“Sorry Seems To Be The Cheapest Word”

by Annie Kaszina on April 15, 2006

 

So the Sentencing Guidelines Committee (SGC) has given a
new advice to judges that ‘remorseful domestic violence’ could get a community
order or suspended sentence. 
 It
sounds as though the SGC has been listening to a garbled account of
“Supernanny”, rather than considering the realities of domestic violence.

I say a ‘garbled’ account, because the structure of
“Supernanny” is this:

  • Offenders
    are given a clear understanding of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour
  • Offenders
    are isolated and punished
  • Offenders
    apologise for their behaviour and are ‘rehabilitated’ into the family

And then, of course, there is the fact that they are
pint-sized, children, well under the age of 10.

The SGC’s advice seems to suggest that:

a) the offender cannot be presumed to have fully understood
that domestic violence is not acceptable behaviour

b) a good, heartfelt apology is adequate.

Adequate for whom, I wonder?

Is there any reason to suppose that offenders live on
planet Zog – and therefore don’t know that domestic violence is a
crime? Or is it just that these
offenders are one step ahead of the rest of us? Do they know what we don’t, that society would prefer to treat
domestic violence as a ‘mistake’ rather than the brutal crime it is?

Further questions arise with the SGC’s advice: who
determines whether the remorse is genuine? How do they arrive at their
opinion? And, crucially, does it
really matter?

There is a diagram that is frequently used in Domestic
Violence education. It’s called The
Circle of Violence. (You can find the
diagram at http://www.joyfulcoaching.com/images/violence.jpg
) It depicts the circle that any abuser
travels around. Like any circle you can
get on and off where you please. But
suppose you start at the outburst, the point at which one partner, still more
commonly the man, lashes out.

After the adrenalin rush of the outburst the abuser feels
great for a little while. But then
regret sets in; maybe they’ve gone too far this time. So they will apologise, maybe even express genuine remorse, and
play Mr Nice Guy for a while, until they start to feel diminished by the
consideration they feel they have to show their partner.

Then the frustrations start to bubble away below the
surface and they’ll go back to criticising their partner. The old pattern of faultfinding will appear
again, becoming more and more frequent, until they have another outburst and then
go back into remorse.

According to the statistics the average woman in a violent
relationship will undergo 35violent ‘outbursts’ before she finally leaves.
Over
that period of months, or years, the abuser will eventually start to go round
the circle faster – and may cut out the apologies and the Mr Nice Guy
routine. Or he may not. That depends on the individual.

But almost all of them have enough good sense to find
justifications for their behaviour – and, of course, state how truly sorry they
feel for the damage they have done, when they risk prosecution.

Why does that mean we should pardon them? Or if we pardon them, why did we not pardon the infamous
Myra Hindley? Admittedly, it was a
different offence. But, as she pointed
out, she served her time, at least.

When a victim of domestic violence is willing not to press
charges and to give a relationship another try, that does not necessarily prove
that the perpetrator’s remorse is genuine and the relationship will be
transformed. All it conclusively proves
is the triumph of hope over probability. The victim, who will have been told repeatedly by her partner that no
one else would ever want her, is so desperate to feel loved that she will keep
working at the relationship against all odds.

And then there is the consideration that if a violent partner,
who the victim has once denounced, is at liberty, the victim will never be
safe. At any time the perpetrator may
revert to the violent, terrifying behaviours of the past. Ironically, in a situation like that, taking
the perpetrator back may be safer than being exposed to his fury at having been
rejected.

Apart from the 2 deaths per week from domestic violence,
and the endless beatings, the majority of which go unrecorded, there are also
the suicides of victims – which never even get recorded as a domestic violence
statistic.

The problem of domestic violence in the UK is huge and the
long term cost to society is, probably, incalculable. In that context, it is easy to see how, from every point of view
“sorry seems to be the cheapest word”.

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