Broadening the definition of domestic violence

The announcement yesterday by the government that there is to be a consultation on the definition of domestic violence, in England and Wales, is to be applauded, notwithstanding criticism that current policy contradicts this possibility of progress.

The consultation looks specifically at whether to include coercive control within the definition, recognising that this is a very real aspect of domestic abuse and can contribute itself to deaths; and whether to lower the age to 16 / 17, or remove the lower age limit completely. It is important to state here that the lowering of the age is intended to bring within the legislation abuse experienced by teenagers as victims, and comes as a response to reports by groups such as Respect, who have been campaigning hard on the issue of dating violence. Nevertheless, lowering the age would also seem to include the possibility of bringing parent abuse within the definition, a small step towards full recognition.

The arguments about the impact of this have been rehearsed before: the potential effects of criminalising young people, the need to back up law with services, the need to change attitudes as well as the law, as well as the question of whether domestic violence offers the most appropriate framework of understanding. Nevertheless, it remains the case that, for some parents calling the police is a matter of life and death and we should afford them the respect of being able to name the violence for what it is.

The consultation exercise runs till 30th March 2012.

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