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Campaign to reveal names of violent abusers moves forward

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Jackie Gregory
WVoN co-editor 

A British father’s fight for a law to allow men and women to find out if their partners have a violent past is gaining momentum.

Michael Brown launched the campaign last year after his daughter Clare Wood, pictured, was raped and murdered by George Appleton in Salford, northern England.

Last week, Salford MP Hazel Blears handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street (home of the British prime minister) calling for Clare’s Law to be implemented to help protect victims of domestic abuse.

Wood had met Appleton via Facebook and was subjected to months of assault before he strangled her and set her on fire.

Officers knew of Appleton’s three previous convictions for harassment but current legislation prevented them from warning Wood, although she contacted the police for help.

Blears said: “This campaign is so important to thousands of women and men who suffer at the hands of abusive and violent partners.

“We wanted to make sure it is recognised at the top of Government, by the Prime Minister as well as the Home Secretary.

“The petition has shown that many people want to see this change in the law, but importantly, it has also highlighted more cases, similar to Clare’s, of people who desperately need this change now.”

The proposal is now being put to Parliament as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2010 -12 and will go to the House of Lords for debate later this week.

Clare’s Law also received backing this past week from West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettinson.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “You will never find a chief constable who does not think offending behaviour should be made more public.

“What we have lived through is decades of protections being given to offender and the context that goes around that relates to data protection and human rights legislation    …. if this were legislated for, the disclosure of people’s offending behaviour seems to me to be likely to put a brake on their future behaviour.”

However the proposal has proved to be contentious, especially the possibility of police pro-actively giving out information even when they have not been specifically asked for it.

Journalist Libby Brooks writing in The Guardian in June 2011 when the proposal was first launched, said:

If a woman is warned, but the relationship is in its early stages and she convinces herself that things will be different this time, how much more vicious will the national sport of victim-blaming be when she finally reports an assault?

“Worse, what happens when she confronts her new boyfriend with the information she has received?

“This shift of responsibility from police and perpetrator to potential victim may be couched in the language of empowerment.

“But in essence it is a distraction, not only from failure to enforce existing legal protections, but also from the coalition’s devastating cuts  – to refuges, housing benefit, legal aid, jobseekers’ allowances and the rest – that will trap women in violent relationships.”

It’s view backed by family law barrister Lucy Reed who wrote in The Guardian the following day that improving police responses to domestic violence calls and helping victims to find a way out of the relationships would be a better way to stop abuse.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Violence against women and girls is completely unacceptable and the government is determined to eradicate it.

“We have consulted on how we might introduce Clare’s Law, and are currently considering the responses.”

  1. Thanks you for this interesting article. You have kept objective about the issue, which is great in terms of journalistic integrity, but I do want to know what other women think about the issue? Like Libby Brooks, I am particularly concerned on how Clare’s Law may manifest in victim blaming…

    • vicki wharton says:

      As a person that has lived with sexist violence in the home through two relationships, I think we need to start joining up the dots here. First we need to stop calling it domestic violence, it is sexist violence – it is the attitude that causes the violence not the location. Secondly, I think we need to show the link between the attitude and the culture that grows the attitude such as lads mags and on line porn. Then we need to name and shame the perpetrators of the crime of violent sexist attacks as a warning that the State will not collude with keeping the perpetrators hidden. Women have the right to the same protection against sexists that children have from paedophiles, both are dangerous and both are violent when confronted, prevention is better than mopping up the bodies afterwards and hey – bigots in the media are going to blame the victim anyway – its part of the male totalitarian regime we are living under, so at least give potential victims a fighting chance of learning by others hard won experience.

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