From the Home Office VAWG Newsletter Winter 2015
An AAFDA view – The status of ‘families after homicide’ needs to be raised.
Commissioners and Chairs of Domestic Homicide Reviews and other Inquiries should afford families more status. Drs. Evan Stark and Jane Monckton Smith wrote powerfully about raising the status of domestic violence victims as a way of reducing abuse (Coercive Control 2007, Domestic Abuse, Homicide and Gender 2014).
Sometimes the language in Domestic Homicide Reviews reveals an agency’s rather dismissive view of a victim’s reaction to offers of help. Here too, victims should be given more status. Families sometimes have to read that their loved one ‘refused all help’. Perhaps this comment may imply that the help offered is excellent and to refuse it would be reckless. But it is also possible that the victim assessed the offer and felt it would not keep her safe. The victim may be dead but so are many that accepted help. It is unlikely that we can be certain that the victim’s decision was critical.
In our work, we see that the families left behind after domestic homicide also lack status. Family members are sometimes seen as having value only as providers of emotion for the review. In reality they always have empirical value as they will usually know so much which cannot be found in agency records.
Families are disturbed by comments in reviews which say something like ‘This statutory agency said this…. and that agency said this also happened…. The family said something else happened but their comments can’t be corroborated’. That perhaps implies that what the agencies say can be taken as fact but what the families say is just opinion. It seems to me that the most likely position is that all parties to a review will give input the accuracy of which may be affected by fallible memory, poor or degraded records and subconscious filtering.
With some exceptions (we have witnessed examples of excellent practice), families are not adequately updated. It is a shame that we have to contact chairs of these reviews for monthly updates. In our experience, lack of contact from the Chair sometimes causes significant distress to families.
Of course, some families may choose not to be regularly updated. On first meeting the family, the Chair should discuss this matter and critically, keep promises made. Otherwise, trust is quickly broken which can undermine the effectiveness of the review.
We have helped more than 100 families on Domestic Homicide Reviews. It is a myth that all families want to lay blame. The best reviews are ones in which families have very good status and all professionals are freed up to concede their own weaknesses and frustrations. We should use that honesty not to blame but to develop a safer future. There is a big responsibility on leaders to facilitate this environment.
Frank Mullane is a Home Office appointed reader of Domestic Homicide Reviews and a Home Office accredited Chair. He sits on the national panel that quality assures all reviews. The comments above are made in his capacity as CEO of AAFDA.