The Observer view on domestic violence

Observer editorial
Photograph: Albert Perez/EPA

In Australia, a national outcry over domestic violence has been sparked by the murder of Hannah Clarke, 31, and her three young children, burned to death by her husband and their father, former rugby league player Rowan Baxter, 41, who then stabbed himself to death.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics has reported that the number of women killed by a current or former partner has surged by nearly a third, hitting a 14-year high. Eighty women were killed in familial violence in the year to March 2019, a rise of 27% on the previous year.

Last week, the latest annual UK Femicide Census, compiled by the admirable Karen Ingala Smith and Clarrie O’Callaghan, also reported that 149 women were killed by 147 men in the UK in 2018. More than half the perpetrators had a history of violence towards women. In eight killings, the defence of “rough sex gone wrong” was claimed.

A domestic abuse incident is reported every minute in England and Wales. Yet where is the public outcry? Shamefully, the ravages of austerity have put many more women at risk, closing refuges, slashing legal aid, axing specialist domestic abuse services. Where is the national demand for a sharp reversal?

It is almost 50 years since the first refuge opened in Chiswick, London, but change has been too slow. As internationally recognised domestic abuse consultant Davina James-Hanman argues, limited resources focus too much on high risk when attention to lower-risk patterns gives women and children the opportunity to break free from the violence so much earlier.

The domestic abuse bill, once enacted, may help, for instance, in strengthening the power of the police response but so much more is required. Incredibly, the UK’s first domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, does not sit at the PM’s round table on violent crime.

Domestic abuse is not gender-neutral. It is largely a male crime against women. From 2014-17, 73% of victims of domestic violence were female and 61% of male victims were victims of men. Inequality and the patriarchy are at its heart. Most women stay with abusers out of fear, lack of finances, absence of viable alternatives or unwillingness to uproot children. But the real question is how do we stop men from across the economic spectrum killing, abusing and controlling women and children?