What Kind of Debate Should We Be Having About Domestic Violence?

This post is a guest blog post written by Sarah Phillimore. Sarah is a family barrister with over 15 years of experience. She tweets as @SVPhillimore and this is her first foray into blogging. This post arose from a tweet from @change4victims calling for support for an e-petition entitled “review of access laws for domestic abusers”, subsequently retweeted by @womensaid.

The petition reads:

70% of cases in the family courts cite domestic abuse as a major concern yet only 1% are refused access. a review is required. Supervised access is the minimum that must be considered when an abuser scores low to moderate on the DASSH risk assessment. Supervision must be on a 1:1 basis. No access should be given where an abuser scores high risk on the DASSH, where a MARAC hearing is held or planned, Where target hardening is carried out on a victims property or where the abused has had to move to refuge, out of their hometown away from their support network. government should consult Women’s Aid, The Police and the Domestic Abuse helpline in reviewing this. Family law must consider children’s safety and not simply chase social ideals. A happy child with a lone parent will always make a more positive impact than an unhappy child brought up with abuse. Also where drug use is cited as a problem rehabilitation must take place before access can be considered.

 It has to date achieved 35 signatures.

Over to Sarah…

What Kind of Debate Should We Be Having About Domestic Violence?

I do not believe that it is ok for people to abuse each other, with fists or with words. We all need to take responsibility for our own behaviour and not complain that we were ‘provoked’ by another person or situation into acting badly. I agree that men who expose their children or children’s mothers to violence should expect State intervention in their family life, which could mean they are prevented from having a relationship with their children as they grow.

Why do I even need to say this? Because sadly my experience of attempting to discuss violence in relationships has shown me that it is difficult to engage in useful debate. At times it seems that only one response is permitted – men are the perpetrators and women are the victims. Any deviation from that norm is met with accusations that I must be a supporter of violence against women and anything I say should be dismissed.

I have been a specialist family lawyer since 1999, acting for both mothers and fathers. Many parents who are separating make allegations about each other’s behaviour. Violence is often an issue. I do not use the term ‘domestic violence’ because that is a ludicrous term. ‘Domestic’ makes it all sound so lovely and cosy. I find the term ‘relationship violence’ more helpful as I think  the context of the relationship in which such violence occurs is relevant – to how we blame, how we punish and how we move on. Continue Reading…

Koo-ee! We’re over here love!

Where are all the feminist lawyers? Discuss. Kat Watson’s essay on the topic was posted on The F Word last week. I was alerted to it by a critical blog post in response written by another female lawyer type who had been irked by it (that post has now been removed hence no link). It irks me too, but not for entirely the same reasons.

The post ponders the question of the alleged absence of feminist lawyers, and prescribes the creation of a “coordinated, active group of feminist lawyers or law students” as a cure for this apparent malaise.

The post refers to the “ever-impending prospect of starting a career at the bar without knowing who to look to as a feminist leader in the field”. You want role models? For goodness sake, didn’t she even do a cursory google search before paying her BVC fees? Can it be possible that someone can gain entry to the profession without being able to use Wikipedia?

Try these (a sample only):

Helena Kennedy QC (Amongst many other things, Author of [amazon_link id=”0099224410″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Eve Was Framed,[/amazon_link] President of The Helena Kennedy Foundation)

Baroness Hale (First woman in the Supreme Court, [amazon_link id=”1849460531″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]supporter of the Feminist Judgments Project[/amazon_link])

Theis J DBE (Mother, Barrister, QC, Former Chair FLBA, High Court Judge)

Shami Chakrabarti (barrister and one woman campaigning machine for human and civil rights, now panel member on the Leveson Press Inquiry)

So, in answer to your question “Where are all the feminist lawyers?”: Continue Reading…

Walking Talking Living Doll

Health warning: Enormo-post.

Most legal eyes this week have been on the various Legal Walks taking place in London and elsewhere, to raise funds for Law Centres and Pro Bono legal advice (and in Bristol it was an Access to Justice Walk). Not satisfied with that, half of my chambers seems to have participated in the Bristol 10k run at the weekend for charidee. But this post is about a whole other kind of walk. The SLUT WALK. Some of you may have seen Paxman last week (see 27.45m on iplayer) apparently oscillating between overexcited, bewildered and just plain petrified, pinned between a pair of variously vociferous and voluptuous women arguing the pros and cons of the proposed SLUT WALK – the contrast between their visual appearance was surely no coincidence – one tight lipped, pinned back, steely and contained; the other wild haired, verbally passionate and physically demonstrative (guess which was the Tory MP). I myself found it a strange mix of amusing and excruciating – I could almost hear the boys from my school chanting “Bitch fight!”. The polarised comments on twitter during and after carried on the theme and kept me absorbed for a whole glass of chianti.

But the quaero-erotic tableau contrived by the producers of Newsnight last week is not the topic of this blog post. I do actually want to talk about the slut walks. You can read about them here, if the whole concept has passed you by. Because to me the real issues have been slightly lost in the (predictable) media hoo ha (And in the coalition style drafting “pause” before publication of this post a further broo-ha-ha on the topic of rape has arisen from Ken Clarke’s outrageous suggestion that not all rapes are of identical degrees of gravity). Continue Reading…