Why New “Clare’s Law” On Domestic Violence In The UK Doesn’t Have Advocates Thrilled

You might think that advocates for victims of domestic violence might be thrilled about a proposal that would, in theory, positively affect their life’s work. So why is a new pilot program called “Clare’s Law,” spearheaded by the father of a woman murdered by her abusive partner and set to go into effect this summer, getting a cool reception? 

“Clare’s Law” is named for Clare Wood, 36, who was abused, sexually assaulted, threatened and eventually strangled and set on fire by George Appleton, whose crimes were known by police. Her father Michael Brown has pushed “Clare’s Law,” which would give people the “right to ask” police about a person’s previous convictions. While I’m not completely up on the ins and outs of UK law, my understanding from reading about “Clare’s Law” is that citizens can ask the police about a person’s past convictions and police can disclose that information if the person asking could become a potential victim. But  “Clare’s Law” seems to be setting it up so police are encouraged to make information about known violent offenders more available — basically, similar to legislation that gives parents access to information about sex offenders who may come in contact with their children.  

However, advocates for domestic violence victims think “Clare’s Law” — which the UK’s Home Office admits has not been fully planned-out yet — is a band-aid. A better way to prevent violent offenders from murdering victims would be to put more pressure on police to help victims of violence, respond seriously to allegations, and punish abusers so strongly that they can’t abuse again. (Clare Wood had an alarm on her home; her murderer was arrested for breaking through her front door.) As Sandra Horley of the UK domestic violence advocacy group Refuge wrote at the Guardian UK, the woman for whom “Clare’s Law” is named reported the man who killed her to police “on numerous occasions, including for sexual assault.” Writes Horley:

She described his threats to kill her. The police arrested and bailed him — at one point arresting him after he had reached his bail, only to immediately de-arrest him. … What good will costly, bureaucratic new schemes do when the police so consistently fail to perform the most basic duties towards victims of domestic violence?

But the bigger point Horley makes is that “Clare’s Law” operates under the fallacy that victims stay in abusive relationships because they don’t know what they’re experiencing is abuse. The reality acknowledged by professionals who work on behalf of domestic violence victims is that people in abusive relationships are aware something is wrong, but are trapped in cycle of violence, oftentimes involving money, children, sex, etc. It’s wrong to only assume that a victim would just avoid getting together with her abuser in the first place. As blogger Amanda Marcotte compellingly wrote about how Rihanna is allegedly circling back to Chris Brown, abusers are manipulative, oftentimes very charming and tend to isolate the victim from their friends and family in order to hold onto their power. Their victim may well know he or she is being abused, but gets slowly backed into a corner to the point where it’s difficult for them to just “up and leave.” 

Would something like “Clare’s Law” hurt? Maybe, maybe not. But Sandra Horley of Refuge is correct that few of us go dashing to do a background check in the “first flush of romance” — and forcing police and the justice system to punish abusers would truly work.

Frisky readers in the UK, I would love to read your thoughts on “Clare’s Law” in the comments. 

[Guardian UK]

[BBC (1)]

[BBC (2)]

[BBC (3)]

Contact the author of this post at [email protected] Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.