Clare’s Law in the Community

I wrote about Clare’s Law in The Guardian when it was first mooted way back in 2011. The subbies entitled it “Why Clare’s Law Won’t Work” which I thought rather took the nuance out of the piece, but it was fair to say I had concerns about why Clare’s Law might put some women at greater risk, and might not assist the vast majority of actual or potential victims of domestic abuse.

As a result of that article I was contacted by various media organisation, did a brief slot on The One Show and have intermittently ever since received calls and emails from people wondering if I will give a quote or do an interview – and it began again last week as the National Rollout of Clare’s Law was announced to coincide with International Womens’ Day. The truth is I am no expert on Clare’s Law, but there is (was) comparatively little discussion out there about the scheme (who’d be fool enough to criticise it, right?) and comparatively little is understood by the public about the way that domestic violence victims become embroiled in violent relationships and the journey they must go on to extricate themselves and to subsequently keep safe. People don’t realise that domestic violence is cyclical – for both perpetrator and victim. For a woman* who thinks abuse is normal, simply removing her from the immediate risk does not make her better able to recognise the warning signs, does not make her better able to make good judgments and keep herself safe. And my concern about Clare’s Law was that the policy makers seemed not to understand these complexities either.

I won’t rehash all the arguments – they are set out in the Guardian article and in my subsequent posts here on Pink Tape. And furthermore, I feel a little bit less like a lone voice here than I did when I last wrote on this topic – a recent article can be found here from Sian and Crooked Rib, and Refuge have come out against the policy.

I recently worked with a young, vulnerable mother who had grown up in an extremely violent household. She had acknowledged the relationship between herself and the father of their baby was toxic and yet weeks later was explaining his violent behaviour away to the police, refusing to give a statement because she loved him. I’ve lost count of the clients for whom I have obtained injunctions who have gone back and gone back and gone back. Or who have picked an almost identical violent partner the next time round. You cannot keep people safe by the mere provision of information. After the first punch, or the first slap they know he’s violent. BUT THEY DON’T LEAVE. We know this. This is not news. It is not rational but it is what happens**.

Vulnerable adults need to be empowered to keep themselves safe. And that takes time. And it costs money.

The thing is, Clare’s Law isn’t law at all, it’s procedure:

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme has not introduced any new legislation. Therefore, any disclosure must be within the existing legal framework and, in particular, have due regard to established case law, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.  (Pilot Scheme Guidance)

It’s a procedure which hands responsibility to victims, with no guarantee of medium to long term support for those who exit that is required to actually keep them and their children safe in the future, and with the double whammy effect of weakening of any sense of duty to the “fools” who knowingly stay. It’s meant to be empowering, but it might just be dangerous.

*I’ve talked about women in this post – as noted in the previous posts on this topic, Clare’s Law is open to both men and women, although it was predominantly used by women during the pilot phase.

** I generalise of course. Domestic Abuse is not homogenous. And neither are its perpetrators or its victims.

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6 thoughts on “Clare’s Law in the Community

  1. Jerry Lonsdale

    Having witnessed the other side of the coin, the false allegations made in order to satisfy X,Y and Z, [Cuts in legal aid play a part] having been in a court room after one party had disclosed the allegations made were fictitious false and out right not true, sadly the ball was set in motion, the other party was involved in criminal proceedings which obviously collapsed however charges were still brought against the innocent one, now with “Clare’s Law” I feel that simply being charged doesn’t mean guilt, I do cringe at the principle of trial by media trial by false statements, there is no doubts a need for something however lost in the quagmire for an answer what is the best way to protect those who desperately need protecting,

    Like the excellently written article purports, victims can be so destroyed they cannot see anyway out, likewise with Care Proceedings and the crystal ball prediction which is rife within care proceedings involving DV, whereby a Victim is classed as a danger to the child because “Will find another partner the same”, how does that help the victim and move the victim away from the lifestyle once had, again no answers only more questions.

    Stronger sentences against perpetrators, Stronger education for victims, Concrete Non-Mols would be a good start, not a law, sorry procedure that may open an avenue to place more people in danger.

    Why I have spoken like this on here is due to me being assaulted a while back after representing a client who, kept returning to the violent Ex, no justification for it but the perpetrator had such a controlling mindset against my client, the police gave up, the L.A gave up, I deplored the Authorities actions because unless they have been victims themselves then how can they possibly understand what a victim may go through or how damaged the DV victim is, strong topic for debate, answers must be found, Clare’s Law is not one of them despite the strong intentions and the foundations of the Law.

  2. Having worked therapeutically with countless ‘violent relationships’ (and I would say for a start that the Care proceedings practice of assessing one parent, usually the mother, in isolation to see if she is at risk of forming another DV relationship is fairly pointless as you need to know the ‘hook’ which keeps both partners attached to properly assess risk and capacity to change), I would agree that Clare’s Law is probably only going to be of benefit to those who have enough doubt in their mind about the relationship to bother to find out the new partner’s history.

    The parents I see constantly in Care Proceedings (and sometimes, previously, in forensic mental health settings) are almost never at the stage of looking for evidence of their partner being a danger to them and others, mostly due, as Lucy points out, to having had a upbringing where violence is their blueprint for what love looks and feels like and they have survived by learning to cut off or even dissociate from the ordinary responses (terror, pain, anxiety, anger) to being bullied, assaulted and abused. In the same way as a child continues to ‘love’ an abusive parent and to try desperately to alter the child’s behaviour in order to ‘please’ and gain some sliver of parental approval, so the adult blames themselves for their partner’s violence, believes if only they could love them enough they would change. In the vast majority of violent relationships I have assessed, both parents have a childhood history of trauma, abuse and distorted attachments, and the insecurity this creates in relation to any future love relationship is the same, but expressed differently- one partner tries to control (sometimes violently) to prevent their partner abandoning them and the other partner expresses their insecurity by trying to please and through anxious behaviours which the partner often finds ‘clingy’ and stifling.

    There is plenty of clinical evidence and research linking the quality of early attachments to later psychological difficulties which severely affect the ability to maintain stable attachment relationships and lead to the very ‘chaotic’, violent and ‘unstable’ relationships that find their way constantly into Threshold Criteria. It is not lack of education or lack of Court protection that leads people back to violent relationships, but much deeper emotional holes which both partners attempt to fill in the only way they know how. The Police/Court/Social Services can get sucked into the dynamic of trying to ‘help’ and protect the victim when the victim themselves doesn’t know, at an emotional level, why they keep going back. Services then get angry and blame the victim when their attempts to protect get thrown back in their faces. Will Clare’s Law get used as part of this dynamic I wonder, Local Authorities using it as ‘evidence’ that if the parent had really wanted to change they would be ‘pro-active’ in checking out partners etc?

    I realise it is an unfashionable view at the moment, but actually it is only a decent amount of good quality psychotherapy, delivered by a well trained and experienced therapist/psychologist that stands any chance of giving those who keep finding themselves victims the chance to really break free – and, I would argue, exactly the same therapeutic experience is required for those who find themselves perpetrating violence as again, research and clinical experience would suggest that perpetrator’s violence is also likely to be as a result of the same disordered attachments, abuse and trauma experiences – shoving them in prison may offer a measure of protection for the time they are inside but it (frequently) results in no real therapy and no real change.

  3. Great article and yes you are so right many women who suffer domestic abuse fail to protect themsleves or their children again and again and even if they find a new partner again you are so right that they tend to find another abusive one.
    It’s extremely difficult and takes time, resources and support to help parents to learn to protect themselves.

  4. M. Northern Lights

    I know you put a qualifying statement at the end, Lucy, but it is still disappointing to read an article that emphasises the male perp/female victim stereotype. The official figures (last time I checked) were 1 in 4 as opposed to 1 in 6 and some I believe present an even smaller disparity. There is nothing to justify the endless repetition and reinforcement of this prejudice.

    Substitute the genders in your post and qualifying statement at the end for any other demographic or group within society and see how it reads?

    We can do better, surely?

    • MNL – As you know I have regularly debunmked the male perp /female victim stereotype on this blog, holding that the reality in many relationships is rather more complex, and acknowledging the existence of female on male (and same sex) domestic abuse. I do however think that there are different and gendered patterns to abusive relationships, so gender is useful in understanding both perpetrators and victims.

  5. […] been a mite negative about so-called Clare’s Law (the domestic violence disclosure scheme), but it occurred to me today that it has an unforeseen […]

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