To say that the beginnings of the new government in the UK has been somewhat of a mess would be an understatement. There’s plenty of controversy floating around regarding the election result, the DUP deal to prop up the government, and the U-turns Theresa May has performed on the wildly unpopular Conservative manifesto. But is there no silver lining at all at the moment? Are there no policies or bills out there that we can welcome with open arms?
In fact, as referenced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill which has been put forward can certainly be seen as something to celebrate. Among all the controversies, this is a bill that will see support from followers of all parties – and it can help highlight problems that are seen all over the world, not just in the UK.
The good the bill can do
The stated aim of the bill is to change the state’s approach to domestic violence, making sure that victims can be confident in coming forward and reporting their experiences, with more assurance that the state and justice system will support them and pursue the abusive party to the full extent of the law. It hopes to see the establishment of a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner who will oversee defence of victims, the raising of public awareness, and the monitoring of the response that state authorities and the justice system have towards cases. There is also an emphasis on ensuring that sentencing also reflects the long-term psychological damage inflicted upon both the victim and any involved children.
Essentially, this should see that more taxpayer funds are being put towards helping people who clearly need the support of the state and the police.
A shift in focus?
The text of the bill is gender-neutral, which has surprised many. Many institutions in this field only talk about this issue as something that affects women in a heterosexual relationship. They ignore (or deny) the fact that an estimated 40% of domestic violence victims are male. They also tend to ignore the fact that a female victim of domestic violence may not necessarily have suffered that violence at the hands of a male; domestic violence is seen in same-sex couples, too In fact, the founder of the first domestic violence shelter in the modern world, Erin Pizzey, has been documenting the fact that domestic violence is largely reciprocal, with women being equally capable of being their perpetrators since the seventies – and has received plenty of death threats from feminists for her trouble.
The fact that the bill is gender-neutral – and, in the one time in which it does differentiate, only does so in order to highlight that men are affected too – could a big step forward for the near-half of victims who have very few resources when it comes to getting help. In the United States, there is only one registered shelter for male victims of domestic violence. Perhaps a stronger focus on gender-neutral policy in the UK will help highlight the extent of the problem in the US.
Whoever the perpetrator of domestic violence is in any given case, it’s beyond doubt that children must be protected. We often forget just how much children can be affected in the long-term when they’re in such an environment, even when they’re not the direct victims of the violence. Thankfully, there are good resources out there that aim to help. The organization Sheepfold, for example, specializes in sheltering and rehabilitating mothers who have escaped such a household with their children. Home Comfort USA and owner Ken Starr created an amazing Stuff a Comfort Van event for charity which saw a tremendous amount of toys and goods being donated for Sheepfold – something that was especially appreciated during the Christmas season.
It’s worth taking a look at in-depth studies of the effects that these situations have on children. The more all of us know about just how far the pain and damage spreads throughout the lives of both direct victims and their loved ones, the better placed we’ll all be to help them all.
What you can do
Raising awareness by sharing online content about ignored areas of domestic violence is one of the best things that any one person can do. But charitable donations are also essential for many shelters that help protect victims. A lot of resources are required to house mothers and children, and areas of assistance for men are ignored or disastrously underfunded. It may seem that helping all victims is an impossible task, but donating directly to shelters and crisis centers – and helping with charitable events – will make more difference than you can imagine.