Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham

Domestic Violence - Jan 2007

Following my New Year column I received some interest from readers who wanted to have more information about my night out with the police.  It is rather gratifying to know that people actually read my columns and want to know more. 

The night in question was a Friday in June and I was out from 6 p.m. to 2.30 a.m.  It gave me a flavour of what a typical Friday night patrol can expect to deal with.

The calls attended ranged from crowd control in Green St due to the expected arrival of a Bollywood star (he didn’t arrive) to a neighbour dispute involving a game of football and some squashed flowers.  The thing that struck me most forcibly however, was the amount of calls concerning domestic violence incidents that were relayed by the dispatcher all night long.

I was upset most of all by the call made by a frightened 10 year old who dialled 999 because mum was being beaten. It was my last call of the night.  He had been woken by the noise of the attack, went to see what was happening, phoned the police, as he had on previous occasions and then went into the bedroom to help.  Mum failed to back up her son’s story of a beating, failed to seek charges against her husband, but showed enormous pride in her son’s actions to assist her.  As there was no bruising or swelling visible, and Mum consistently denied having been hit, there was nothing the police could do.  It wasn’t the first time that small boy had called the police and we all knew it would not be the last. What an enormous burden that little one carries.    

There was rightly huge public concern about the murder of five women in Ipswich; however women are far more likely to be murdered by a spouse or partner than a stranger.  Domestic Violence kills two women every week and on average a woman is beaten more than 30 times before she leaves the attacker.  In the year 2000 there were 15 million reported incidents, I wonder how many more went unreported. 

My shift with the police was an important reminder to me that violence in the home is still a scourge in our society, despite the campaigns and despite the resources allocated to highlighting the problem, supporting the victim and prosecuting offenders

Despite the regular unwillingness of women to prosecute their attackers and leave abusive relationships, I was pleased to see the immediate and swift response of the police to such calls.  Officers may be jaded by the amount of incidents, and repeat victimisation, but realise any failure to intervene, or lack of speed, may result in the death of the victim. 

Governments can and have legislated to improve the situation of victims of domestic violence but legislation cannot stop an attitude.  In all parts of our communities there are some who think it’s a lesser crime, or not really a crime at all, to hit your partner if she, or sometimes even he, steps out of line.  And this is not just about older people, it is not a passing attitude that we will shed as society becomes more sophisticated; surveys of children across the country, from all social and economic groups, display similar views in extraordinary numbers.  This is an evil that we all need to get to grips with

If you are in an abusive relationship and you want to talk to someone in confidence for support, information or an emergency referral to temporary accommodation, contact: National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (free 24 hour service)

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