Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Comments on the Serious Crime Act of 2015


How a headline from the Daily Mail misrepresented the Serious Crime Act (SCA) of 2015 by making it appear to only recognize men as perpetratorsand women as victimsof domestic abuse, and what the legislation truly says.
____________________________________

On March 3, 2015, royal assent was given to the Serious Crime Act of 2015, the equivalent to the President of the United States signing a bill into law. As is the case with many U.S. laws, rather than being a single, simple bill designed to carry out one function only, this is an “omnibus” piece of legislation intended to overhaul preexisting laws, some of which date back to 1933. I have quoted the summary of the bill in the references below with the portion of interest there in italics so as to emphasize the context. [1]

Around nine months later, as section 76 of the SCA came into force on December 29, 2015, criminalizing specific controlling and coercive behaviors, the Daily Mail did a somewhat fair job of summarizing the section, noting that:

“Prosecutors are determined to tackle the problem of perpetrators who trap their victims in a ‘living hell’ with repeated threats, humiliation and intimidation. Research has shown that 30 percent of women – about five million – and 16 per cent of men, or 2.5 million, experience domestic abuse during their lives.”

Beyond that statistic, there are no mentions in the article of “women” or “men” in relation to perpetrators or victims from the Daily Mail author directly, who employs instead sex-neutral references to “perpetrators” and “victims” and writes other sex-neutral lines such as: “Under laws coming into force today, anyone who inflicts psychological cruelty on their other halves can be prosecuted – even if there is no direct physical harm.” (Emphasis in italics mine.) The bill itself goes even further and adopts nomenclature referring to perpetrators as “A” and victims as “B.”

The piece additionally included embedded videos which involve Polly Neate, the head of an organization for abuse against women, who remarks (essentially) that the law is good, and overdue, followed by Home Office Minister Norman Baker likewise speaking positively and non-specifically with regard to sex about the law.

Two cases were linked on the page in such a way that they automatically played as I read the article, but it is not clear if they pertain specifically to this law or if they were merely “related” by the use of keywords and phrases such as “domestic abuse.” The first was of an abused man who tells the story of a girlfriend who attempted to tear off and bite his penis after he refused her advances, and the second was of a woman who was beaten by her boyfriend.

Two images accompany the Daily Mail piece. One is of a man holding (presumably) his domestic partner down and yelling in her face; a second depicts a woman from the rear wielding a rolling pin (the prototypical “weapon of choice” for women who abuse their husbands in cartoons and old films) with a man cowering in front of her.

The problems of misapprehension here lie chiefly with the misrepresentative Daily Mail headline, which currently reads: “Five years in jail for men who ‘emotionally bully’ wives: New law will target bullies who control partners with ‘coercive and controlling behaviour.’” (Emphasis mine.) And of course a quote within the article that lends itself to the confusion from Polly Neate (remember, she is the CEO of a group called “Women’s Aid”) which states:

“Perpetrators will usually start abusing their victim by limiting her personal freedoms, monitoring her every move, and stripping away her control of her life; physical violence often comes later.

“Women’s Aid has campaigned to have this recognised in law, and we are thrilled that this has now happened.”

(Emphasis mine.)

The comments on the story are all over the map, including personal examples of abuse, but two caught my eye:

“This is a very one sided article about a law which relates equally to male victims as it does to female. To use the word ‘her’ repeatedly in describing the victim propagates the view that only women suffer abuse.”
“Gynocentric male politicians, raised on a rich diet of chivalry, are equally blameworthy in allowing feminists to conceive such discriminatory legislation.”

(Again, my emphasis.)

It is worthy of note, once more, that the only uses of the word “her” in the piece from the Daily Mail are in a quote from a woman who runs a women’s abuse group. The author of the article makes no such references himself, nor does the law, though it appears that many commentators did not journey easily past these contextual hurdles.

I remind my readers, the aforementioned issues observed, that in most modern print and web publications, authors of articles commonly do not write their headlines. One reason for this is that headlines draw attention to articles, nowadays regularly by including inflammatory words or claims (a.k.a. click-bait), and there are other reasons as well [2], but for anyone who examined the piece from the Daily Mail in full, and the law, the title is surely misleading.

Does it surprise me that someone who only read the headline from the Daily Mail or skimmed the piece looking for something to focus on might largely misconstrue the law? No. Nor does it surprise me that various websites and reporting outlets around the world would run with the erroneous rhetoric and overlook the facts. I, and numerous others, have seen this too many times. These problems plague contemporary journalism.

If there is a great deal which is genuinely applicable to the content of this law that is worth protesting presently, I have yet to hear much on it from any of the talking heads or amateur pundits, cementing my notion that the last thing that they are interested in is getting at the truth of anything or making progress toward a better world.

One potential avenue of discourse might be suggestions on how such laws can be enforced effectively and fairly (along with how the justice system may preemptively safeguard against possibilities for misuse of the law). We know that in a number of instances laws fail to accomplish their objectives, not because of the language of the laws, but due to carelessness or ignorance on the part of those enforcing the laws. If a victim is being terrorized in their home, how likely are they to provide an accurate account simply because a police officer is temporarily in the room?

What if there is still an emotional bond between perpetrator and victim? What if there is concern about the welfare of children should the perpetrator be jailed? We will not witness questions such as these receive proper consideration and treatment so long as people are concentrated on a lone quote or some hyperbolic headline.

I implore my readers to be careful, thorough, and dispassionate while still amassing and working to comprehend the facts of any given matter. Suspend judgement until at least a decent amount of the relevant particulars have been assembled. We can never realistically have all of the facts with every story, but we can strive for enough to draw an accurate picture. These sorts of misreportings and misperceptions, however, are not how we begin.

Author: Krista Milburn [@Femitheist]
____________________________________
NOTE: Given that the language of the law is sex-neutral, we should expect (and demand) to see equal and fair application of it. This is where the true problems might arise both with police officers and the justice system in general, and that is where the discussion of the legislation ought to be centered, with the facts as its base.

NOTE II: If you liked this piece, feel free to share it, and if you have any thoughts on it or the general subjects discussed within, or even purely semi-related topics, please leave them in the comments below. I always enjoy reading the feedback of others whether they liked and agreed with what I had to say or not.

NOTE III (January 4, 2016 Update):

On December 30, 2015, I emailed Polly Neate, the CEO of Womens Aid, regarding the Serious Crime Act of 2015 with my concerns about fair application of the law and equal protection for male victims. For what it is worth, she has since responded, and additionally provided me with permission to add her reply to this article:

“Dear Krista

Thank you for your email.

Like all laws, the Serious Crime Act does of course apply equally to all citizens irrespective of gender. Although a significant majority of victims of domestic abuse are women, men can of course experience abuse from a partner too and will have recourse to the new legislation.

At Women’s Aid we work in partnership with Respect, a charity which provides support specifically for male victims of domestic abuse.

I hope this will reassure you.

With best wishes

Polly Neate”

____________________________________

References (Last Accessed on December 29, 2015):

[1] Summary of the Serious Crime Act 2015:

“A Bill to Amend the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the Computer Misuse Act 1990, Part 4 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Terrorism Act 2006; to make provision about involvement in organised crime groups and about serious crime prevention orders; to make provision for the seizure and forfeiture of drug-cutting agents; to create an offence of communicating sexually with a child; to make it an offence to possess an item that contains advice or guidance about committing sexual offences against children; to create an offence in relation to controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or family relationships; to make it an offence to possess a knife or offensive weapon inside a prison; to make provision for the prevention or restriction of the use of communication devices by persons detained in custodial institutions; to make provision approving for the purposes of section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 certain draft decisions under Article 352 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union relating to serious crime; and for connected purposes.”

Source: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/seriouscrime.html

Text of the Section on Domestic Abuse:

76 Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship
(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a) A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person (B) that is controlling or coercive,
(b) at the time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected,
(c) the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and
(d) A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.
(2) A and B are “personally connected” if—
(a) A is in an intimate personal relationship with B, or
(b) A and B live together and—
(i) they are members of the same family, or
(ii) they have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.
(3) But A does not commit an offence under this section if at the time of the behaviour in question—
(a) A has responsibility for B, for the purposes of Part 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (see section 17 of that Act), and
(b) B is under 16.
(4) A’s behaviour has a “serious effect” on B if—
(a) it causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against B, or
(b) it causes B serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on B’s usual day-to-day activities.
(5) For the purposes of subsection (1)(d) A “ought to know” that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.
(6) For the purposes of subsection (2)(b)(i) A and B are members of the same family if—
(a) they are, or have been, married to each other;
(b) they are, or have been, civil partners of each other;
(c) they are relatives;
(d) they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);
(e) they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);
(f) they are both parents of the same child;
(g) they have, or have had, parental responsibility for the same child.
(7) In subsection (6)
“civil partnership agreement” has the meaning given by section 73 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004;
“child” means a person under the age of 18 years;
“parental responsibility” has the same meaning as in the Children Act 1989;
“relative” has the meaning given by section 63(1) of the Family Law Act 1996.
(8) In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for A to show that—
(a) in engaging in the behaviour in question, A believed that he or she was acting in B’s best interests, and
(b) the behaviour was in all the circumstances reasonable.
(9) A is to be taken to have shown the facts mentioned in subsection (8) if—
(a) sufficient evidence of the facts is adduced to raise an issue with respect to them, and
(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.
(10) The defence in subsection (8) is not available to A in relation to behaviour that causes B to fear that violence will be used against B.
(11) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;
(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or a fine, or both.

Section Source: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/9/section/76/enacted

The Complete Act as a PDF Source (Lengthy but Worth a Comprehensive Review): http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/9/pdfs/ukpga_20150009_en.pdf

____________________________________
Supplementary Resources (Last Accessed on December 29, 2015):

[2] Who Writes Newspaper Headlines:

Why Writers Don’t Write Headlines
http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2009/03/19/184347/why_writers_dont_write_headlines/

Who Writes Column Titles in Newspapers?
https://deeppoliticsforum.com/forums/showthread.php?221

____________________________________
A Semi-Related Article by Me (for Consideration):

The Empathy Gap in Domestic Violence