‘Victims should not face a time limit to report abuse’ Photo: iStock
Radhakrishna N S
By Nadeem Badshah
THE six-month time limit on reporting forms of domestic abuse to police should be scrapped in order to get justice for more victims, campaigners and academics have said.
They highlighted research showing that people of south Asian origin take longer to report crimes compared to other groups due to pressure from family members and fear of reprisals.
The cut-off point is for reporting summary offences to police, after which they will not take action to prosecute. The offences include common assault, threats, having a fist raised on someone or being spat at, which can only be tried in a magistrate’s court.
Experts said reporting these crimes can be a first step for many victims to open up later about physical and mental abuse. And it can take years for them to flee a relationship or face giving evidence in court.
An online petition calling for the axing of time limits to bring charges for acts of domestic violence reached more than 63,000 signatures last month (April 22).
Sundari Anitha, a professor of gender, violence and work at the University of Lincoln, told Eastern Eye: “It [deadline] should definitely be extended, as even the act of naming it as domestic violence is not straightforward.
“For some people, it may be only when you have left the relationship and look back.
“With coercive control, it is hard to see that’s what happened to you. With social isolation and coercion, your sense of what is normal can become warped by the perpetrator’s abuse.
“When they leave and make friends, women sometimes look back and realise what was done to them was not normal – that friendships were not allowed.”
Professor Anitha added: “With sexual violence and rape in a marriage, it can be hard for women to see that they didn’t have a choice.
“Some victims have told me, ‘It was never about whether I wanted to have sex or not. Looking back on it now, I can see that sex was never consensual’.
“In research I have conducted on forced marriage, at the point of leaving there is so much crisis, and the focus is on trying to get away. Once they escape, victims may think at a later point, ‘Do I need to report it so it doesn’t happen to my sibling.’”
Last year, the Ministry of Justice considered whether the six-month rule should be extended. It concluded that extending the limit or scrapping it would be limited in its benefit “as common assault, the least serious of a range of offences against the person, covering acts such as a push or shove that does not lead to injury, is the only offence likely to be relevant in this context that is affected by the limit.”
However, Dr Ravi K Thiara, associate professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, said research has shown that women from south Asian and other minority communities are likely to come under immense pressures to keep quiet and stay put.
She told Eastern Eye: “Any contact with the police is discouraged by families and communities because of the potential scrutiny that follows, including questions about the right to be in this country.
“If victims can’t access justice when they feel ready and able, then this silences them forever and lets perpetrators off.
“It’s absolutely crucial that they are able to report and have their cases investigated with focus and rigour without the pressure of a random six-month window.”
Aneeta Prem, founder of the Freedom charity that supports forced marriage victims, said domestic abuse was a breach of trust, and for many victims it was almost impossible for them to report the initial assaults.
She added: “It takes enormous courage and a fear of what will happen to them and their children if they report domestic abuse. Giving victims more time to come forward will encourage prosecutions and hopefully in the future, reduce the level of domestic abuse.”
Amjad Malik, a solicitor in Greater Manchester who has represented Asian victims of domestic violence, said he would welcome the six-month time limit being extended.
He said: “There have been many cases where a victim has been afraid to speak out against her aggressor for a variety of reasons.
“Victims are worried about their family honour and reputation within the community. They are of the view that reporting any case would hold negative repercussions, therefore, are initially reluctant to report cases.
“Victims who have entered the country from abroad are seldom given any information, support and awareness about their rights in case of violence.
“Additional information and support should be given to all those individuals who have entered as a spouse in the UK.”
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust charity, which runs the National Stalking Helpline, said it found that police would not investigate unless there been an incident within the past six months.
Violet Alvarez, a senior policy and campaigns officer at the charity, said, “We are most likely to come up against this as an issue in cases where the stalking has been occurring over many years, often decades, taking place only once or twice a year. In these cases, it is a challenge to ensure police treat the behaviour as an offence of stalking, due to a reluctance of viewing it as a course of conduct.
“The Suzy Lamplugh Trust defines stalking as a pattern of repeated, unwanted behaviour which is fixated and obsessive in nature, and causes you to feel distressed or scared.
“We urge police forces, therefore, to recognise the behaviour as a pattern, rather than isolated incidents, and charge the stalker based on the course of conduct.”
Most assault crimes are not summary offences and there is no time limit for prosecuting them. There is also no deadline for prosecuting controlling or coercive behaviour, and the domestic abuse bill will include a post-separation abuse.
A government spokesman said: “All allegations should be investigated and pursued rigorously through the courts where possible, and there is no time limit on reporting crimes such as bodily harm or those that add up to coercive behaviour.
“We have invested millions into vital services to support victims throughout the pandemic, and continue to urge anyone at risk of harm to come forward and get the help they need.”
Domestic violence law ‘will save lives’
Britain passed “life-saving” domestic abuse legislation last Thursday (29) that campaigners say will protect millions of women, hold more abusers to account, and clamp down harder on revenge porn.
About 2.4 million people, mostly women, experience domestic abuse every year, according to the government.
The legislation comes amid wider efforts to tackle the issue after lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19 left many women trapped at home with violent partners.
“This is a fantastic and ground-breaking day,” Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, said. “The new law will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of domestic abuse victims, and definitely save lives.”
The Domestic Abuse Act establishes a new offence of ‘non-fatal strangulation’, closing a loophole that campaigners say has let some abusers escape justice for choking attacks, which can cause brain damage, strokes and other serious injury. Men who throttle their partners risk five years in jail.
The act also makes it a crime to threaten to share intimate images – or revenge porn – with a prison sentence of up to two years.
Domestic abuse charities said the legislation’s explicit recognition of economic abuse as a form of domestic abuse for the first time was “transformational”. Economic abuse, in which someone may restrict a partner’s access to money and other resources, can prevent them leaving a dangerous relationship.
The new law also stops defendants in murder trials from relying on a defence of “rough sex gone wrong”.
Campaigners said Britain was the first country to outlaw the “rough sex” defence.
Other new provisions include imposing a legal duty on local authorities to provide shelter for abuse victims, a ban on abusers cross-examining victims in family courts and the creation of domestic abuse protection orders.
Home secretary Priti Patel hailed the new law, saying it would ensure “perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes are brought to justice”.
The act – which applies to England and Wales – also establishes the post of domestic abuse commissioner to hold local and national government to account in their handling of an issue that affects an estimated 1.6 million women a year.
Domestic abuse charity Refuge said the legislation, while progressive in many respects, was “far from perfect” and failed to protect many migrants, who cannot access benefits and may be afraid to report abuse to police.
“This is a missed opportunity to ensure all woman experiencing abuse are protected,” said Refuge chief executive Ruth Davison.
It said it was also worried about a £50 million shortfall to finance shelters.
(Thomson Reuters Foundation)