PCC: Blog 13

From tribal to consensual politics.

That is the journey the Labour MP Harriet Harman has had to make in order to help victims of domestic abuse. As an opposition MP, she wanted to see new legislation, but that meant working with those whose politics she did not share. Last week the Domestic Abuse Bill successfully passed through the House of Commons and made its way to the Lords. Once it is law, it will transform the way victims of these horrible crimes are helped. It needed MPs from across the House to work together.

The bill, which originated with Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, does a number of things. It:

  • defines domestic abuse as more than physical abuse. It recognises that people can be abused emotionally and financially, and they can be subject to coercive and controlling behaviour
  • accepts that children who witness abuse should also to recognised as victims
  • creates a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims
  • places a duty on local authorities to provide refuges
  • stops perpetrators interrogating their victims in court
  • gives the police enhanced powers to intervene – Domestic Abuse Protection Notices/Orders
  • rules out ‘consent for sexual gratification’ as a defence, i.e. perpetrators who harm someone will no longer be able to say they wanted ‘rough sex’

This last, late addition to the bill is especially important since this line of defence has become so discredited with perpetrators saying, ‘it was just sex gone wrong’.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the time when police officers turned away from ‘domestics’ know what an extraordinary journey we have all been on in understanding what this form of abuse is and how it has caused so much suffering not just for adults trapped in abusive relationships, but for so many children as well.

There are times when politics is rightly consensual and not tribal.

Sitting in a garden

Do people become more creative out of the office than in? Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was forced to leave his office in Cambridge because of bubonic plague and spent more time in his garden in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, watching apples fall. As a result, he worked out his theory of universal gravitation. All our office are currently working from home, so I am expecting great things.

But creative thinking is one thing, knowing how it might have application can be quite another. The Incas invented the wheel. But they only used wheels on children’s toys. They never grasped their wider potential.

Black Lives Matter in South Yorkshire

There was a road traffic collision. A boy and his father were in one of the vehicles involved. The father died at the scene, but the boy was taken, badly injured to the local hospital. He needed to go immediately to the operating theatre, but the surgeon on duty said they couldn’t do anything because the boy was their son.

How could this be? What was going on here?

This is only a puzzle if you assumed the surgeon was male. In which case you are guilty of ‘unconscious bias’. The surgeon was the boy’s mother.

We are all guilty of unconscious biases. They can be part of the general culture of a society or an organisation. They lead us to respond to people in ways that are wrong or unfair, but unwitting. If there is racism in police forces, some of it may reflect this kind of unconscious bias. It needs to be recognised – as the example above illustrates an unconscious attitude towards women – and dealt with. Until it is, the kind of disproportionality we may be seeing in police stop and searches will persist.

This was one of the issues I discussed last week in a meeting (remotely) with Black community leaders and Black professionals. It was a good conversation and some points were very forcibly made. But, as a former (Black) probation officer said, if there is ‘unconscious bias’ in an organisation, everyone in that organisation participates in it. If we don’t change the culture, it will make no difference whether he is confronted by a black or white police officer. Either way, the treatment will be the same.

I hope you are staying safe and well.