I went to my (new) GP today and he asked me the domestic violence question. I could have hugged him. GP's are often the first agency that victims of domestic violence have contact with, and by most accounts, the awareness and ability to respond to domestic violence risk indicators on the part of health professionals is at best variable.
Last week I discussed my high concerns about domestic violence cases within the TR project with my MP. He came up with the stock response that where risk is indicated as increasing, cases will be referred to NPS. There will, potentially, be no one equipped to spot the indication. In an effort to demonstrate the need for properly trained and supported professionals to be in place in the CRC, I told him this:
Imagine a woman meets up with another woman on the high street.
One shows the other the delicious shoes and handbag she has just purchased and then says “Don't tell my husband! He'd go nuts! You know how it is, hahaha.”
The “DV question” in this instance is “I don’t know, actually, how is it?” Because I have had DV awareness drummed into me for over a decade now, and have worked in this field for a good while, that response is second nature. And that is why I know that a sizeable proportion of my women friends and acquaintances are victims and survivors of domestic abuse. And why - when she tells me “what it's like” I know how to advise her in a way which is supportive, but also keeps her safer.Two things with regard to this really bother me about Grayling's TR project. One is an act of destruction, and one is a squandered opportunity, and both will add to the sum of human suffering and inter-generational misery, (plus significant cost to the public purse) attributable to DV.
Splintering Probation into NPS (High risk) and CRCs (Low to medium) is an act of destruction, and coupled with the longstanding downgrading of the majority of DV cases to “medium” or “low” risk, puts victims including children, at increased risk of harm. Beverley Gilbert gives a well argued account of this in “Public Protection? The Implications of Grayling's 'Transforming Rehabilitation' Agenda on the Safety of Women and Children” British Journal of Community Justice Vol 11 (2-3) 123-134.
I have previously described this fault line in risk assessment as “an act of institutional sexism on a par with the institutional racism identified in the Macpherson report.” The ability - or even intention - of the profit-oriented cost-shy new providers of probation services to train and support staff in effective risk assessment in domestic violence cases, and to engage in the often complex multi-agency risk management work must be in serious doubt.
Even in this transitional stage staff bringing with them the legacy of knowledge and expertise into the CRCs will be impeded by new additional referral processes and technical (IT) barriers to accessing information. Without compulsion on new providers to support and properly train their staff, the situation is perilous.
With the entire probation establishment tying itself in knots trying to make the unworkable work, that is, desperately trying to maintain what it was delivering satisfactorily (in fact “excellently” according to independent assessment) before Grayling waded in, there is now a tragic missed opportunity.
What I have discussed above is the issue of male to female domestic violence. The need to push forward on theory and practice to address abuse within LGBT relationships, and abuse perpetrated by females on men in heterosexual relationships, is overdue. This is a difficult and challenging conversation, in my experience, speaking as one whose comfort zone is squarely within the feminist/Duluth tradition, but it is also fascinating and urgently needed. Probation, with its distinguished but now rapidly eroding tradition of academic and practice interface, should have been at the front of and driving this development.
So: an act of destruction, leading on to a missed opportunity. The issue of Domestic Violence (and the implications for victims including children) within “Transforming Rehabilitation” is justification enough for an immediate pause in the headlong race to push through the share sale.
There isn't a Council or a political party that doesn't put Domestic Violence high on its list of priorities. Mouthing that it IS a priority does not wash unless this is backed up by some actions and some stern demands on Mr Grayling.
Leaders, Decision Makers, Civil Servants need to say very clearly and very loudly that TR is NOT SAFE. They should say specifically that TR fails against diversity and equality benchmarks with reference to victims of domestic abuse. They should say specifically that TR fails against benchmarks with reference to any and every government “priority” with regard to domestic abuse. They should say that in this respect alone TR will put vulnerable people at risk of harm, and this government at risk of disgrace and embarrassment, and should therefore at the very least be reviewed, and reviewed urgently.