to abuse because they are caught in relationships and community centred norms that see women as subservient to men and moreover these victims may not even be financially independent to leave such abusive relationships.

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The concept of ‘honour’ in the South Asian communities also makes for a social factor that may have implications for women in these communities with respect to domestic violence. The UK government has come up with the concept of ‘Honour Based Violence’ specifically to respond to this aspect of domestic violence or risk factors of domestic violence. Due to the risk factors of honour based social concepts as predictors of domestic violence, the House of Commons has also defined domestic violence in the context of honour based violence (The House of Commons, 2009). The Report has differentiated between honour based violence and domestic violence by saying that the former involves violence perpetrated by members of the family or members of the wider community, common to Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish communities, but more common to South Asian communities (The House of Commons, 2009, p. 13). The word ‘honour’ has peculiar pejorative connotations in the context of familial or domestic violence and with reference to South Asian communities in the UK, where although honour is defined as a virtuous character trait, it is often the basis for violence against family members that are perceived to have crossed the fault lines of honour within their communities (Vandello, et al., 2008).

Literature shows that honour based notions can be indicators of domestic violence in societies where honour based violence may be revered or condoned by the majority of the society’s members (Strange, 2014). In communities like South Asian communities in the UK, literature does indicate that there is cultural acceptance of honour based violence which then leads to the indications for possible domestic violence (Gill, 2014). In the context of culture, honour has three facets, which are linked to the sentiments of the community or belief related sentiments, the manifestation of that sentiment in the way people behave and conduct themselves, and the evaluation of the conduct of others. With respect to women, the sentiments are more ingrained in the community which expects a certain standard in conduct and behaviour towards family and spouses (Gill, 2014). As such, domestic violence is linked to these social indicators in the South Asian communities where, women are expected to live within gender-role expectations and eschew any behaviour which is contrary to established norms of gender-roles as this is considered to bring shame to the family and community (Gill, 2014). This is the reason for an increased incidence of domestic violence in South Asian communities, and the acceptance of the violence is also seen as well as the frowning upon on women reporting to the police if they are victims of this violence in domestic contexts (Gill, 2014). It is argued that in order to understand domestic violence in the UK, in the context of South Asian communities, the key is to understand the cultural and social implications of such violence as well as the notion of honour in the communities (Gill, 2014). Therefore, an important social factor in domestic violence cases is that of the concept of honour.

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