Our Voice: Changes to the Laws on Domestic Violence and Abuse
Last week saw changes to the laws on Domestic Violence and Abuse; including controlling and coercive behaviour as a form of abuse in addition to recognising under 18’s as victims. Sarah shares her thoughts below as to why these are such crucial and positive additions.
As we embark upon the first few visits to schools in East Bristol, it seems that Unique Voice are not the only people tackling unhealthy and abusive relationships. Coincidently, it was whilst I was on my way to a school this morning that I heard about the changes to the definition of domestic violence on the radio, which has been stretched to include psychological intimidation and controlling behaviour and apply to victims under the age of 18. I’m shocked that younger victims weren’t included in the definition previously, especially since the legal age for marriage is 16. It seems bizarre that we would allow people to get married and deny them protection from partners who became abusive. Of course we also need to remember that these young people, with less experience of relationships (and life) may lack the capacity to recognise controlling and coercive behaviour initially, thus leading them deeper into a potentially dangerous and soul destroying situation.
Jeremy Browne, the Home Office Minister for crime prevention stated that,‘It is vital that victims themselves and those who support them, are clear what constitutes abuse so they seek the support they need early on and don’t suffer in silence.’ And I couldn’t agree more.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that during our school visit this morning many of the team were filled with an even greater purpose and motivation to deliver these sessions than usual. Me+You is essentially early intervention as a means of prevention, the more we can highlight to young people how they deserve to be treated by others, the better chance they have to defend themselves, or look out for others who may be in trouble in the future.
Controlling behaviour, I believe, is equally damaging as physical violence. Acts which are designed to make people dependant by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources, and deprive them of the means they need for independence are wrong; and although the signs may seem subtle initially, this behaviour can quickly escalate and grow out of control.
But of course, until children can identify this, their chances of seeking help, and recognising that they deserve that help are slim.
Encouragingly the children we have visited have responded to the play clear in their views that despite not having seen any physical violence, the friendship played out before them was unhealthy, controlling and unfair. They absorb and understand the visually subtler forms of abuse and are eager to share with us why they think it is wrong.
Behaviours such as invading people’s privacy; stealing their phones or making people share their passwords for social media sites spur the children into exploring why it was wrong, especially when they see the devastating and accumulative effects this has on the victim. Equally, seeing someones confidence destroyed as their dreams are deemed ridiculous, or as their physical appearance is altered against their will has left them certain that we should all be able to decide what we enjoy, to reach for our dreams and to express ourselves in the way we choose.
I have no doubt that this message is far easier for young people to absorb and understand when they live it through another characters eyes, and by exploring it this way, we have seen that children begin to construct their own standards about how they expect, want and deserve to be treated.
As far as I’m concerned, the changes to the definition of domestic abuse is a huge step in the right direction and I hope that it encourages all those who need and deserve help to stand up to abusive partners, friends or family to do just that.