Since the first Covid-19 lockdown last year, cases of domestic abuse and subsequent deaths have risen. In England and Wales, a woman dies as a result of domestic violence every three days. But the reality is that few perpetrators are arrested, let alone charged and convicted.
The rise in cases is beginning to worry government ministers, which is no surprise given domestic abuse has never been properly tackled. Cabinet office minister Michael Gove has been planning how best to use existing powers to tackle this shadow pandemic. Ideas include a minimum standard for police and other criminal justice agencies to increase prosecutions and better protect the victims.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which became law at the end of April, makes it clear that the government needs to deal with the perpetrators and not merely focus on mopping up the mess. But as yet, nothing concrete has been proposed, despite the devastating effects on wider society.
The occasional bit of funding thrown at domestic violence refuges does nothing but enable victims temporary reprieve while the perpetrators get to stay in the family home. The latest available figures show that victims have already experienced an average of 50 incidents of abuse before reporting to police, and recent data has found that three in four domestic abuse cases reported to the police in England and Wales end without charge.
There are other consequences to this — the cost to society of domestic violence is huge, such as children in care, mental and physical ill-health, drug and alcohol abuse and other related crime. Such abuse makes criminals out of victims.
Annelise Sanderson was two when her father was jailed for serious domestic violence offenses against her mother. She was taken into care aged eight because of concerns over ‘a future risk of emotional harm’. After a childhood living with foster carers and at children's homes, Annelise ended up in jail as a result of her chaotic lifestyle. Desperately unhappy and despite being a suicide risk, she died in prison just before Christmas aged only 18.
And Annelise is far from the only case that reveals the knock-on effects of domestic violence. About 3,200 women are currently in jail, three quarters of whom committed a non-violent offence. More than half report being abused as a child, and 57 per cent are victims of domestic violence.
A quarter of male prisoners experienced abuse in childhood, and 40 per cent had grown up with domestic violence. Many of these men have committed violent and sexual crimes towards women, having been groomed by violent fathers.
We have long been aware of the link between domestic violence and animal abuse, because survivors have testified and campaigned about this issue. There are effects too on children. Those growing up under the cosh of domestic violence, both witnessing their mother being abused and directly experiencing that violence, can lead to fractured lives. The majority of women in prison have been victims of male violence during their childhood and as adults, and a significant number of men have also had similar backgrounds.
We have even seen the links between domestic violence and terrorism. As Joan Smith explains in her ground-breaking book Home Grown: how domestic violence turns men into terrorists, those who commit their acts of terrorism in public have histories of violence against women. Take, for example, the Finsbury Park Mosque attacker or the killers at Charlie Hebdo. Ending male violence could save countless lives, both in the home and on the streets. But instead, women’s refuges and domestic violence units are closing and desperately underfunded — austerity measures have made it harder than ever for women and children to escape violence in the home.
Tackling domestic abuse is in everyone’s interest, whether or not we are directly affected. Well over 100 women every year die at the hands of violent current or former male partners. But this is a crime we have learned to normalise when we should, in fact, be horrified.