Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Clare'sLaw? No thanks, just 'the law' for me will do

We are told that Clare's Law, a much talked about domestic violence disclosure scheme, is to be piloted in four areas around the country.

If you are a woman living in one of those and are worried about a new partner's potential violent tendencies you can now stalk him preventively online with the help of the local police force.

Chances are your average violent bloke has never been charged and convicted of any domestic violence offence, so your new squeeze won't feature on the list and you can go ahead and date him, confident that the thing that happens when he has had a few drinks/is bored/ you have PROVOKED him is not domestic violence, just him slapping you around a bit. Congratulations, you got yourself a keeper!

If he is on the list, boy he must have serious form, but when you try to leave him and he starts beating you up chances are the police still won't turn up. If they do and they arrest him, chances are the courts still won't convict him or give him a serious custodial sentence. And sure as hell there won't be any refuges to escape to if he comes after you because they have to shut down for lack of funding.

But you will feel so empowered, because basically it will all have been your fault for having gotten yourself involved with a bit of rough.

As Sandra Horley wrote in the Guardian this week, we do not need new, expensive but ultimately tokenistic schemes - we need to keep spending the serious money and effort needed to ensure the police bother to apply the law as it stands.
The fact that the announcement came on the week when legal aid for domestic violence victims was under threat was the cherry on the manure cake for me.

Just to make my feelings absolutely clear (I know I can be so hard to read sometimes!) I don't just disagree with Clare's Law as a policy. I find it profoundly irritating and patronising as a concept.

Generally speaking one should be highly suspicious of laws with female names attached. For one thing, there is a whiff of impotent (but terrifying) pitchfork-waving about any measure taken in the name of an individual victim. Sarah's Law , as you might recall, pretty soon led to paediatricians being chased from their homes, having been endearingly confused with paedophiles. Not what I would call a result.

Secondly, it almost inevitably constitutes a cheap crocodile-tear-type answer to the genuine grief and injustice suffered by a family (briefly capturing the sympathy of the nation) for a crime that was supremely avoidable. We all feel vindicated; something is being done in the name of brave Clare, poor Sarah - but nothing that will save another Clare or Sarah.

Clare Wood, whose name graces the current initiative, begged the police to save her from her violent boyfriend on a number of occasions, including after a sexual assault, before finally being murdered by him. I know her heart-broken father fought hard for this initiative- something being better than nothing, in his words. But does he not deserve more than this?

Finally it smacks of yet another example of the outsourcing of effort, cost and responsibility from the provider/company/state to the user/customer/citizen.

Being routinely asked to check out my own groceries is insulting enough (I don't work here, Sainsbury/Boots/Tesco!!!!) but I draw the line at being told that, basically, it's up to me to keep myself safe by giving potential or actual criminals a wide berth after conducting my own mini-policing investigations.

We are already been paternalistically advised not to dress like sluts, not to go out late, not to live our lives without some form of male chaperoning and protection. Enough with making violence against us being our problem to solve. (I do not recall for instance an equivalent Sebastian's law scheme for the self-prevention of corporate fraud or theft. Football fans are not encouraged to ring John's Register and stay away from games when hooligans might be present. Men are not told that the crimes they tend to be the victims of are their problem).

So this is Peebi's Message to the Home Office: you do your job and keep the violent crims behind bars. Train the police to recognise women as people, not noisy thinghies or asking-for-it would-be-whores (oh, and maybe have another look at the rape stats while you are at it) and equip them to turn up and fight crime.

I, for my part, will pay my taxes and date whoever I like. Or not, in my case, because I'm already married - to someone, incidentally, who only sporadically does the hoovering, despite the promises of those heady, crazy early days. I don't suppose there is a register I could have him slapped on for that?

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