Jane Devine: It’s never ‘just a domestic’

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I SPOKE to a police officer recently. He told me about a courageous woman who was being beaten at home by her husband. She was courageous because she took a great personal risk and secretly filmed one of her beatings.

She sent it to the police. They now use that video to demonstrate to officers in the force why they should never disregard a “domestic”.

We are all familiar with the term “domestic”. We see it on cop dramas on television, might even hear friends using the term to refer to rowing neighbours. Prefixing any crime with the word “domestic” makes it sound less serious and also allows us to believe we shouldn’t get involved because it may be private. The fact that it occurs between two people who are or have been in a relationship doesn’t make it any less of a crime, if anything domestic abuse should be regarded by the police and public alike as extremely serious, not least because it may lead to something even more horrifying.

Men who murder their partners rarely do so because they suddenly snap. Most women murdered by their male partners have been beaten or abused in some other way many times before: according to some research, up to 35 times.

That can equate to months or years of a woman and often her children too, living in fear. Too scared to leave, opting instead to live with the fear they know and understand. Too scared to report things in case they are written off as “just another domestic” with the consequences of speaking out too dreadful to consider.

Look at the case of Maria Stubbings who was murdered in 2008 by an ex-boyfriend. She learned, after he was convicted of assaulting her, that he had been jailed for the murder of a former partner in Germany. She pleaded with the police for protection, but he murdered her too. Her family believe she was not taken seriously and this week the Independent Police Complaints Commission have criticised Essex Police for failing to keep her safe.

Maria’s is another case that shows that domestic abuse is a real and prolific crime with potentially fatal consequences. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner; one in five women experience domestic abuse; 60 per cent of women leave violent partners because they fear being killed; and to get it into context, on one day in 2012, 349 women and 323 children were living in refuges in Scotland.

These crimes must be taken more seriously. We talk about hate crimes against specific, persecuted groups, but not against women, even though almost 40 per cent of female murder victims are killed by current or former partners.

There is no such thing as “just a domestic”, just as there is no such thing as “just an assault” or “just a robbery”. People must be made more aware of this, we all need to take it more seriously and the police must keep watching that film.