Protective measure welcomed

A new disclosure scheme is a welcome step towards protecting victims of domestic abuse.

The Family Violence Information Disclosure Scheme is based on one piloted in the United Kingdom and adopted last year.

It was named Clare's Law, after 36-year-old Clare Wood, who was murdered in her home by an ex-boyfriend with a history of violence against women, of which she was unaware.

The scheme will allow concerned individuals (and third parties such as friends or family members) to ask police whether their partner has a family violence history.

Police will be able to make judgements on a case-by-case basis, and release relevant information more easily and speedily - if it is legal and could protect the potential victim.

The initiative certainly has the potential to save lives. When it comes to domestic violence, there is often a pattern of abuse, and women (for it is predominantly women who are the victims of domestic violence) are often in the dark about their partner's violent history.

However, it won't stop the problem, and there are several areas of concern and obvious fishhooks.

There will be no information available about those offenders who have not yet come to police attention, and random attacks will not be prevented.

When should and will women make the call? One of the most insidious aspects of domestic abuse is the psychological component.

Physical violence often does not begin until the woman has been worn down emotionally: made to feel worthless, isolated from friends and family and dependent on her partner.

When women are bearing the brunt of the blame and shame, they are less likely to wonder whether the perpetrator has done the same to others or to reach out for help. (Given this however, the fact friends and family may be able to get information on their behalf is undoubtedly a positive part of the scheme. Often those closest to the women can see the situation impartially and sense there might be a problem before the victim is able to admit it to herself or others.)

The ‘‘rose-tinted glasses'' probably only come off in a relationship when there has been some sort of unpleasant incident or some form of abuse.

To mitigate entirely against that, should every woman inquire about every new partner?

Should all men expect to be ‘‘checked up on'' when they enter a new relationship?

If so, will police be adequately resourced for a potential inundation of inquiries?

And - even though this is billed as a protective measure - have the risks been acknowledged?

What happens if a partner finds out a ‘‘security check'' has been made about them?

If a woman suddenly opts out of a relationship because of information disclosed, that will be a prime time for violence - as is the case when a protection order is issued.

What support measures are available at that time?

And there are questions about privacy. Will the offender's full history be disclosed? Their ancient history?

Does that give former offenders the right to ‘‘move on''?

In some court cases, potentially relevant offending history is withheld from the jury, which must make judgements in isolation.

Does this scheme contradict that innocent until proven guilty provision? (Police Minister Judith Collins says the Official Information and Privacy Acts already enable police to disclose such information, and the changes are about improving the service for victims in terms of access to police and information.)

It is a tricky balance, and it is to be hoped there is effective monitoring around the scheme as it rolls out and plays out.

It certainly has the potential to help women join some of the dots. But urgent work is still required to guarantee better information sharing between agencies to further protect victims.

And changing attitudes about domestic violence will sadly require ongoing work.

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