Domestic Violence Knows No Colour, Race, Religion or Politics
Baroness Scotland is a woman of many firsts in theUnited Kingdom’s history. her rool call of duty is so impressive that it leaves many in awe: first black female QC; one-time youngest Queens’s counsel when she was only 35; first black female government minister in Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1999; in 2007, she became the first female attorney general since 1315. However one issue close to her heart is that of domestic violence and ways to eradicate the scourge. In our interview she talks about why and how the world must break the cycle of violence in homes.
Baroness Scotland: I have been a family lawyer since 1977 and throughout my career, I have watched the way families interact and how dysfunction can grow. One of the things that struck me very strongly is the debilitating impact domestic violence has on all of those who participate in it – the men, women and children. During the time I was practicing at the bar, I came to believe that there was a better way with which we could respond to domestic violence and make a difference. When I became a minister, this was one of the issues I intended to focus on and the best opportunity to do so was when I became a minister for Criminal Justice and number two at the Home Office. I was able to do some analysis and looked at the crimes I was made responsible for and 25 percent of all violent crimes in 2003 were domestic violence in nature. In the UK, one in four women was subjected to domestic violence; one in six men and over 750,000 children in our country were affected by domestic violence. I very much wanted to reduce the impact that domestic violence had on women and children and their partners. And most of the violence was actually suffered by women. We had 120 women dying every year at that stage, that was two or three women every week and it had a huge cost and when we looked at the cost of domestic violence, it was costing our country £23 billion a year. So it was an economic cost and a societal cost in terms of the human loss of life. I chaired inter-ministerial groups on domestic violence and all the departments came together and we worked with NGOs and businesses to try and create a new model, which was a multi-disciplinary risk assessment model. We were able to reduce domestic violence in theUKby 64 percent and saved 7.5 billion pounds a year in terms of economic cost. If we could do this in the UK, we could do it right across the world.
Based on the work you do, what are some of the root causes that lead to domestic violence?
I think many men, who end up being perpetrators were victims of domestic violence when they were children or they saw their mothers or people around them being subjected to violence. It’s quite interesting that the majority of the people who were subjected to violence, do not then go on and perpetrate domestic violence themselves because if you speak to men, who have had their mothers beaten, they are so angered by what they saw and would never ever touch a woman and would be very strong in protecting their daughters. However, of those who do commit domestic violence, most of them had seen domestic violence in their homes and so; we know that it is cyclical. In our country, 950,000 children are seeing domestic violence in their homes. They are adversely affected by what they see and sometimes the patterns of behaviour that you see as a child, you repeat when you are an adult. There are men who are subjected to domestic violence from women but we have seen that the repeat victims tend to be 89 percent women while only 11 percent of the repeat victims are men. Men tend to be stronger than women. If they are subjected to domestic violence, they tend to leave. Women quite often stay; the average woman will stay five and half years in a relationship. If we can reduce the number of domestic violence in the home, we start to break that cycle.
What specific measures did you put in place with the work that you did in the UK?
The methodology put forward is holistic, so you have to look at health, education, the criminal justice system, the welfare system, and the charities, which are going to support. You have to look at the victim’s needs and think, why do the victims stay? So in order to respond, we have to come up with those answers for the victim holistically – where will she live? Where will her children go to school? What will she get in order to support her family? What will she do for a job, that is why you need everybody and the multi-agency risk assessment, we created is to try and see the facts which means you are at high risk of being killed or suffering from grievous bodily harm. What makes you of medium risk and what makes you of low risk? What we did is that we put a lot of resources into dealing with the high risk cases to try and stop homicides and protect women by applying a risk analysis. Once we got the agreement of who was high risk, we then got all the agencies to agree what they would do in response to that risk? So that we had a generic care plan, safety plan and once you are identified as a high risk person, that safety plan, instead of taking hours could be very quickly put into place and implemented.
The method we have adopted is getting government, central and local, businesses, charities and individuals all working together and be willing to say the change starts with me, each of us. It’s getting people in your neighbourhood to stand up and say not in my name. I won’t remain silent while the women next door in the house is being beaten with her children. This is the powerful thing we are learning – that we can change this. We don’t have to accept it. Yes it’s difficult but it’s not impossible. InLondon, it was 49 women that died in 2003, when I left government in 2010, five women died. Now, as far as I’m concerned, that is five women too many but that is 44 less than seven years before. Think of the impact that women’s death would have had on her family and children. So I’m totally committed to raising the profile of these issues, sharing our methodology, so that every single country can put in place their own domestic violence action plan and implementation plan, and I hope we will see domestic violence and the deaths of women, grievous bodily harm and actual bodily harm that is caused by domestic violence across the world reduced.
When culture and tradition comes into play, how do you hope to translate what you have achieved in the UK to a place where culture says it is a family problem?
I think that’s an approach, which unfortunately, was adopted across the world. If you look back 30 years ago, before Aaron Pizzey created the first refuge centre for women, it was very much the same – ‘this is a family problem, no one wants to interfere in your business. This is something you have to sort out for yourself.’ We used to have an attitude adopted by police to say this was not police business, this was family business and so, what we have had to undertake here – a cultural shift, an education that says this is not a family problem – is the same as what is needed in all countries. If someone broke your nose, cracked your ribs and broke your leg in the street, they would be arrested and sent to prison for a long time. Why is it different when that person happens to be the person that you are supposed to love? I think when someone assaults you, beats you and mutilates you within your own home that too is not only a breach of human right; it’s a breach of trust and should be robustly dealt with. One of the saddest things I have had to acknowledge as I have gone on in the world is that the nature of domestic violence is very similar. It predominantly affects women and children. It’s where women are disempowered and feel they are not listened to and the way society structures it, quite often disadvantages women and that’s why domestic violence is the greatest cause of morbidity according to the World Health Organisation for women and girls. One of the sad things about domestic violence is that it affects women irrespective of their colour, her ethnicity, her religion, her economic position. It does not matter who you are. Unless and until we address that inequality and make it absolutely clear that this is something which is insupportable, then we will change.
Why are we still ashamed to openly talk about domestic violence?
I think it’s because many women feel it’s their fault. And that’s what the perpetrators says – ‘if you were like this, if you weren’t so, if you behaved yourself properly, I would not have to do this to you. You make me do this. I have to control you’. It’s a matter of control, and I think its people understanding that this is not okay. Lots of people almost believe that they have done something, which deserves this abuse and it is their fault and getting victims to understand, ‘it is not your fault, it’s the perpetrator’s fault and it’s not acceptable for you to be beaten. It’s not acceptable for you to be downgraded, and this is not healthy and that’s why we need to talk about it.
Why must we stop using race and religion as an excuse when it comes to domestic violence?
I think we just have to keep on supporting them and help them to understand this is not about black and white. I tell you, a fist in your face is the same fist, whether it is black, white or yellow. If I could tell you that there is a difference in domestic violence between the black, white and Asian communities that would be great but there isn’t. Domestic violence knows no colour, no race, no religion, no economic status and no politics. It does not matter and that’s what is so freighting about it. It’s something which is part of all cultures and I think that’s something we need to understand because people do think that ‘my culture would be besmirched if we say we do this – we Catholics, we Muslims, we Hindus, we Sikhs, we Anglicans, we French, we Germans, we Nigerians, we Ghanaians. You know it’s not anything to do with our national identity or religious identity. It’s about a power imbalance that needs to be changed.
How do you plan on operating in a country where they have no legislative laws or domestic violence bills that protect women?
I think one of the things I have found to be powerful is to make the economic case for domestic violence because some people do not care about people but they sure care about money. And when people start to understand the economic cost to their nation, of domestic violence which dis-empowers the women, children and the men, they start to realise this is something I have to address. If it’s costing your country £23 billion, you have a choice, do I want to keep on paying that domestic violence tax which disables me from allowing my country to be where I want it to be or do I want to do something about it. If I’m a business, I have to ask if I want to keep paying £2.7 billion domestic violence tasks or do I want to do something about it? The cost to business now in our country has been reduced to £1.9 billion pounds but that has not yet engaged all businesses. If every business in our country adopted the same approach to that which we are advocating in the Corporate Alliance against domestic violence, I reasonably anticipate that we could reduce the domestic violence cost tax to zero. So many countries are struggling with this deficit, if you want to save money, I would invest in reducing domestic violence. Many of the countries when I have gone and started to make the economic case to them, the gender equality argument does not always hit home but the economic argument does. It does take commitment from central government to make this work. So you haven’t just got to desire this change, you have to have the political will that makes the change possible.
One of the key MDG goals is to end violence against women, 2015 is almost here. Is this still feasible and are you hopeful?
I think that’s why I really want the global foundation to get moving. It’s not going to happen without us all putting our shoulders to wheel, not just talking a good game but actually playing a good game. So many people said to me what we had done in the UK was impossible, it could not be done and I said yes it can. If we had not done it here, people could still be saying it cannot be done but now we know, we have done it here, a very complex, diverse, community has just as much dysfunction and if we can do it here in the UK with the complexities we have, then we should be able to transport that learning right across the globe.
What is your message to our global audience of men and women on why domestic violence must come to an end?
I would say we can do this, if we chose but it is a choice and for each one of us, are we willing to choose peace or are we willing to chose to do nothing because if we do nothing, the pain, injury and suffering will continue. In the past, people have said we didn’t know how. It could not be done. But now we know how and know it can be done, we saved lives and we can save money. So the real question for each of is do we have the will to do it and are we willing to chose. So that’s what I would say to them, to choose.
Image: Henning Ras
This article was first published in the New African Woman, June/July 2012 edition.