Domestic abuse - caught on camera

Emma Norris reviews a recent BBC Panorama offering.

This latest Panorama documentary addresses new techniques used to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence: a timely offering, given the new legislation allowing sentencing of up to five years for ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ in relationships.

The increasing scale of this issue is made clear from the outset. A shocking 1 out of 10 prosecutions now involves domestic violence, with around a quarter of all homicide victims killed by an intimate partner. Various case studies are shown in this 30-minute programme, with victims bravely going into detail over the intensity and duration of the abuse they overcame. In particular, the case of Dawn stands out due to the extreme images documented by police-recorded video accounts. Although nursing horrific facial and chest injuries inflicted by her husband, she holds a calm, muted manner to police responding to the incident: a coping mechanism she has learnt to keep peace following years of abuse. The use of police recordings such as this is helping to sentence increasing numbers of domestic abuse violators, in cases where women may be too scared to give testimony themselves.

Criminologists and psychologists provided insights into the cognitions of both abusers and victims, including Dr Ruth Jones OBE from University of Worcester. Emphasised throughout was the common use of ‘coercive control’ by abusers: using nonviolent tactics underlined by violence to determine the victim’s behaviour. The damaging use of children as targets during such control strategies was also stressed, showing familial effects far beyond the partner.

A sole focus on female victims was given throughout. However, given that 4 per cent of men are estimated to be victims of domestic violence (compared to 7 per cent of women), this stance is unwarranted. Domestic violence is indeed experienced by men on a great scale and should be discussed in arenas such as these to promote awareness of it.

I truly hope that legal improvements, combined with increased active engagement by the police as seen is this documentary, will help all victims.

- Reviewed by Emma Norris, who is a PhD student at University College London and Associate Editor (Reviews)

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