Changing the way domestic abuse is policed and tracked

In March 2014 the new Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, more commonly known as ’Clare’s law’, was rolled out by police forces across England and Wales.

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme gives people the right to find out about an individual’s prior domestic violence offences. ‘Clare’s law’ was a direct result of work done by Professor Marianne Hester, Chair in Gender, Violence and International Policy, and her team at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research,.

The March 2014 roll-out closely followed a year-long pilot scheme involving four police forces. The Home Office said this had given more than 100 people potentially life-saving information. The pilot scheme was itself the result of a review by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO, now the National Police Chiefs' Council) that relied heavily on research from the School for Policy Studies, where the Centre is based.

Professor Hester led the team compiling key evidence for the ACPO review. Among ten recommendations from the report was the “right to know” for people at risk of a violent attack, and a proposed change to the law allowing serial perpetrators of violence against women and girls to be tracked by multiple agencies. This followed several earlier studies by Hester and her colleagues, including the finding that informing female prostitutes about potentially dangerous clients had led to more prosecutions of serial domestic violence offenders.

European Commission handbook for police

That was just one of many Bristol-led studies that strongly influenced policies tackling domestic violence in the UK and elsewhere. These include a European Commission handbook for police that is dedicated to ensuring good practice; Hester’s research provides much of the underpinning evidence for this – in particular the recommendations that interventions should be based around a multi-agency approach.

Earlier studies by Hester’s team, commissioned by the Northern Rock Foundation, focused on why so many domestic violence cases fail to progress to prosecution or conviction. They found many reasons for the high levels of attrition –fewer than 5% of cases result in a conviction - among them the reluctance of some victims to give evidence, or to retract witness statements. As a result, serial perpetrators are thought to have escaped trial because of what the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) perceives as a series of “weak” cases against them.

New criminal offence

To mitigate that, the ACPO report recommended a new criminal offence whereby a prosecution may be brought on the basis of a series of offences against different victims, without the need for every individual case to meet the high burden of proof usually demanded by the CPS.

Highlighting information on abusers

The Bristol work hasn’t just focused on victims. Hester has also led a collaboration with Home Office researchers that uncovered new evidence how some perpetrators of domestic violence seek help – most often by reaching out to their own GPs. Through interviews with more than 60 offenders and access to nearly 700 abuser profiles, they also found that half the perpetrators repeated abuse within three years, while nearly one in five re-offended against a different partner.

Another ground-breaking Bristol study investigated the differences between male and female victims and perpetrators. Carried out over six years with a sample of nearly 100 cases, it found that female perpetrators were disproportionately more likely to be arrested, while male perpetrators carried out more and more severe violence.

Average of two women killed each week

Recent figures showed a record number of prosecutions in England and Wales for offences categorized as “violence against women and girls”, with the increase thought to be a result of more victims coming forward.

Nevertheless, the domestic violence charity Refuge quotes statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that on average two women are killed each week in the UK by their current or former partner, while the Home Office reports that domestic violence still has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime. Thanks to Hester and her team, steps are being taken to help protect potential future victims.

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