The legal response to domestic violence

Table of contents


This dissertation examines the legal response to domestic violence, which, over the years has been subject to a variety of different terminology ranging from ‘wife battering’ (Pizzey, 1974; Walker, 1979) to ‘intimate partner violence’.

Paying particular attention to the police, up until the early 1980’s some researchers described their general response and attitude towards incidents of domestic violence as being ‘dismissive and derogatory’ (Bourlet, 1990; Dobash and Dobash, 1980; Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Edwards, 1989) and that, according to David Cheal (1991), the police perceive the family to be a private sphere to which ‘access to it by the state should be limited’.

However, from the mid-1980’s it was recognised that there was a need for change not just in the police response, but the legal response as a whole and the Home Office began publishing papers on how domestic violence incidents should be tackled by the criminal justice system. Not only did this raise awareness of the issue but it also enabled different organisations, both statutory and voluntary, to work together which was part of the Home Office’s inter-agency initiative in 1995. More recently, there have been a number of statutes put in place that can further aid the police in their response to domestic violence and more importantly they enable them to treat incidents within the family between spouses as they would incidents that happen on the street between strangers.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Domestic violence has long been a problem amongst society, but until the 1980’s the agencies responsible for protecting victims of crime paid little or no attention to the issue itself, in particular the police showed reluctance to investigate and prosecute as they believed that ‘the family is a private sphere so access to it by the state should be limited’ (Cheal, 1991). However, it would be inaccurate to think that domestic violence is no longer a problem in society today and according to the 2009/10 British Crime Survey (BCS) seven percent of females compared to four percent of males aged between 16 and 59 are currently victims of domestic violence (Flatley et al., 2010). Statistics also show that between July and September 2009 there was a five percent increase in sexual offences which is in comparison to the same period of the previous year (Home Office, 2009).

According to Walby and Allen, (2004) the British Crime Survey (BCS) estimated that a staggering 12.9 million domestic violence incidents against women and 2.5 million incidents against men happened in England and Wales in 2003 with 45 percent of women and 26 percent of men experiencing at least one incident of interpersonal violence in their lifetime. From this, it is therefore questionable whether or not domestic violence is regarded as being either legally or socially acceptable, as many researchers have found, from their research, that the criminal justice system appear to be ‘covertly tolerant’ (Berk et al., 1980) of the issue when really the offences committed in violent relationships are no different to that of an offence against the person. As a result of this alleged blase approach by the police to incidents of domestic violence, Smith (1989) found that victims of domestic violence only made contact with the emergency services as a last resort and on average suffer 35 attacks before making the vital call to the police (Jaffe, 1982) which in effect goes against what the police as an agency stand for, that is, they are an emergency service and should act promptly and provide an effective service and not leave victims of domestic violence with very little faith in their work.

However, according to Stanko (2000) even though only a small minority of victims report domestic violence to the police, with figures showing around 40 percent actually being reported to the police (Dodd et al, 2004; Walby and Allen, 2004; Home Office, 2002), they still on average receive one phone call every minute regarding domestic violence incidents in the UK amounting to an average influx of 1,300 calls a day or 570,000 calls per year.

The next chapter to follow is the literature review in which the definition and ranges of terminology will be explored from past to present as to demonstrate the changes that have taken place throughout the years along with the apparent lack of coherence that have caused many researchers great difficulty when researching this particular area. The literature review will then continue to look at the police response to domestic violence from a historical perspective, namely pre-1980, and then move onto a more recent perspective from the 1980’s onwards as a comparative.

Whilst the police response is of great importance to this dissertation, it is not solely directed at one single agency and the literature review will go on critically analyse the legislation, both civil and criminal, currently in place and legislation that was previously used to give an over view of the legal response as a whole and how it has changed alongside the changes in the police response.

The final part of the literature review will look at rates of reporting and non-reporting of incidents to the police and examine whether or not there has been an increase of reported incidents since new legislation has been introduced and changes in police practices have happened or if there is still a reluctance by the victims to report it that has been evident in previous times.

Chapter 2: Definition of ‘domestic abuse’ and a history of the police response.

2.1 Definition

Over the years there have been a number of terms, ranging from ‘wife battering’ (Pizzey, 1974; Walker, 1979) to ‘intimate partner violence’, which have been used to describe what is most commonly known as ‘domestic violence’. One common issue that many researchers in the field have found is that of the definition and its lack of coherence between the writers of the issue, the Government and also the members of the public, who may merely use phrases such as ‘wife battering’ without fully appreciating the nature of the issue and the harm it can cause.

In order to tackle this lack of coherence the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) set out an official definition of domestic violence which defines it as being “any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”. (Home Office, 2010)

This definition given by the Home Office has been expanded since the previous definition (Circular 19/2000), which vaguely described domestic violence as ‘any violence between current or former partners in an intimate relationship wherever and whenever it occurs’, and is now seen to further highlight the violence that can happen between family members who are 18 years of age and over and also includes various types of abuse that can also take place (e.g. financial, emotional etc.) as opposed to just being concerned with the physical violence.

Previous to this updated definition, ‘domestic violence’ was recognised as the most commonly used phrase and the term of choice amongst researchers in the area (Smith, 1989) despite having a ‘far from uncritical reception’ (Mullender, 1996). Kashani and Allen (1998) commented upon this and stated that due to the sheer complexity of the issue, in terms of its elements (i.e. financial, emotional, psychological), that it would be unfair and unjust to solely regard it as an issue of ‘violence’ and so the term ‘abuse’ came about and has since made awareness of the fact that the issue isn’t just concerned with physical violence but also other aspects that aren’t considered to be violent, per se.

2.2 Police Response to Domestic Violence Pre-1980

Domestic violence is by no means a ‘new’ crime. Even dating back to the twelfth century domestic violence was prevalent, as church law stated in 1140 that ‘women were subject to their men’ and ‘needed to be corrected through castigation or punishment’. (Dutton, 1995 in Melton, 1999). The males have long been seen as having the power in the family and according to the Napoleonic Civil Code in 1804, ‘violence was only grounds for a divorce for a woman if the courts decided that it amounted to attempted murder’ (Dutton, 1995). English common law even allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no bigger than the width of their thumb, giving the term ‘rule of thumb’, and was said to be ‘uncivilised’ if the stick exceeded the rule (Brown, 1984). Given this, domestic violence wasn’t perceived to be a problem for the police as the laws in place actually condoned violence by men against women and only placed limitations as to how far the men could beat their wives, to which any further was only classed as being inappropriate, not criminal or punishable.

More recently in the twentieth century, the police response to allegations of domestic violence has faced much criticism for their so-called ‘dismissive and derogatory way’ in which they have dealt with cases reported to them (Bourlet, 1990; Dobash and Dobash, 1980; Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Edwards, 1989 also recognised by Women’s Aid). Buzawa (1990) describes the traditional response to domestic violence by the police as having an ‘overriding goal to extricate them from the dangerous and unpleasant duty with as little cost as possible and to re-involve themselves with real police work’. Berk (1980) went as far as saying that the criminal justice system show, through their policies and attitudes, a ‘covert toleration’ of domestic violence and further condone ‘rights of men to exercise their authority’ (Berk et al., 1980).

Research by Smith (1989) suggested four main reasons as to why the police may have displayed this ‘dismissive and derogatory’ behaviour in their response and presented an unsympathetic attitude towards the victim. The first reason was that there were concerns surrounding the officers’ safety and research suggested that around 33% of all assaults against police officers happened whilst attending domestic incidents. Secondly, Smith suggested that the police didn’t regard it as ‘real police work’ and was often perceived to be ‘trivial’ with one Metropolitan police officer being quoted as stating that domestic disputes might be categorised alongside ‘stranded people, lost property and stray animals’ (Times, 4 October 1983). Thirdly, the police didn’t regard domestic violence incidents as ‘criminal’ as it happens within the family unit and they see this as more of private matter to which ‘access to it by the state should be limited’ (Cheal, 1991). Margaret Borkowski also stated in her book Marital Violence that the police thought that an arrest by them and a possible prosecution ‘may sometimes be unhelpful and may exacerbate strained marital and family relationships’. Finally, there was the view held that victims would be reluctant to cooperate and would eventually withdraw their allegations and drop the charges in due course.

Stanko (1985) challenged these views held by the police and argued that the way in which the police responded to the female victims amounted to ‘secondary victimisation’. This idea of secondary victimisation was particularly evident in the findings of Katz and Mazur (1979) and Chambers and Miller (1983) which showed that women who did report domestic violence attacks to the police in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s had their ‘character and morality questioned in such a way as to imply some responsibility for their victimisation’.

Likewise, Chambers and Miller (1987), from their research, presented a variety of ways in which the prosecution was found to use various ‘tactics’ to imply that ‘women complainants were somehow to blame for their victimisation and to throw doubt on the credibility of the case’. With reference to Adler (1987) ‘All but the most transparently flawless victim was liable to be bullied by interrogators and prosecutors, exposing her to a form of secondary victimisation’.

This resulted in what Smith (1989) called the ‘don’t variety’ in which women were told ‘not to get upset, not to get things out of proportion, not to go out alone, not to go out at night, to avoid “dangerous areas”, not to put themselves at risk’ (Benn and Worpole, 1985 quoted in Walklate, 2004). This however was heavily criticised as it placed restrictions on the women’s sense of freedom and that anyone who failed to take notice of this advice should be at fault if she got attacked, as it was regarded as though she was being negligent and had brought it on herself.

2.3 Police Response to Domestic Violence Post-1980

From the mid-1980’s onwards the Home Office accepted that there was a need for change in police practices regarding domestic violence and rape. In 1983, the Home Office published a circular (Home Office, 1983) giving advice on how investigations should be conducted, the timing and conduct of medical examinations, the number of officers involved and, where possible, the importance of having female officers involved, as Chambers and Miller (1983) had found from research, conducted by the Scottish Office, that there was a widespread ‘lack of sympathy and tact by CID officers and un-uniformed policewomen’.

With regards to police responses, a further circular published by the Home Office in 1986 (Home Office, 1986) gave more suggestions of effective working practices when dealing with domestic violence incidents and made it clear that it was of paramount importance to ensure and maintain the safety of the victim and also any children within the home. However, it was argued by Bourlet (1990) that in order for these suggestions to be effective then they must be adopted by the police within their policies and ‘translate directly into practice’ (Grace, 1995) in the fight against domestic violence. This was supportive of Edwards (1989) earlier argument that ‘police did not take seriously their response to crimes between intimates’.

Changes in response finally came about with a circular to chief constables in 1990 (Home Office, 1990) with the aim of it being to urge the police to develop explicit force policies and develop specialist domestic violence units in all 43 forces. A number of central features were highlighted in the 1990 circular, that is, it was to impose an overriding duty to protect victims and any children by the police, to treat domestic violence as seriously as other forms of violence, as it was argued by Pahl (1985) that ‘police action differs between similar acts of violence, depending on whether they occur in the home or on the street’. The circular also put across the value of powers of arrest and made it clear that they should be exercised in these circumstances, it also reiterated the dangers of conciliation between the victim and the offender, the importance of effective recording and monitoring systems and also put forward the consideration to the police of pursuing a case, even if the victim had withdrew her support, as Hoyle (1998) found, along with many others previously, that victims of domestic violence were either very reluctant to make statements or completely withdrew them quite soon after making them, sometimes even before the offender was charged, so by the introduction, by the Home Office circular, of pursuing a case despite the victim withdrawing their statement enabled them to break the so-called cycle of the police ‘leaving the ball in the victims court’ (Hoyle, 1998).

However, Dobash and Dobash (1992) argued that this change in police response articulated by the 1990 Home Office circular was one that ‘showed no sign of lasting improvement’ and that the police continued to adopt an approach that reflected ‘minimum involvement and disengagement’ based on their findings from their report in 1990 on an Assistant Chief Constable and police policies in South Wales.

A later publication by the Home Office in 1995 (Home Office, 1995) encouraged the idea of inter-agency, or multi-agency approaches to domestic violence and has since then grown in popularity with the underlying idea that by different agencies, both statutory and voluntary, working together they can produce an effective approach by sharing their resources and the information that they have to provide a ‘seamless and consistent service’ (Hague, 1998).

In 1999, the Home Office published the paper ‘Living without fear: An integrated approach to tackling violence against women’ (Home Office, 1999) which replaced their previous circular published in 1995. Within the paper, the Government gave recognition to the fact that violence against women was a ‘serious problem, with serious consequences’ (Harman, 2008), but also highlighted that there was some help for victims in certain areas, despite not being what Harriet Harman described as ‘comprehensive, consistent or easy to access’ in her 2008 paper ‘Tackling violence against women: A cross-government narrative’. However, for the majority, this help simply didn’t exist at all.

Harriet Harmen, former Minister for Women and Equality, in the 2008 Government paper summarised and re-stated the main problems taken from the 1999 Home Office publication that the Government needed to tackle. That is, they needed to ensure that ‘violence against women was taken seriously by the Criminal Justice System, making it less of an ordeal for victims to testify in court and tackling the problems associated with securing convictions’. The issue of ‘addressing personal safety issues, including issues over housing; and protecting the children of victims of domestic abuse’ was also raised and finally they needed to ensure that ‘the Government acted in a ‘joined-up’ way to tackle violence against women’ and create a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach against it.

Of late, the Home Office (2000a) 19/2000 Circular ‘Domestic violence’ which introduced the presumption of arrest where it was possible to do so, gave great emphasis on showing how local police forces deal with incidents of domestic violence based on their policies on how such incidents should be policed.

A further Home Office paper ‘Domestic Violence: Breaking the chain, multi-agency guidance for addressing domestic violence’ (2000b) aimed to raise the awareness amongst all of the different agencies concerned with tackling domestic violence. Particularly, with regards to the Police, it was stated that ‘tackling domestic violence should be an integral part of their work’. It was also noted in the same publication that the Government, according to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, expects that the crime and disorder audits carried out identify the ‘local level of domestic violence and for the Police to work with its partners to develop a strategy to address it as part of their overall crime reduction strategy’.

Chapter 3: Feminism

For Feminists, the law has long been regarded as being made for men and being made in the interests of men and throughout history there has been what Sachs and Wilson (1978) describe as a ‘male monopoly of law’ whereby the woman is perceived as being ‘inessential’ (De Beauvoir, 1949).

Radical feminists perceive the family and marriage as the key institutions of oppression in society as the males appear to dominate the women through domestic abuse or by merely threatening the act, because of this, Millet (1970) and Firestone (1970) go on to argue that all societies have been founded on patriarchy and they see the male as being the enemy who exploit and oppress women in society. In their opinion, the patriarchal society is the chief element in explaining the reluctance of the police to investigate incidents of domestic abuse effectively in previous years and that for this to be abolished the patriarchal society needs to be overturned so that woman can live independently from the males.

Chapter 4: Legislation

With regards to legislation, there appeared to be a ‘lack of protection’ in the early 1970’s in the form of remedies available, particularly under civil law, as they were either ‘not easy’ to obtain or ‘inadequately used’ (Hague and Malos, 2005). It was also only possible to obtain a civil order if you were married to the perpetrator, which obviously left victims who weren’t married to their perpetrator with even fewer options of protection compared with those who were married. From this, Women’s Aid recognised that there was in fact a need for change within the civil law so that victims could apply for protection along with obtaining an occupation order of the matrimonial home based solely on their case of domestic violence without it being linked to any other criminal proceedings that may arise from the assaults as there was a resounding number of females who sought shelter at women’s refuges who had been driven out of their home and who didn’t wish to pursue help via the criminal law.

4.1 Criminal Law

As mentioned before, there is no specific offence of ‘domestic violence’ under criminal law and naturally this has created difficulty for the police when dealing with such incidents as there are many different forms of offences that fall within and contribute towards the issue and so alongside the many Government papers published by the Home Office suggesting ways in which police practices regarding incidents of domestic violence should be handled, there have also been a number of different pieces of legislation introduced in the late 1990’s designed to aid the police even further.

Similarly, with the paper ‘Inter-agency Co-ordination to Tackle Domestic Violence’ published by the Home Office in 1995 which suggested that both statutory and voluntary organisations should work together, the Crime and Disorder Act (CDA) 1997 also placed a duty on the authorities, thus supportive of the 1995 Home Office paper, to work alongside the police and other agencies at a local level through the provision of a Community Safety Strategy initiative. The idea being that each local authority will have in place an action plan which will provide ‘effective multi agency working to tackle domestic violence and provide high quality services’ (Lewis, 2005) for the people living in the community who may or may not already be victims of domestic violence.

Likewise, the Protection from Harassment Act (PHA) 1997 enabled victims of domestic violence to have extra protection in place against stalking by ex partners and specifically section 2(1) of the PHA 1997 stipulates that ‘a person who pursues a course of conduct in breach of section 1 is guilty of an offence’ as Wallis (1996) found that, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, 40% of harassment cases did in fact involve stalking between ex-partners or those who had been in a close relationship, something which Wallis described as a form of ‘post-separation domestic violence’.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 also saw measures introduced which provided a link between civil and criminal law. As mentioned before s.2(1) provided an offence of criminal harassment, and, along with s.4 which provided a more serious offence of fear of violence, and so as a whole, the Act provided women with addition help in the form of a restraining order if their perpetrator was convicted of either offence.

Section 4 proved to be particularly useful, despite there already being police powers under criminal law in existence, the powers in place only related to fear of actual physical violence whereas s.4 provided powers for fear of stalking which aimed to be more effective before any psychological or bodily harm had been caused, thus trying to nip the problem in the bus before escalating further.

The Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act which was introduced in 2004 aimed to protect victims of domestic violence by firstly making common assault an arrestable offence (which has since been repealed by s.110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005). Secondly, the 2004 Act made a breach of a non-molestation order not only arrestable but also a criminal offence and finally the Act was also concerned with widening the scope of the civil law in cases of domestic violence as it was particularly evident that the remedies available were designed and implemented for married opposite sex couples, which, as a result, left cohabiting same sex couples experiencing exactly the same treatment but more importantly with a feeling that there was nothing that could be done about it.

4.2 Civil Law

Since 1976, injunctions against violent partners could be obtained under three different statues all with the underlying principle that it was designed to protect victims of domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976 gave female victims of domestic violence the right to stay in the matrimonial home and also granted them exclusion orders against their abusive partners which would effectively suspend their right to live in the matrimonial home and, at that time, was considered to be a successful tool in ‘protecting victims more comprehensively than had ever been possible under criminal law’ (Booth, 2003).

The Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates Court Act 1978 sought to aid the use of injunctions as a preventative for added violence to the victim by the perpetrator whilst the Matrimonial Homes Act 1983 was focused on simplifying the powers to cease the rights of the violence partner to live in the matrimonial home.

The piece of legislation that was to be selected to aid the protection of the victim was dependant on a number of factors, for example, whether the parties were married or not and also if she lived with her abuser. However, research by Barron (1990) showed that in the majority of cases injunction that were made were ineffective and would soon be breached, in Barron’s words, ‘not worth the paper they are written on’.

The introduction of the Family Law Act (FLA) 1996, particularly part IV, sought to eradicate the mess and confusion caused by the three earlier pieces of legislation with regards to imposing injunctions. The legislation itself, under part IV, introduced a concise set of remedies whilst widening the scope of eligibility to a wider range of family members, which since then have been extended further under the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004.

Under the Family Law Act 1996 there are two main types of injunctions that can be applied for under part IV. Firstly, s.42 of the FLA 1996 provides that a victim of domestic violence can apply for a non-molestation order against their perpetrator by whom they have been harassed or threatened by and further states that an applicant can only seek an order against a person with whom they are associated with, as set out by s.62 FLA 1996. This proved to be a useful tool, particularly for those who were either married, in a civil partnership, were cohabitants or even former cohabitants and tried to encompass a number of different types of relations and circumstances in the pursuit of combating not only physical violence but also intimidation and harassment from the perpetrator. A breach of such order is a criminal offence under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2000, and, if found guilty, the perpetrator can expect to receive a five year prison sentence on indictment, the aim of it being to reinforce and strengthen existing civil injunctions.

Another form of injunction made available under s.33 and s.35-38 of the FLA 1996 for victims of domestic violence is that of an occupation order. An occupation order maintains and controls which party is to occupy either their present, former or intended home. To apply for this order the applicant must satisfy the requirement of entitlement under s.33(1) FLA 1996, that is, an ‘entitled’ person is one that has a legal right to occupy the property, for example, it is a matrimonial home, they have a tenancy agreement or some form of beneficial interest etc. Thus, it would be much harder for a cohabiting couple to show an interest in the property in comparison to those who are married or in a civil partnership as it is of the assumption that virtually all spouses will have at least some interest.

Occupation orders can be considered to be extremely useful for victims of domestic violence, particularly if there are children involved, as the FLA 1996 introduced a test based on the ‘balance of harm’ and, in some instances, the test obliges the court to use the test to make an order. The purpose of it being to protect the applicant and more importantly any relevant child that is ‘likely to suffer significant harm attributable to conduct of the respondent’ (Family Law Act 1996, s.33(7))

Chapter 5: Rates of reporting and non-reporting

The term ‘attrition’ is used to describe a process by which the total volume of crime that has been committed gradually gets eliminated leaving only a small proportion attaining conviction. This has come to be very evident in cases of domestic violence, with many police officers deciding to ‘no-crime’ the incident. As a result, it illuminates the issue of domestic violence as not being taken seriously by the criminal justice agencies and further highlights the problems many women face when exploring resolution via the criminal justice system and is supportive of what Hester and Westmarland (2006) found, that as little as five percent of domestic violence result in conviction.

In 1992, a study by Grace et al. found that there were three main attrition points that hindered the criminal justice process of convicting perpetrators of domestic violence. As mentioned previously, some officers discretionally chose to ‘no-crime’ the incidents and as a result, disregarding it instantly. A second point was that the police and the crown prosecution service made decisions about whether or not they would proceed to prosecute, again leaving the victim in a predicament that was totally our of their hands. Finally, a third attrition point lay with the jury on whether they would choose to convict the defendant and according to Grace et al. cases which resulted in a conviction ‘were most likely to involve a young, single woman who had never seen their attacker before and were physically injured during their attack’, they also pointed out that ‘a “classic” rape, was still the most likely to result in a conviction’ compared to a domestic violence incident between intimates.

Throughout the years this has led to a culmination of reasons why many women may not have reported incidents of domestic violence and amongst these reasons there is one common denominator; the police response.

Many women fear that because the abuse they face can take on many different forms, aside from just physical violence, that they would be wasting police time in a matter that the police may not classify as being ‘criminal’ similar to that of what Buzawa (1990) found that man police officers were keen to get involved with ‘real police work’ and, ironically, along with this they also fear that because it is a family matter then the police won’t really want to intrude and essentially get involved; something which many researchers such as Cheal (1991) have found before regarding police attitudes towards domestic disputes.

A second concern for many women is that if they do call the police, they fear that they may not be taken seriously by the attending officers and become subjected to their so-called ‘dismissive and derogatory’ ways in which some officers are alleged to respond to such incidents. Horley (1988) found that victims perceived the police to be unsympathetic of their circumstances and according to the Women’s National Commission (2003) victims were sometimes asked ‘if you put up with it for so long, why are you now reporting it?’ This in turn can also have a damaging effect on the victims as if they do call the police and not a great deal gets done many women fear that as a repercussion for their actions they may provoke further violence by their partners and so it appears to be instilled in them that it’s easier to adopt a ‘put up and shut up’ attitude.

Another problem which affects the report rate of domestic violence incidents is that many victims are either too reluctant to make statements or completely withdraw them quite soon after making them as Hoyle found in 1988, and, as a result, this has created what some researchers have described as ‘inadequate recording practices’ (Smith, 1989) and thus disguising the true figure of the crime itself despite the fact that sexual offences was the only crime to have a five percent increase compared to other types of crime, such as criminal damage, fraud and forgery, in 2009 (Home Office, 2009).

Chapter 6: Methodology

This dissertation is concerned with the legal response to incidents of domestic violence, starting from a historical perspective and moving through to a present day view of how effective the legal response is in dealing with such incidents. It has become to be an area of particular interest to myself as it incorporates an extremely important issue of domestic violence from the discipline of Criminology along with the application of relevant legislation from the discipline of Law.

Given the sensitive nature of the topic area being researched, it was felt that the use of secondary sources to conduct this dissertation would be the most appropriate type of source to use and would automatically eradicate any ethical issues that would inevitably arise if primary research were to be conducted.

Conducting secondary research also has many practical advantages; the main being that it has already been collected and, as aforesaid, diverts past any ethical implications that may arise from primary research, especially in a topic area as sensitive as domestic violence. The use of secondary sources also enables comparisons to be made between historical findings along with present day findings therefore providing a comparative and an overall picture of any trends that there may be. Finally the collection of data being used has been uninfluenced by the research process in comparison to findings that you would get from primary research, which tends to be more biased towards the researchers’ views.

More specifically, secondary data analysis as a research method enables the combining of not only quantitative data but also qualitative data and overall will provide a detailed look at the changing response to incidents of domestic violence from a wealth of literature already surrounding the area, both historical and recent, along with government papers detailing rates of reporting to the police reflecting victims perspectives of them as an agency.

This multi-dimensional approach was first coined as ‘triangulation’ in social research conducted by Campbell and Fiske (1959) but became more predominant following the work by Webb et al. (1966) which was based on unobtrusive measures and social research. Triangulation can be particularly useful as a process of ‘cross-checking findings from both quantitative and qualitative research’ (Deacon et al. 1998) and whilst Webb et al. noted that individual research methods aren’t ‘scientifically useless’ they stated that ‘the most fertile search for validity comes from a combined set of measures’ and Denzin (1970) further stated that triangulation ‘is the key to overcoming intrinsic bias that stems from single method, single observer and single theory studies’.

Maguire (2000) also argues for ‘utilising as many diverse sources of evidence as feasible to answer a research question’ and that combining two methods overall increases the validity of the research. That is, by bringing together two approaches that equally have their own strengths and weaknesses can overall counter each other with their strengths and it is argued that if different methods draw to the same conclusions then this in itself makes for a stronger argument in that they are more plausible and credible (Noaks and Wincup, 2004).

Due to the nature and area being explored in this dissertation it was felt that adopting the use of secondary sources would be more compliant with the ethical considerations that underpin conducting research. According to Diener and Crandall (1978), ethical considerations can be divided into four main areas. That is; whether there is harm to participants, whether this is a lack of informed consent, if there is an invasion of the participants’ privacy and finally, whether deception needs to be used in order to conduct the research.

If primary research were to be conducted the two main areas for concern, according to the categories as set out by Diener and Crandall, would be the potential harm that could be caused to the participant in re-living psychologically painful and damaging events they may have been through for the purpose of this dissertation along with the inevitable invasion of their own personally privacy.

The initial literature search was conducted by using key words or phrases related to the specified topic area of ‘domestic violence and the legal response’ which in turn provided a wealth of literature. However, this method of finding literature makes for the obtaining of unreliable sources more vulnerable and so for that reason only academic texts and journals were selected which covered area of domestic violence and the legal response and so provides a high quality of authority which is much more reliable. Naturally, only the most up to date texts were preferable but inevitably, with a topic area that requires comparatives to be made between historic views and contemporary views, many of the sources date back to the early eighties but is done so as to enable a critical analysis of area being researched.

As a result of the literature search, the literature that was subsequently gained was done so by a snowball effect; identical to that of snowball sampling where one source leads to another and so forth. This, combined with the use of both governmental and non-governmental papers, again standing with high authority, enabled for a greater critical analysis between the issue of domestic violence and the legal response.

Chapter 7: Discussion

The overriding purpose of this dissertation was to critically examine the legal response to incidents of domestic violence; that is, examine the full spectrum of responses ranging from the police, the legislation in place designed to aid the police and also initiatives put forward by the Government.

As stated previously in chapter two, domestic violence has long been a problem amongst society and throughout history it appears to have fought against the odds to be recognised as being truly criminal, as it is clear that the physical elements alone mirror those that can be found in Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) 1861 yet shockingly the issue appears to have been covertly tolerated by the agencies (Berk et al., 1980).

In the early 1990’s there was a dramatic shift towards the fight against domestic violence and as many as fifty percent of police forces had opened up specialist domestic violence units (Grace, 1995) presenting recognition for the issue and opposing Edwards (1989) earlier argument that the ‘police did not take seriously their response to crimes between intimates’.

Despite this apparent dramatic shift towards the fight against domestic violence, the initiatives introduced and the policies and procedures in place, up until the mid-1990’s these policies and procedures needed to ‘translate directly into practice’ (Grace, 1995) in order for what Bourlet (1990) would consider to be effective policing. Yet quite shockingly, at this time when policy and procedures were in place, and even more recently where the issue of domestic violence is even more so abundant in society in Harriet Harman’s (2008) “Tackling violence against women: A cross-government narrative” it was highlighted that there was still only some help for victims in certain areas, of which the help was not regarded as being ‘comprehensive, consistent or easy to access’; quite alarming for something described as being a ‘serious problem, with serious consequences’.

In terms of reducing domestic violence from a policing angle, it has been found that a clear definition of domestic violence is needed between the police and also the other agencies as to eradicate its lack of coherence that has been evident in previous times. Along with this, consistency in their response needs to be clearly visible, despite some Feminists arguing that approaches such as restorative justice make male violence against women somewhat lawful. On the other hand, utilising powers of arrest and pursuing a case despite the victim withdrawing their statement, therefore enabling them to break the so-called cycle of the police ‘leaving the ball in the victims court’, whilst this approach apparently ‘legitimises’ male violence (Stubbs, 1997 in Cook and Bessant, 1997), in terms of effectiveness from a reducing domestic violence point of view; pro-arrest strategies can be seen as favourable.

Training of domestic violence awareness, policy and practise also needs to be exercised along with an adoption of a more sympathetic style in order to successfully put an end to ‘inadequate recording practices’ (Smith, 1989) and remove the victims instilled feeling that it’s easier to ‘put up and shut up’. As an agency dealing with such incidents as sensitive as these, it is paramount that their response is one which is equally sensitive in reciprocation, and, whereas before victims have been left feeling helpless, their response should be one that leaves the victim feeling comforted, informed and in the knowledge that there are services designed specifically to aid them with such incidents as opposed to feeling isolated and subjected to ‘secondary victimisation’ (Stanko, 1985) where their ‘character and morality is questioned in such a way as to imply some responsibility for their victimisation’ (Katz and Mazur 1979, Chambers and Miller, 1983).

Chapter 8: Conclusion

Drawing back to the beginning of this independent study, the overriding aim was to examine the legal response to incidents of domestic abuse by looking at the police response, the legislation available and finally the Governments standing on the issue itself.

This was done by using an approach known as ‘triangulation’ originally developed by Campbell and Fiske (1959) whereby a mixture of findings from both qualitative and quantitative measures, founded by high standing scholars in the field, were cross-examined to overall increase the validity of the research and provide a more well-rounded stronger argument.

From the research it is clear that domestic abuse, for many years, has somewhat been a ‘taboo’ subject and it can be appreciated from the wealth of literature surrounding the area that many merely ‘covertly tolerated’ the issue due to a variety of reasons; namely down to the relationship between the culture, law and society working against each other and having their own preconceptions.

However, it’s not without notice that the days of Pizzey’s (1974) ‘wife battering’ are long gone and much in the way of change has happened. One aspect that has come to be particularly clear from the research is that in modern society today there are in fact Government initiatives in place alongside reams of legislation that can be utilised and used in conjunction with one another to aid the police in their own response and, overall, provide an effective legal response as a whole. However, this doesn’t detract from the feeling that still, despite the recognition and improvements made; no one really knows how to deal with it, despite not being as ‘taboo’ as it were previously.

What is needed is a multi-dimensional approach, that is, for each of the agencies, both voluntary and involuntary to work alongside each other and utilise the resources between them lawfully in order to pin-point particular areas for concern, much like that of triangulation used in the methodology of this independent study. For Webb et al. (1966) stated that ‘the most fertile search for validity comes from a combined set of measures’, and, if the same principles are applied to the way in which the agencies work, by combining themselves and working as one, they provide themselves with a more successful chance of reducing domestic violence.


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