Home Affairs Select Committee on domestic violence


by Rumbold
19th February, 2008 at 6:00 pm    

This morning the Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence from three witnesses (all members of groups which help victims of domestic violence) on the progress, or lack of, made in tackling domestic violence. I went along because some of the evidence was to do with forced marriages and ‘honour’ killings, and one of the witnesses was Jasvinder Sanghera, author of a book on her experiences of forced marriage, and a representative of Karma Nirvana. The other two witnesses were Sandra Horley and Nicola Harwin, representatives of Refuge and Women’s Aid respectively.

Even though the majority of the discussion was to do with domestic violence in the general sense, there were still some important lessons to emerge with respect to forced marriage and ‘honour’ killings specifically. (This is a rather long piece, so there is a summary of the salient points at the bottom. Throughout I refer to ‘victims’, echoing the language of the hearing, even if some of those mentioned were victims in the sense that something was about to happen to them). This is how the hearing progressed:

Housing:

Sandra Horley and Nicola Harwin largely dealt with this. There is not enough social housing available to re-house victims of domestic violence (DV), which means that victims have to stay in refuges longer. One third of local authorities do not provide DV services, partly because the government guidelines do not require local authorities to ring-fence money and services specifically for DV. The lack of housing is most severe in London, with the Borough of Hounslow being given as the example: despite a population of around 250,000 (and British Asians making up a quarter of that total), there were only 72 properties available for homeless applicants.

Some local authorities define DV victims are ‘intentionally homeless’, which reduces their options with regards to housing. Nor is the number of refuges acceptable, with the number standing only a one third of those suggested by a select committee way back in the 1970s. Local authorities increasing refer DV victims to private housing groups, who sometimes ask for six months’ deposit when these victims have little or nothing. Nicola Harwin pointed out that there were 870 women fleeing forced marriages who were staying in refuge accommodation.

Education:

Many forced marriage (FM) victims, or potential victims, still aren’t aware of the services available to them. Jasvinder Sanghera pointed out that FM victims will often first turn to a friend, maybe then to a teacher. The police are considered a last resort. Jasvinder Sanghera argued that one of the greatest problems by voluntary organisations was that their message was not being echoed in schools. Ann Cryer MP remarked on a survey which found that 45% of teenagers believed that it is okay to assault one’s girlfriend.

It was agreed that schools do not build in enough time to talk about these things have teachers necessarily received enough information about DV. Canada was looked to as a model, since it has specialists who come in and give talks in schools. It was suggested that schools combine DV and other subject areas such as bullying. Posters and other public information is key, as it gives quick access to information about services. Essentially, the most important thing was that ‘the buck stopped with someone’, and that this person had a clear role.

Cultural Relativism:

One of the concerns about schools was that they were refusing to push DV education for fear of upsetting what they saw as ‘local’ opinion. Jasvinder Sanghera related her experiences with Derby Council. When appearing before them, several councillors ridiculed her for trying to force this issue on schools. A later question established that the offending councillors were British Asian. Some school governors did not want the information posters on FM and ‘honour’ killings for fear of stereotyping Asian pupils. Jasvinder Sanghera was suitably scornful. Martin Salter MP labelled Derby as the test case for how well these type of school initiatives will be accepted.

Salter also pointed out the schools were reluctant to report pupils disappearing for periods of time, because it affects the school’s truancy figures. Jasvinder Sanghera argued that such an attitude was a form of racism, because if a white child went did not turn up for a while there was a vigorous investigation by the school, but with a brown child, less so. Such an attitude seems prevalent in many areas of the state. Home schooling was also a worry, and stricter controls were suggested. Someone raised the point about the possibility that MPs and other public figures might unwittingly help track down those trying to avoid a forced marriage, if the parents merely appeared to be concerned constituents.

Other issues:

Sandra Horley argued that there were a worrying lack of services for non-white victims, as increasing homogenization of services led to a loss of specialist support. There were also worries about the lack of services for those DV victims between 16-18. It is estimated that 10 women a week commit suicide as a result of DV, with many more self-harming. Jasvinder Sanghera noted that British Asians aged 16-24 were particularly at risk, as they had no family support network to turn to, especially as they were more dependent on this network growing up. She also criticised coroners for not doing enough to investigate these suicides fully.

Sandra Horley felt that all DV victims should be classed as ‘intimidated witnesses’. Presently, some are not, as courts forget or do not bother to make the proper application. ‘Intimidated Witnesses’ are entitled to special measures, such as giving evidence via video link, and it was felt that this would help enormously in obtaining special prosecutions. Police protection of DV victims was also a concern, as most victims were protected under the witness protection scheme, but as many of their cases did not go to trial, this protection tended to melt away. Since FM victims are at their most vulnerable just after they have left their home, all agreed that there was a need for a greater emphasis on protection at this stage. Nicola Harwin was worried that too many agencies had access to information about DV victims, which could compromise their safety.

Legislation and volunteers:

DV victims normally prefer to go to voluntary organisations for help, rather than the state. This is because they fear that their children may be taken into care, or that the police may become involved, even if the DV victims do not want them to be. Ann Cryer asked whether forced marriage should be a specific criminal offence, and Jasvinder Sanghera thought so, arguing that it sent a clear message out to the would-be perpetrators. She rejected the notion that it would drive such marriages underground, which would reduce the opportunity for FM victims to seek help: she said that FM was already underground. She felt that legislation was not enough though, and more needed to be done to ensure this attitudes filtered throughout the state apparatus. She favoured raising the marriage age to 21, although Sandra Horley pointed out that a similar marriage age in Denmark had done nothing to reduce force marriages.

Summary of key points and recommendations:

- The stock of housing available for DV victims is too low, and it is difficult for DV victims to obtain housing even if there is a sufficient amount.

- Local authorities need to focus specifically on tackling DV, and this could be achieved by clearer government guidelines.

- Schools are perhaps the key battleground for issues like FM, and the schools need to ensure that they display useful information on it, as well as focus more on domestic violence in class.

- Voluntary organisations are the key to tackling these problems, but need more funding, as well as the need for a closer relationship between them and institutions like the police.

- Cultural relativism cannot be allowed to prevent the useful dissemination of information, nor risk the lives of those in trouble in order to appease a few people.

- Legislation only works if it goes hand in hand with a change in attitude.


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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,Current affairs






16 Comments below   |  

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  1. Sofia — on 20th February, 2008 at 10:23 am  

    i think they should put up information posters in religious buildings as well as schools…

  2. sonia — on 20th February, 2008 at 11:50 am  

    “When appearing before them, several councillors ridiculed her for trying to force this issue on schools. A later question established that the offending councillors were British Asian.”

    very revealing that. that’s how people have been ‘kept in their places’ all these years – you try and get out, speak about it if you do manage to, boom! the ‘elders’ and ‘keepers of role’ come down on you like a ton of bricks. I was talking to a friend of mine from Delhi last december, we were discussing the difficulties of ‘escaping’ your socially determined roles – you can try, and you’ll have significant resistance. for centuries, the caste system and other oppressive ‘keep you in your place’ social systems -have used manipulative social tactics to ensure if anyone does manage to get “out” of their ‘societally determined place” – there is a serious social backlash and stigma, against them. The sole purpose of which are to try and ensure such ‘escapes’ don’t become the norm – ‘oh look at that bad woman, what is she saying about us? she is insulting our culture! she is insulting all our sacrifices! have WE not been through this and withstood the pressure? Where is her womanly patience? Where is her loyalty to her family?” so on and so forth. Like trying to get out of quicksand with many other people pulling you back in, denying the reality of your situation, and that others too, exist in it. Of course these dynamics are really what need studying. They go a long way to explain why women and men stay in abusive situations, and perpetuate similar abuse to people further down the line, and why its so damn difficult to ‘get out’ and stay out.

    Recognising the role that deeply held views -such as gender constructs and responsibilities to one’s family – play in abusive familial & domestic contexts – is very important. And again, this does not apply only to ‘women’. Also important is to realise how older generation of women effectively do a lot of ‘jailkeeping’ of younger women – and often encourage their sons to reproduce negative behaviour they themselves were subject to. And finally – extremely crucial – the culture of silence – which is connnected very much to “Shame” – the inability – to broadcast what is the problem for fear of bringing shame and dishonour on one’s family. This is so deeply ingrained that is an incredible barrier. No one wants to tell anyone what they are going through – even when there is some abuse in practically every extended family. To illustrate how ridiculous this is – people think you shouldn’t even tell your OWN HUSBAND – if you have ‘shameful secrets’ in YOUR own family – why because he might spread them around and everyone ( i.e. in-laws, who are in ‘competition’) will know! Absolutely ludicrous, but there you go. There is very strong resistance to change, and kowtowing to obsolete and oppressive traditions is a very big part of this.

  3. sonia — on 20th February, 2008 at 12:02 pm  

    I think you will find that many of the existing voluntary organisations which are – say – ‘ethnicity based’ – are a part of the problem, certainly the ones that have ‘bossy women’ of the neighbourhood types – or elderly men. “the community leaders/gatekeepers”. I would say that they will be a key part of the ‘battleground’ as well – as they need to realise the challenges, and that in many cases, they are working directly against other voluntary organisations -e.g. those that organise to help ‘victims’ etc. This is not something they can carry on ignoring.

  4. sonia — on 20th February, 2008 at 12:05 pm  

    So it should be an interesting challenge – at the very least, these kinds of organisations need to be collaborating more widely – and not being so “protective”, and addressing the issue of domestic violence and familial violence – head on, and educating people on what options are open to them – the fact that they play a key “interface” role – is too often abused as a position of power. (hence the gatekeeping reference) – the whole point now is to collaborate with other groups and services – not isolate.

  5. Rumbold — on 20th February, 2008 at 1:44 pm  

    Exactly Sonia- you are right about the women who help to re-inforce such backward ideals. One of the biggest problmes seems to be that so many people can get access to information about those in danger and track them down.

    Incidentally- perhaps a travel blog post would not be a good idea:

    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/rafael_behr/2008/02/backpackers_bullies_and_intern.html

  6. sonia — on 20th February, 2008 at 2:22 pm  

    heh, rumbold, i’m sure you’ll be fine. you should have your own blog anyway..

  7. Parvinder Singh — on 20th February, 2008 at 2:58 pm  

    Good piece Rumbold. This is one of the most important subjects this blog has raised and more so called progressives should take note rather then endlessly debating on what Rowan Williams did or did not say.

    Schools are a very good starting point in the case of Forced Marriages, and that Asian councillor should be named and shamed.
    I agree with Sofia that the mosques and temples should be targeted, especially in the case of domestic violence.

    But we have to go further than just relying on leaflets and posters. The committees heading these places should be made to sign up to guidelines and procedures. Units should be set up in them, ie. a place where abused women can go to for help. I have noticed the large amount of women going to Sikh temples during the quiet weekday periods, having their own kirten classes etc. and I’m sure voluntary groups and the authorities can tap into these.

    I also believe that this should not be viewed as a anti-man thing. Of every, or most case of abuse, there’s another women nearby, the mother-in-law, sister-in-law or aunt who is at best silence, or worse, encouraging it.

    Therefore, I’m for a more drastic approach to this, I mean, is there a 24-hour fully funded multi-lingual help line ? If not, the government should put it’s money where its mouth is, and put some lottery money in good use.

    Who knows what terrible acts are being committed behind those closed net curtains we pass everyday.

  8. sonia — on 20th February, 2008 at 3:54 pm  

    good points parvinder.

    I wonder if the mosques would be happy to provide sanctuary for women.

    just a point worth knowing about – the biggest lottery funds distributor is BIG, groups have to apply individually to them for funding, under specific funding streams, which is publicised on their website.

    useful general /detailed info on where lottery funding goes ( from the DCMS website) – of course, the olympics are getting a bit of that chunk now so..

  9. Sofia — on 20th February, 2008 at 4:01 pm  

    Although it would be nice to have mosques and temples to do a lot more than provide leaflets..i don’t believe they are able to cope in their current situation. For a start, they would need to have a woman representative available at sociable and non sociable hours, someone who is properly trained to deal with such issues and who is able to have quick access to relevent services. This isn’t just about mosques being “happy” but setting these things in place and being transparent where necessary and practising confidentiality in other situations. That is why I think a starting point would be posters and leaflets…

  10. Sofia — on 20th February, 2008 at 4:07 pm  

    there needs to be a multi faceted approach using a variety of different stakeholders, not just one type…community centres, local police, social workers, relgious orgs, womens groups, can all play their part. The 24 hour helpline would be good…having said that, the muslim womens helpline had to close down..as far as i know..but not sure why exactly…

  11. Parvinder Singh — on 20th February, 2008 at 4:35 pm  

    Looking into this further, there is already a well funded help line. So I wouldn’t think there’s a need for a Asian, Muslim, Sikh or Hindu only help line.
    Violence is violence no matter what your background.

    0808 2000 247
    Free phone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Help line (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge)

    http://www.womensaid.org.uk

    Do we know if this select committee are looking into getting leaflets and posters in the relevant languages into the mosques and temples. Can we make representation to this effect? We would need to ensure the material is not simply sent to religious places through the post but physically put up and followed on by awareness meetings.

  12. sonia — on 20th February, 2008 at 4:49 pm  

    select committees are there for scrutiny to make sure relevant department/s are doing what they should do.they hold inquiries/hearing etc. (anyone can submit evidence) and then and provide recommendations as a draft report to the department/s in question.

  13. Parvinder Singh — on 20th February, 2008 at 4:50 pm  
  14. Rumbold — on 21st February, 2008 at 10:52 am  

    Sonia:

    “heh, rumbold, i’m sure you’ll be fine. you should have your own blog anyway.”

    Is that a polite way of telling me to go away? Heh. Excellent point about how services are being affected by the Olympic black hole- I guess that subsidising elite athletes is more important then providing refuges for those relying domestic violence.

    Parvinder:

    Thanks for all the useful links.

    “But we have to go further than just relying on leaflets and posters. The committees heading these places should be made to sign up to guidelines and procedures. Units should be set up in them, ie. a place where abused women can go to for help. I have noticed the large amount of women going to Sikh temples during the quiet weekday periods, having their own kirten classes etc. and I’m sure voluntary groups and the authorities can tap into these.”

    The problme with that though is that some of those abusing women will go to the same place of religious worship, so the woman may be caught looking through information about domestic violence. That is probably a risk worth taking however.

    “Do we know if this select committee are looking into getting leaflets and posters in the relevant languages into the mosques and temples. Can we make representation to this effect?”

    This particular select committee will not convene a hearing on domestic violence for some time (to give them a chance to study new information and evidence). At the hearing, the committee noted that they lacked examples of the posters. There wasn’t really any discussion about information in religious buildings- I think that they thought the challenge of getting it disseminated in schools was difficult enough.

  15. sonia — on 21st February, 2008 at 11:35 am  

    not at all rumbold..heh. its because you write such fascinating stuff for PP it makes one curious to think what you might be writing/saying on your own blog if you had one.

    but of course if PP is up for having your holiday snaps as a post, that’s great too..

    schools are a good one yes. but a lot of different avenues should be tried. a lot of women/men affected by domestic violence have been ‘imported’ and aren’t going to school, they’re very vulnerable because they have little concept of welfare states (coming from the indian subcontinent!) and will not have a clue that the govt. is even willing to help you. these people of course are the hardest to reach. places like GPs, libraries etc. i think already distribute leaflets, but i really do think this is soemthing where you have to ensure the local cafe/kebab shop/cornershop/grocer has a pile. A lot of people who are isolated don’t make it out to public libraries or health services even. the public health project i’m working on right now across 20 most deprived spots in london, shows very clearly that there is a very low uptake of existing health services, and access to info is very critical and needs to be thought through carefully.

  16. Rumbold — on 21st February, 2008 at 2:10 pm  

    Sonia:

    “Not at all rumbold..heh. its because you write such fascinating stuff for PP it makes one curious to think what you might be writing/saying on your own blog if you had one.”

    Very kind of you to say so. I have no desire to leave the comfort zone of Pickled Politics though.

    “A lot of women/men affected by domestic violence have been ‘imported’ and aren’t going to school, they’re very vulnerable because they have little concept of welfare states (coming from the indian subcontinent!) and will not have a clue that the govt. is even willing to help you. these people of course are the hardest to reach. places like GPs, libraries etc. i think already distribute leaflets, but i really do think this is soemthing where you have to ensure the local cafe/kebab shop/cornershop/grocer has a pile. A lot of people who are isolated don’t make it out to public libraries or health services even.”

    Excellent points. Leaflets in GPs’ surgeries are a really good idea, providing it is not the GP themselves who hands over the leaflet (as it could provoke someone to stop going to see the doctor).

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