Friday, January 23, 2009

Police Orders

I want to write a little bit about the new police orders in the Domestic Violence (enhancing safety) Bill. It has already been widely discussed (No Right Turn twice, Kiwipolitico and the hand mirror who all structured it as matter of competing rights between the right to live free of violence and the right to due process (Anita at Kiwipolitico proposed an option that she thinks would balance the rights better). Ludditejourno provided more information about the context of the bill (and how it has changed) and says:

The main difficulties in keeping victims safe from domestic violence according to every major piece of research since the Domestic Violence Act 1995 is however, not legislation at all.

The problem with justice sector responses to domestic violence in Aotearoa New Zealand is implementation, which is inconsistent, and at times, poor. And this has literally cost women and children their lives.
This very important point, and what the definition of poor is (and how to improve it) is one of the key things I want to write about in this series.

One of the comments that has been made in threads about this is: "would you give Clint Rickards this power?" And while clearly worries about how individual police officers might use this power are entirely justified, I think the problem goes much deeper to the way this legislation frames abuse and violence (even when used in the way it is intended).

My understanding about abuse in intimate relationships is that it are fundamentally about power and control. That physical and sexual violence is often part of that power and control, but there are many forms of abuse, and maintaining power and control, which go beyond violence (the power and control wheel is a graphical representation of this). This means that abuse has to be understood in the context of the whole relationship, not just as individual acts. It also means that further taking away power and control from people who have been abused in an intimate relationship even "for their own good" is not helpful.

In this series I will tend to talk about male perpetrators and female victims, not because, but because I believe that in our society men are given power over women in intimate relationships, which is not reversed. That doesn't mean that women can't be abuse perpetrators in relationships, just that women abusing men (or women abusing women) do not represent a wider power dynamic within society.

In order to demonstrate the model of abuse that police orders follow I will compare them with protection orders. This isn't to imply there are no issues with protection orders (I will try and write more about them later in the series).

The police orders are instigated by a police officer, and the law explicitly takes they can be taken against the wishes of those who they're purporting to protect. Protection orders are instigated by those seeking protection. And while the court system means the abused person doesn't have control over the process, it at least means they play a role.

Also, protection orders are usually supported by affadavits by the person who is abused. This allows them to talk about their own experience of abuse and power and control within a relationship (although obviously this must be shaped by the legal requirements). Police orders are based on the views of an outsider to the relationship who may have only been there for a few minutes.

Now this may seem like me putting my theoretical view of domestic violence over the immediate view of women who need protection from police orders. Of course, there are women whose safety would be greatly enhanced if they could get a police order removing the abusive man from their home on the spot (and who seek that now). But those are not the only time police orders will be used.

For example, a woman in an abusive relationship who relies on her partner to take the kids to school in order that she can get to work. With protection orders she gets to make decisions on how best to manage safety and the other needs of her life, and gives her time to make other arrangements. If excluding the abusive person from her life is something that is done to a woman, rather than she does herself, then the consequences of that exclusion are likely to be far greater, because she is not able to plan for or mitigate them.

Or what if a woman in an abusive relationship fought back? What if her partner has marks on him? What if the police exclude her from her home? In terms of power and control excluding the abused person from her home could make things catastrophically worse. Biting Beever (whose blog is no longer on line) had a story about the only time the police came to her house in an abusive relationship which lasted years, they warned her for scratching her abusive partner. She pointed out the power this gave him over her. Imagine how much more power an abusive partner would have if the women was excluded from her home.

While I'll this might not be the most frequent way that police orders are used it will happen. And the women who it will happen to will be the most vulnerable, with partners who are more articulate, who the police identify with.

The model and understanding of domestic violence that the legislation is based on will have real consequences for real women's lives.

I don't really have a 'what should be done instead?' because writing legislation isn't really the point of this series. But I do want to point out one interesting aspect of this legilation - which is it is about excluding abusive people from their homes, rather than helping abused people leave.

But this exclusion is done by force, and is not resourced in anyway (and for all commenters at various places have said that they're sure the police will make sure that people have their wallets before they go out - that's not my experience of how the police work). As a starting point, why stop making abused people the only group who can have somewhere to stay? Why not build sleeping places for abusive men (or any men) who are spending a few nights away from their relationship?


  1. Anonymous2:19 pm

    My comment at THM that there's no requirement that the supposed offender even be allowed to get dressed was serious, and I agree with Hugh that there are even more creative ways that the power could be abused. One obvious one is that *both* partners can be kicked out of the home.

    I'm sure that for the first while there will be pressure on the p*lice to be responsible with this, but I'm sure that it's only a matter of time before it's used as a "lack of imagination" power.

    Further problems will arise from situations where there's no transport available or some other shared resource is in use. Not to mention work uniforms and suchlike. It's all too easy to imagine couples with alternate shifts and one car, or just barely making enough money to get by and the exile costing someone their job.

    Medication and medical records etc will also be an interesting one. If you get booted, are you allowed to get your insulin, methadone and so on, or even enough ID to get more. Not to mention access to stuff like dialysis often requires quite precise scheduling (tricky if you're now using PT from poor locations).


  2. Maia

    My example of Clint Rickards was intended to go beyond considering how one individual would handle it. I was trying to illustrate the problems with police culture and. IMO Rickards is much more than just a 'bad apple' as some people see it; he is a product of the institutional culture that recruited and socialised him.

    Perhaps one way to improve things would be to give women the legal power to eject men from the home without requiring the police to act as enablers/intermediaries? This would certainly solve the problem of lack of agency that you're concerned about.