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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for securing this debate and introducing it so well. Domestic violence and abuse is a serious problem. There were some 2 million incidents last year alone; 1.3 million against women and just under 700,000 against men. That does not give a full picture because I am told that 83% of partner abuse is not even reported to the police, so if that were to be taken into account then the figure would be much larger.
I suspect that the figure will be larger still over the years, partly as a result of Brexit. We know that when people feel frustrated and angry, they build up aggression. That aggression takes many forms, one of which is attacking the vulnerable. I suspect this will become an even more serious problem than it has been thus far. It requires a lot of attention.
I want to make four or five points rather quickly. Each one contains a question. My first point is about definition. When we talk about domestic violence, we seem to think largely of violence between partners. We tend to ignore—we certainly have so far—violence done to children under 16 and to people over 60. These two groups should not be ignored; they are important. In the case of children, there are all sorts of forms of abuse, such as denying them love and affection, or denying them any kind of support. In the case of elderly parents, there is a tendency to ignore or maltreat them, or not let them talk to neighbours in case the neighbours find out what is going on. We should think of domestic violence in not just the narrow context of relationships between partners but also in the context of children and elderly people.
Secondly, when we talk about domestic violence, we concentrate on the victim. Although that is important, I suggest that we ought to also concentrate on the perpetrators. After all, here is a man who must have loved his wife once, or fallen in love, or built up some affection. Why has he turned so violent? What has gone wrong? How have his circumstances changed? Is he unemployed, or experiencing difficult relationships with people at work? What has gone wrong? It is important to concentrate on the individual and help him regain his balance and sanity, so that the old relationship can be restored. It is also important that it is a question of not just understanding him but attaching some sanctions. It is quite serious that a perpetrator does not lose his house or job, but stays where he is, while it is the victim who we think of resettling somewhere else.
My third point relates to the role of doctors. Doctors are important, because many women, and some men, who are victims of abuse will tend to turn to their doctor as the first port of call, indicating what the problem is and asking for help. Doctors are not trained for this kind of thing; they are not social workers. So what will the doctor do? He might say, “Well, go and make your marriage work, forget all about it”, or simply, “Look, these things happen, don’t worry too much about it”. He might even offer to talk to the husband, in which case things become even worse. Therefore, there has to be some concentration on doctors as the first point of entry for those in this situation.
I am sorry for rushing through my points, but I would like the Minister to take account of them. My fourth point relates to providing a safe and guaranteed refuge. It is very disturbing that quite a lot of women who ran away from home in a state of emergency were turned away by the local council. It is very important that there should be a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide emergency refuge services. It is also crucial that these refuges have trained staff. When a woman runs away, the husband may know where she is or wants to find out, so he goes to the refuge and asks all kinds of questions. Unless staff are properly trained, they are either rude to the husband or they try to provide the kind of information which ought not to be provided. I say this from experience—not personal experience—as I have heard about people asking refuges where their wives are and then acting on that information.
Fifthly, as the 15th recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee report states, it is important that there should be,
“‘by and for’ BAME domestic abuse services”.
BAME victims of abuse have special requirements and circumstances. In a multicultural society, you cannot simply treat everyone using the same norms. People from BAME backgrounds have different problems, different cultural sensitivities and count different circumstances as duress. What constitutes violence? There is a general definition, but beyond a certain point, it varies from community to community. What constitutes harassment, or an apology? It is therefore quite important that we ought to provide services certainly “for” ethnic minorities. I would not go with the report and say “by” them, because there is no reason why they cannot be provided by British people, but the important thing is that there should be a special category of services for them.
The last point I want to make is that, in the data that has been circulated to us, we do not get detailed analysis of when domestic violence occurs, why, in what circumstances and by whom. Some research indicates that, for example, it tends to occur at weekends, during a woman’s pregnancy—not for obvious reasons—or among people between the ages of 26 and 30. If we can begin to build up a picture through statistical analysis such as this, we will be able to anticipate where the problem will occur and what can be done about it. I strongly suggest that we should have a full statistical analysis of whether the husband is in employment, and of what kind, whether he has been out of employment, whether he has been thrown out of it and what his circumstances are. Unless we can get a full account of all this, we will not be able to tackle domestic violence pre-emptively.