Has your wife ever complained that you don’t pay her enough attention? Ever heard the cry, “Why don’t you buy me nice things any more?” Does your beloved sometimes whinge when you put your foot down about her lacklustre cleaning, despite the fact that it’s all she contributes to the household? Bad luck: if Home Secretary Theresa May gets her way, you could be headed for the slammer.
Hot on the heels of her exhortations to men not to drink excessively during the World Cup, lest they beat up their girlfriends (thanks for the tip, T!), the Home Secretary has published proposals for a new kind of domestic abuse. You don’t have to get physical any more to get in trouble with the Old Bill: among such clearly defined infractions as “psychological harm,” “bullying” and being “frightening,” the new definition includes “restricting access to money.” Sorry, what?
Is it just me, or are there some obvious problems with this nebulous set of complaints? I mean, what woman hasn’t at one time or another complained about how much dosh her hubby gives her? As the non-breadwinning (well, I do the dough, he does the crust) member of my household, I speak from experience. As readers will have already intuited, May’s proposal effectively criminalises marital discord.
Here’s a case, supplied to the press by Women’s Aid, a group that’s working with the Home Office on these proposals: “She suffered years of psychological abuse from her husband who, she said, would ‘put me down’, hide her possessions and ‘scream’ at her if she came home late … He would spend £200 a week at a strip club; I had to give a comprehensive budget of everything I was spending.”
Is that really the best they can come up with? Does this guy really deserve to be locked up? Is this “domestic abuse”? Opinions will vary, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s something the state should not be getting involved with, and that the woman concerned should take her kids and get the hell out of there.
I wonder whether the consultation, which is careful on the whole to avoid gendered language, isn’t open to mischief, misuse or the law of unintended consequences. I mean, what’s more “oppressive” than the daily nannying, hectoring and jealousy of some women, who turn into battle-axes the minute they walk away from the altar? Let’s remember: according to the government’s own statistics, 16.3 per cent of men experience domestic abuse.
That’s before we even get to the subject of gay relationships, which are notoriously prone to physical violence. (Don’t take my word for it: ask an LGBT domestic violence charity such as “Broken Rainbow” – they say it’s an epidemic.) Take it from me: if you start banging up every gay man who acts in a “humiliating” manner to his boyfriend not only will you ruin gay sex forever but you’ll have to bang up every poof in the country.
It’s incredibly difficult to separate the essence of male sexuality, so brilliantly described by Camille Paglia as existing in intricate symbiosis with danger and power, from everyday domestic disputes. We should not have sexless, clipboard-wielding social workers wading in to try. The same goes for the “Cinderella” law proposed earlier this year, which seeks to criminalise parents for “emotional cruelty” because they won’t let Junior stay up to watch Game of Thrones.
That’s not to say we should make excuses for real bullies. Domestic abuse is real, and it is serious. Two women a week are killed by it. But the state cannot and should not wade in to trivial private affairs like this, because the risk of getting it wrong, and the impossible task of policing private disputes, makes the whole thing, at least as described in the consultation, an utter nonsense.
It makes a mockery of the serious cases, where there is a genuine threat to life or to the wellbeing of children. And given that the rash of new abuse claims will be nigh-on impossible to prove, it’ll all come down to who does the best victim face on the day. Cue vindictive accusations from manipulative, psycho ex-girlfriends.
Is it any wonder the institution of marriage is in decline, when even the Tories are desperate to wade in and legislate what constitutes a legally acceptable relationship? If these proposals are adopted, women won’t even need to “cry rape” to get their boyfriends banged up. Merely complaining a few times that he’s a bit tight with cash could land him with a fine, or worse.
Obviously, the examples I’ve chosen here are a bit flippant. May’s proposals call for a bit more than just being miserly. But where to draw the line is an intractable problem that will leave the government in the position of working out who’s right in domestic disputes.
Throw in some bogus “bullying” claims from the aforementioned vindictive exes and you start to realise what a total disaster it will be for the state to start settling domestics. The nosey, intrusive, opinionated Judith Sheindlin of Judge Judy fame, whom Theresa May seems determined to channel, is only entertaining because we know she’s just for show.