We were lucky to be asked to partake in and review a twitter debate on the changes to the definition of domestic violence in the Criminal Law of England and Wales.  Social Work/Social Care & Media “is a knowledge community of practice that brings Social Work and Social Care practitioners, organisations, academics, researchers, students, policy makers, users of service and other allied professionals, stakeholders or enthusiasts and interested parties together, to discuss issues, innovations, opportunities, dilemmas and challenges as well as relevant developments in relation to Social Work and/or Social Care.”

The debate took place via twitter-ers following the hashtag #swscmedia and including the hashtag in each tweet.

As a practitioner in a field that works with perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse (among other things), I had a particular interest in this topic and was asked to review the debate.  It was a fast paced discussion.  It can be quite hard to follow a twitter debate because participants start to reply to each other and there are several conversations going on at once.  As an “observer” I attempted not to get involved in the debate itself but in the end I could not resist as I had opinions to share and wanted to ask questions!

The overarching theme was education, education, education.

Educating young people early on being aware of their rights (and responsibilities) in relationships, what constitutes abuse and what to do if you are concerned about being abused.

Educating professionals – this is the subject I was particularly interested in.  While I work with families and see the impact of domestic abuse on children, I don’t have any direct case clients who are under 18.  Having said that I have worked with a number of women aged 18 who have experienced domestic abuse in relationships.  It was the general consensus that there is not enough training in the area of domestic abuse and that many professionals do not feel empowered to deal with the issues.  They may feel:

  • That they are going to be manipulated by charming perpetrators
  • That they will make the situation worse for the victim if they intervene
  • That they don’t know enough and will incorrectly assess the risk

There was also discussion around domestic abuse perpetrated by children against their parents.  Parents are not likely to report crimes committed against them by their own adult children, let alone children who are minors and therefore dependents.

I use the term “domestic abuse” although the article linked above and the general literature on the matter seems to specifically state “domestic violence”.  For people in the fields that work with victims and perpetrators, this term does not appear to be so problematic – at least in my organisation the term DV encompasses all that is physical, emotional, and mental, with sexual abuse tending to be specifically referred to separately.  One only has to look at the comments underneath the article linked about (from The Guardian) to see that terms like “coercive control” are incongruous with the term “violence” in the eyes of the general population.  The word “violence” evokes thoughts of physical harm, bruises and cuts; not emotional trauma that can be inflicted with or without physical violence; not someone’s children being used as a bargaining chip to keep a violent relationship going.

This is why the changes to the definition are extremely important.  We can’t expect the general population to change their attitudes over night, but at least now victims of abuse can expect that professionals will take their reports of abuse seriously what ever the level of “violence”, and regardless of their age or who the perpetrator is.  That is to say that the changes to the definition should impact upon policies and training for all staff working with women, men and children in the sectors of Social Work and Safeguarding Children and Adults in order to work in line with the law.  While no laws have changed, the existing laws will now encompass the updated definition.

Please see here for SWSCMedia’s write up on the topic prior to the debate, and do get involved in future #SWSCMedia debates!

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