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.