Violent Domestic violence offenders should always be prosecuted, by Jean Calder

Perpetrators of domestic violence in West Sussex are to be offered a 10 month programme to change their behaviour at a time when victims’ services are being slashed.

It concerns me that high-risk abusers will be diverted from the criminal justice system at a time when domestic homicide and other forms of violence against women are on the increase. And that failures in the criminal justice system are being blamed on victims’ reluctance to give evidence. In fact, more women would give evidence if offered the opportunity and better support.

It’s terrifying and exhausting for victims of serial attacks to bear the burden of a prosecution, especially at a time when they may be coping with the threat of further abuse and supporting traumatised children, sometimes in insecure accommodation. They shouldn’t have to, because this isn’t a private matter. Domestic violence is closely associated with homicide, child abuse, sexual assault and other criminal behaviour and social problems. It costs our country billions. It’s in the public interest to pursue prosecution.

Police should be required to pursue prosecutions without relying entirely on adult victims, gathering evidence using every means at their disposal and protecting the victims at all times. The late Ellen Pence, founder of the effective ‘Duluth Model’ in the USA – which by collaborative inter-agency working cut domestic homicides in Duluth to almost none – urged police to investigate every domestic incident, including the first, “as if it were a homicide” and prosecute even ‘minor’ offences. She advocated treatment for perpetrators, but only following prosecution – and after protection and support for victims and child witnesses was in place.

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Child sexual abuse: Bishop George Bell and the Diocese of Chichester, by Jean Calder

I’ve been saddened to see so many people rush to defend the reputation of Bishop Bell – and by implication suggest the elderly woman who accused him of child sexual abuse is a liar. The Church of England has accepted that the abuse took place and given its previous determination to keep abuse by its clergy under wraps, I suspect the evidence is compelling. I was pleased that Bishop Warner apologised for the abuse and defended the alleged victim from criticism.

In respect of prominent abusers, the modern Church of England has done better than the Church of Rome. Eric Gill, the famous artist and Roman Catholic adult convert was the son of a Church of England clergyman, also from Chichester. Over many years, Gill sexually abused his sisters, servants and then his daughters, socially isolating the girls while using them as models for semi-erotic religious art. The abuse is catalogued in his own diaries, but if you visit the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, where his famous Stations of the Cross take pride of place and are publicised in the Cathedral shop, there’s no mention of his history or his victims’ exploitation.

The Churches’ responsibility – and our own, whether we have faith or none – must be to protect the living, defend the powerless (especially children) and treat survivors with compassion.  This being the case, Chichester Diocese should, out of respect to all clergy victims, fulfil its promise to change the name of Bishop Bell House – and ensure people understand its past actions and current position regarding child protection and clergy abuse.

Persistent begging is almost always linked to addiction, by Jean Calder

I’ve been pleased to see an increase in local concern about homelessness, but confess to irritation about recent debate on begging. Commentators seem very reluctant to acknowledge that persistent street homelessness and begging is almost always linked to alcohol or drug addiction. A cynic might suggest this is because of widespread recreational drug use among the city’s middle classes.

Certainly destitute addicts haven’t been helped by the city’s affluent opinion-formers, many of whom have for years minimised the role of addictions in homelessness, preferring to call for decriminalisation and ‘shooting galleries’, so that addicts can inject in comfort.

Affluent substance abusers tend to keep their homes and avoid the criminal justice system. Poor addicts, in contrast, have to find money for their costly drugs of choice in any way they can – usually on the street, by theft, begging, exploitation, prostitution or drug dealing. Some get arrested.

This isn’t fair, but there’s nothing others can do about that. It isn’t a human right to be able to pursue life-limiting addiction and fellow citizens have no moral duty to help with the costs of supply. In fact, the opposite is the case.

Addicts aren’t helped by kindly souls who give them money when they say they are homeless and desperate. Such people are desperate, but regrettably not for food and shelter. Sometimes they already have access to both. Addiction has them in its grip.

Our responsibility is to ensure addicts have access to the things that can genuinely save their lives – treatment facilities, long term specialist supported housing and the constant guidance of people committed to aid their recovery.

(This item was first published in the Brighton Argus in February 2016)