As we close out 2018, I wanted to reflect three years on from our successful campaign to introduce the crime of coercive control and whilst we await the somewhat delayed new Domestic Abuse Bill, which will apparently be announced in January. If it includes real systemic change, then it can’t come soon enough.
The coercive control law is a giant stride in the right direction. We were the first country in the world to criminalise coercive control and I for one am proud of that. Some told me that the coercive control law wasn’t needed. They are the same men who said marital rape did not need to be criminalised, that the stalking law was not needed and now that the register for serial abusers is not required and will not “add value”. How wrong they were and are.
Women and girls lives matter, and I for one, will continue to advocate for women and keep them alive against the horrifying backdrop that at least two women are murdered every week by an (ex)partner. This does not include the women who take their lives or attempt to every week to escape abuse, like Meera Dalal.
It is also important to highlight that our Paladin and Vice campaign team revealed this year that at least 55 women were murdered by an abusive ex in the last three years having called the police for protection https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/9kmy3a/49-women-killed-stalkers-abusers-reported-police-uk
These are mainly stalking cases, where the stalking has not been identified or understood by professionals, cases such as Alice Ruggles, Molly McLaren, Janet Scott and Moira Gilbertson. Despite training, education and awareness raising, women are not believed or taken seriously when they report and sadly things are not getting better. In fact, they are getting worse.
Having reviewed hundreds of murders and advised on Independent Office for Police Conduct investigations, I know that many of the offenders are serial and have been abusing one woman after the other and then, left unchecked, they escalate to murder. This should not be a surprise. If you keep getting away with something and it gets you what you want, you keep on doing it. If you do not fear the consequence or there is no consequence, why stop? This is exactly why the register for serial perpetrators is urgently needed. For too long, offenders have been winning the war against women and professionals have been letting them.
Violence against women is a global pandemic. I agree with UN Secretary General António Guterres statement, “At it’s core, violence against women and girls is the manifestation of a profound lack of respect – a failure by men to recognise the inherent equality and dignity of women. It’s an issue of fundamental human rights.”
For too long the onus, blame and shame has been placed on the female victim, as if she is somehow complicit and consenting to the abuse. Questions such as: “why doesn’t she leave?” “why did she go back?” “why did she go outside the house when there is a restraining order?” “why didn’t she do more to protect her children?” are still commonplace decades on, despite our continued efforts to educate and raise awareness. And just recently, we saw a new defence offered in the Natalie Connolly case of ‘well she consented to rough sex and therefore she kind of consented to being brutalised and murdered.’
Seriously? What is going on when criminal justice professionals, (I’m hazarding a guess, mainly men), believe that a woman consented to 41 separate injuries and a bottle of carpet cleaner being inserted in her vagina and that she in some way consented to being brutalised and murdered? It was reported that she died from acute alcohol intoxication and blunt force trauma and that alone highlights that she could not have consented. And even worse still, why did a Judge decide that the three year and eight month sentence was appropriate? I was not sat in court and did not hear all the evidence, however, just from the post mortem injuries alone, it’s apparent to me that Broadhurst was punishing Natalie for some “perceived wrong”. The areas of Natalie’s body that came under attack point to the fact it was most likely a sexual, revengeful crime and twinned with the fact he left her bloodied and bleeding alone at the bottom of the stairs whilst he went to bed and slept, point more to this than any other narrative.
I cannot move on from this haunting case and the message it sends out to her daughter, the next generation and society? Between you and I, it is causing me sleepless nights. I’ve been ruminating: Where are the men consenting to rough sex and being killed? And I couldn’t think of any across my career. I agree wholeheartedly with Harriet Harman, MP. I normally do. We worked together to bring in the Domestic Homicide Reviews in 2004 when she was the Solicitor General. We worked with the DV Bill team on the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill in 2004. This was my first law change to help learn the lessons and better protect victims and I have been reviewing murders ever since, sadly where the same lessons repeat. We cannot allow this defence to creep in in place of the past “nagging and shagging” defence.
Past behaviour being the best predictor of future behaviour tells me that this was not Broadhurst’s first rodeo. Other women will no doubt give testimony to that. His behaviour shows me that he is clearly a danger to women. He should be on a register and what is more this case highlights blatant misogyny at it’s worst.
We have to speak out and continue to challenge the professionals and get justice and change for our sisters and their daughters. I want to thank everyone who spoke out on Natalie’s behalf and e-mailed the Attorney General about this unduly lenient sentence.
Going into 2019 we must challenge the Government, system and the professionals in it to be better. We must demand robust and rigorous change that ensures that offenders are held to account and lip service is not paid. The abusers are the ones who should be put under the microscope and asked questions of. It is their narrative that should be questioned and not just accepted by virtue of the fact that they are a man. They must be held to account. There must be a real life consequence for their abusive behaviour. Only then will the lens shift to their offending behaviour and we will stop focusing on what the victim said or did. No woman consents freely to being raped, brutalised or murdered. Period.
We are calling on the Government to do the right thing and ensure serial abusers are placed on a national register and there is a real life consequence for their offending. A register already exists, which is jolly handy. Extend the Violent and Sexual Offenders Register to include serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators.
There are around 25,000 serial domestic violence offenders who have used or threatened violence towards two or more unconnected victims (ACPO, 2009). The most dangerous of these would be obliged to register.
The estimated cost of creating and registering 20% of offenders would be around £1.4m over the first three years, but this would be easily offset by reducing the number of future victims and saving lives.
Preventing one murder would save £1.54-2 million. These proposals would ‘break-even’ between the cost of establishing a system to track serial stalkers and savings if we prevent victimisation of more than 119 victims in the first year, 238 in the second year and 357 in the third year. It is achievable, practical, it adds value, it sends out a powerful message and it will create real change where offenders are held to account by the professionals who are paid to protect the public.
The register will save lives and money. Prime Minister Theresa May, just under 165, 000 have signed our petition for serial stalkers and abusers to be put on a national register. Be better. Do the right thing.
Laura Richards, BSc, MSc, MBPsS
December 29 2019