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    Call it by its Name.

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    Call it by its Name.

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    I was chatting to Sharon Bryan our Head of Partnerships & Development of Domestic Abuse Services the other day about the tragic news of the 26-year-old woman and her 9-year-old son, who were found murdered in Louth, Lincolnshire (31st May 2021).

    The conversation drifted into the terminology used by the press to describe murders that are a result of domestic abuse and violence, I will let her sum up her thoughts below:

    “I was yet again left feeling very frustrated at the lack of clarity into what this murder was!  It was domestic abuse related – a Domestic Homicide.  I knew that even before the media said that it was the woman’s ex-partner.  How did I know that?  Because I read articles like this every day.

    To those of us that work in the field of domestic abuse and violence, we can read between the lines of these articles and know that these are yet more women and children that have lost their lives to violent and abusive partners and ex partners.  But it is not us that need to know!  It is the general public – and the media generally do a poor job of cultivating an understanding of domestic abuse and violence among the public.

    The media calls such an incident a ‘murder’ or a ‘fatal assault’ or ‘stabbing ‘– alongside suitable adjectives such as ‘horror’ or ‘sick’ and the like and without any reference to the context.  If the perpetrator is not found immediately the public may be exhorted to look out for – and avoid – a man who is armed and dangerous.

    ‘Murder’ of course could equally well refer to a terrorist incident, the result of an armed break-in or a contract killing.

    All the while, the main reason for, the main cause of, these particular tragedies is wholly ignored.

    NCDV’s mission is to make domestic abuse and violence socially unacceptable.  But, how can we begin to do that when it could be argued that the way in which the media represents domestic abuse constitutes a patriarchal ideology, which skews the issue of domestic abuse and the underlying societal norms that this creates.

    Why are the words ‘domestic abuse’ not used in the media when reporting on women and children that are murdered by ex-partners?

    Surely, to truly raise awareness of male violence against women, it needs to be named.  To most of the population, domestic abuse is still something that happens to other people, never to them or to their families or friends, so they don’t need to think about it!  If the media were to include these two words in their articles about women that have been murdered by their partners and/or their ex-partners, the general public would be reading these words on average twice a week as we know that on average 2 women a week are killed in the UK by their partners or former partners, although this figure has been higher during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

    Of course, this is not just a problem in the UK.  Domestic abuse is reported in very different ways in many other countries.  ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) have very good editorial guidance around the ‘do’s and don’ts’ when reporting on domestic abuse – https://edpols.abc.net.au/guidance/domestic-violence/ – for example:

    • Name it! Use clear language that names the abuse for what it is.
    • Use active language that doesn’t reduce the severity of the offence – for instance, ‘man assaults wife’ instead of ‘woman assaulted’.
    • Include support details at the end of every story where practicable.

    The media can play a vital role in the prevention of men’s violence against women, but not without paying particular attention to the way in which it represents the issue.  Domestic abuse is not a random, isolated act of violence or abuse.  It is a misuse of power and a pattern of abusive and controlling behavior, and the failure to frame an incident of domestic abuse as the systemic issue that it is, can lead to the seriousness of the issue being distorted and watered down.  Journalists and editors need to be more aware of the complexities surrounding domestic abuse and work to provide more context on what is not an isolated act of violence but a systemic failing of our society.

    Domestic murder or domestic homicide are the correct characterisations for these sad events.  I would go so far as to say that if we cannot categorise something, we cannot name it.  If we cannot name it, we cannot deal with it appropriately or, in other words, accord it the social priority, effort and funding that it merits.

    Domestic abuse and actual domestic violence have been with us for countless millennia but finally, perhaps, we have a chance to stop this blight on our civilisation by calling it out by its proper name.”

    I think Sharon has raised an excellent point.

    Mark Groves

    CEO

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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”