The Reality of Domestic Violence in Britain Today – A Lecture Given by Baroness Scotland

“There is no doubt in my mind that we can, if we choose, eliminate domestic violence from our world. The real question is: do we choose to?” —- Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Domestic violence, mainly referring to abuse between intimate partners, has been deemed one of the most serious of social problems, which can also have a secondary impact on children. Baroness Scotland of Asthal is the first black woman served as Queen’s Counsel and was appointed as Deputy High Court Judge, Recorder, Master of Middle Temple, Member of the House of Lords, and Lord’s Minster. She also worked as Attorney General under Gordon Brown and in the Shadow Cabinet until 2011. Afterwards, she transferred her focus from government affairs to charitable work, setting up two charity organisations: the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence and the Eliminate Domestic Violence Global Foundation. The former aims to help companies work collectively to raise awareness of the impact of domestic violence in the workplace and help employees who are being abused by their intimate partners, while the objective of the latter foundation is to develop into a world leading organisation in effectively addressing domestic violence, sharing knowledge, research expertise and promoting good practice.

25% of violent crimes are cases of domestic violence, among which 1/4 women and 1/6 men were involved, affecting 750,000 to 950,000 children as secondary victims. She explained that the percentage of female victims was marginally larger than male, which lies in the fact that men could leave, while women to a greater extent were forced to stay in a violent relationship because of their children. Further, she uncovered that the figure about women who have experienced repeated domestic violence accounted for 89% of total victims and one of the major causes for female mortality. Additionally, Baroness Scotland noted that domestic violence is a global issue, Last year, according to the World Health Organisation, one in three women suffered from some type of domestic violence of some sort, whether physical, emotional, sexual or financial. Consequently, she stated that domestic violence is a major contributor to mental health problems as women are twice as likely to suffer from it. Concurrently, the likelihood of affiliated behaviours such as alcoholism and abortion engendered by mental illness increases dramatically. Finally, women suffering from physical and sexual abuse bear a high risk of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and low birth rate.

Baroness Scotland noted, fortunately, in Britain the figures are not as serious. Between 2003 and 2010, under the help of the government, businesses and charities, the occurrence rate of domestic violence was reduced by 64 per cent. In London, 49 women died every year from domestic violence in 2003, but in 2010 it was 5. Accordingly, related economic costs reduced from nearly £50 million to £5.5 million. Baroness Scotland called on people to be inspired to take action by this change. She emphasised, “The most powerful thing I ask you to do is to talk about it. Talk about it to your friends and companies you know. When I asked a number of victims and asked them why they didn’t say anything, they answered me that nobody asked,” adding that a holistic response involving judges, police officers, social workers and charity workers, playing dynamic roles is needed to fight domestic violence.

After the speech, the audience put some questions forward. As far as how to recognise the occurrence of violence was concerned, Baroness Scotland said verbal violence in most cases came before physical abuse with abusers tending to feel sorry and said they will never do it again. Gradually however, it develops into physical violence from a push to a strike, even a punch. Therefore, it is crucial for people to recognise it at the beginning to nip it in the bud. She cleared some misunderstandings about domestic violence: it can occur among newly weds and engaged couples, also people in homosexual relationships. In the end, Baroness Scotland emphasised that it is of great necessity for the multiple agencies involved to reach an agreement on a common definition of the term. She noted “Even for the question about how many victims we have, there is no consensus, owing to the fact that different agencies count it in different ways. The police only count how many people are arrested, whilst the court count how many people are sentenced.” She said assuming that the multi-agencies can make efforts in partnership, people could identify abuse more quickly and effectively. As a result, more victims can be free from their brutal treatment and a great amount of economic costs can also be saved.