Michael Woods, the father of a woman murdered by her partner in 2009, is launching a proposal for ‘Clare’s Law’ which would allow police to warn women of if their new partners have a history of violent behaviour. This proposal, backed by Hazel Blears, the Association of Police officers and Victims’ Commissioner Louise Casey, is being put forward to prevent domestic violence and protect those who meet others on internet dating sites. Although the goal is noble, it is impractical and also has serious potential for abuse.
I agree that domestic violence against women is a serious problem and the amount of trust we place on social networking or internet dating sites is worryingly dangerous. However, I have trouble finding it appropriate for the police to contact individuals regarding the criminal histories of their new partners. What crimes would be reported? Sexual offenders are already available on a national database so no need to duplicate. Also, on what basis would these crimes be reported? Only when a request is made for this information, or would it be a proactive step by the police? How do you guarantee that you’re actually releasing information to the partner of the individuals in question? What checks would be made to ensure that individuals who have committed these crimes but have served their time are not being targeted? And more importantly, if the individual has not committed a sexual or violent offense that was heinous enough to warrant detention or inclusion in the national database of sexual offenders does anyone else have a right to know their private history?
If violent offenders are roaming the streets, then the problem is with the legal or judicial system for releasing them when they may be a danger to others. Or perhaps the problem is with the police for not having properly responded to a person’s concerns or complaints that their partner is verbally or physically or psychologically abusive to her or to someone else.
Domestic violence is an escalating issue. People need to know that if they are a victim, they can seek support or call the police and someone will be there to help them. Victims need to know that their cries for help are heard and they need to know that under no circumstances is any form of abuse ok. We need better support for victims and more accountable legal and judicial systems to put offenders behind bars. But this proposal isn’t going to solve any of those problems. The risks of instituting a proactive police notification programme such as ‘Clare’s Law’ may far outweigh the benefits.