Talking about Domestic Abuse
Features Editor, Yasmeen Frasso, interviews Royal Holloway alumna, Nens Corran. During her time at Royal Holloway, Nens studied History (BA Hons). After graduating with a 1st, she went on to join the Met Police, now working as a Temporary Detective Inspector in a unit focused on Domestic Abuse.
You’ve had quite a diverse experience in the police force, could you briefly outline your journey to where you are now?
Five years on response team (replying to 999 calls), with secondments out to Street Duties (teaching new recruits) and Jury Protection (protecting jurors in trials with particularly dangerous defendants, organised crimes connections).
Four years on Tower Hamlets CID [Criminal Investigation Department], dealing with respectively, robbery and burglary, domestic violence, proactive operations.
A year as a Detective Constable with Trident, proactively targeting gang members, drugs, organised crime and firearms offences.
Almost two years as a Detective Sargent at Lewisham CID dealing with violent offences, sexual assaults, fraud and then domestic violence, before temporary promotion to Detective Inspector in charge of the Community Safety Unit (Domestic Abuse and Hate Crime) at Lewisham.
Domestic abuse is such a tricky area to deal with, what is it that drove you to get involved in combatting it?
It is an area of police action that has undergone a particularly galvanic change over the last 20 years. Where we – and society at large – were reluctant to get any establishment body involved with life behind closed doors, we now understand the necessity.
It is also an area that needs a lot of development. The criminal justice system is not well equipped to deal with the problems posed by domestic abuse, in which the desire to get a judicial outcome, or any kind of closure in court is markedly lacking.
For me, working within the domestic abuse world, gives the best opportunity to safeguard the people that are most vulnerable in our communities and use all possible tactics to solve problems that often look unsolvable: my people have to have an extraordinary work ethic, empathy, resilience, courage and ingenuity. It is not the “sexy” policing of other specialist units, but its importance can’t be exaggerated.
What forms do you see domestic abuse take?
Any forms you can think of. Emotional, financial, sexual and physical abuse.
Some of the worst cases we see challenge cultural clashes– as in honour based violence or female genital mutilation – and some of them, such as coercive controlling behaviour, involve no physical abuse at all, but profound psychological or financial abuse that is often difficult to prove.
Beyond that, of course, the most extreme crimes possible occur in domestic situations – domestic rape reports are received on a daily basis, and no single month goes by without a domestic murder taking place.
Some people may argue that domestic abuse is not a public safety issue, despite being a crime against the law, but rather a private matter between individuals because it happens behind closed doors. What would your response be to people who believe this?
This is an excellent question, and goes to the heart of the community safety question. The line between what is private and what is in the public realm is constantly redefined, but I deal with the law. Statutes make it an offence to assault, rape, control another person, whether in public and in private. Further to that, where laws broken behind closed doors are not investigated, cultures of abuse can emerge unhindered.
Child abuse rings, people trafficking and human slavery flourish in just that situation, and if anyone argued to me that these things are irrelevant to public safety, I would have obvious strong arguments for them. Beyond that, even at the most trivial level, domestic abuse does not affect one person, but everyone that knows them and loves them. The damage it wreaks, particularly on children, is incalculable, and I believe that people brought up in a culture of violence are always affected, whether they turn from that route themselves, or replicate these learned behaviours.
The prevalence of cases, and particularly repeat incidents, of domestic abuse is staggeringly high, with estimates that it affects one in four women and one in six men throughout their lifetime, yet knowledge and awareness of it is still lacking among the public. Why do you think this is and how do you feel awareness can be raised?
Quite honestly I think that there is a feeling of shame attached to being a victim of domestic abuse. That fallacious sense of complicity or fault in the ongoing process of abuse stops people coming forward to tell their stories, and makes documentaries and films about domestic violence uncomfortable to watch.
Films like “Nil By Mouth” give some air time to such issues, and I was particularly moved by a television drama called “Falling Apart” in 2002 which depicted a strong female character reduced to helplessness by an abusive partner. However, these have been few and far between. The recent storyline in the Archers has given an extraordinary insight into the depths of abuse within a partnership and this has raised awareness of the issues involved. It has enlightened and moved many, and, indeed, former RHUL alumnus Paul Trueman started a Just Giving page for Helen Archer née Titchener for the benefit of Refuge. He aimed to raise a few grand, but ended up raising over £170,000 for Refuge, who provide accommodation to victims of domestic abuse.
These are the conversations we need to be having and the stories that need to be told. The current London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has pledged to make violence against women a cornerstone of his policy on crime. The tide is turning, but it needs ongoing vigilance and debate between those most affected and those whose job it is to help them.
What are the main factors that victims stay with their abusers? Is it out of fear, stigma/shame, lacking alternative options or a more psychological reason?
Each case I have ever dealt with has had its own chronology and aetiology. It is usually a combination of reasons as complex as every reason we have for doing – or failing to do – anything.
I have found it extraordinary often how profound loyalty is to an abusive person, but abusive people are not abusive all of the time, and no independent domestic violence advocacy, social worker, GP, psychiatrist, therapist or Police Officer can be a support as much of the time as even the worst partner can be.
Many people are caught in a poverty trap. Many people stay for the children.
Staying in an abusive relationship is often a strange form of altruism, particularly in cases where a charming breadwinner is the abuser and there are children in the family. As I said at the beginning, each relationship has its own identity, and each person their own motivation, and although I would never support staying in such a relationship, I am aware that in some situations, for the person being abused, staying in the relationship and taking the pain is better than any alternative they can envisage for themselves and their family. It is our job, and that of our partners, to give them a positive alternative.
How are repeat incidents dealt with? What can the police do to prevent another incident that they suspect will occur without infringing the privacy of those involved?
We do not use intrusive techniques in domestic violence situations. The most important thing for us is that victims of abuse feel they can trust Police and can come back to us, even if they have not supported prosecutions in the past. We now have a plethora of criminal and civil options – Non Molestation Orders, injunctions, Restraining Orders, Forced Marriage Protection Orders and Domestic Violence Protection Orders – at our disposal to assist. We have Independent Domestic Violence Advisors to refer our complainants to, if they no longer want to pursue a criminal justice outcome.
We ourselves prefer to take cases to court: it is a clean outcome for Police and a clear attempt to do everything in our power to keep the abuser from the abusee and thereby keep them from harm. However, it is unusual that the abusee feels satisfaction after a court case. Mainly they just want is to feel safe. To do this we can advise, change locks, put in panic alarms and take all kinds of target hardening measures, but we cannot prevent ongoing harm if a pair of people are resolved to keep seeing each other in an internecine relationship. Unfortunately this too is their right, and we are always mindful of Article 8. Get back to me after Brexit.
Abuse against men is clearly underrepresented when it comes to awareness for a variety of reasons, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by it. How do you think that this misconception can be dealt with?
If women are reluctant to come forward as victims of abuse, men are quadruply so. Again public perception has a part to play: men are supposed to be strong; men cannot be physically hurt by a woman; men are not in fear. All these clichés lead men to be reluctant to report violence whether from a female or male partner. A better understanding of all of the issues concerned would again lead to confidence to report in this group, but we have some way to go.
What can we all do to help reduce the stigma that surrounds it and help educate others?
Discussion is the key. What is abuse? Why does one person seek to control another? Has anyone you know witnessed or suffered domestic violence? Only by talking about it will we know the level of the problem and how to understand it. Cultures of silence are often damaging. Watch the uncomfortable programmes: watch “Murdered by my Boyfriend”, “Murdered by my Father”, “Nil By Mouth”, “Falling Apart”, “Sleeping With The Enemy” and “The Color Purple”. They make you feel uncomfortable and angry for a reason and they represent something that happens every day. Watch them and talk about them. And listen to the The Archers. Always listen to The Archers.
If somebody is, or is worried that somebody they know is in an abusive relationship, be it emotionally, physically or sexually, what should the next step they take be?
Talk to them. Give them your support. Refer them to helplines and to the local IDVA service: [email protected] or 08082000247. This is the best way to give them options to act and take control when they are ready. And however frustrating it can sometimes be, always leave the lines of communication open, even if they won’t take action at that time. Statistics are overwhelming that it takes multiple incidents of abuse to occur before victims will recognise the pattern, and multiple incidents again before they will seek help. Make sure you are someone they can call.
If you believe them to be at serious risk, you must go to the Police: we are the only people that can balance risk to life and limb against article 8 and take action.