Background – What is Donna’s Law/DVDS?

‘Donna’s Law’ for those unaware is the proposed name for Northern Ireland’s implementation of the current UK legislation named ‘Clare’s Law’.

The full legal title of this legislation is the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme – A vital and progressive move in the fight against Domestic Violence which was rolled out by the Home Office in England and Wales in March 2014.

The overall purpose of DVDS is to give people the ability, through police cooperation, to learn of a prospective or current partner’s past with Domestic Violence. Through this scheme the Police are allowed to disclose any past instances which they believe are relevant so an individual can make an informed choice when entering a relationship and can be made aware of any possible dangers flagged in their partner’s history.

DVDS went through a 14 month pilot between 2012-13, following which it was successfully rolled out and remains to this day – although barely recognisable by it’s original title and more often referred to as ‘Clare’s Law’, named after Clare Wood who was tragically murdered by her partner in 2009.

Northern Ireland Implementation

As with a lot of successful law additions in the wider UK, the time has now come to consider implementing DVDS in Northern Ireland, and with this discussion has came a lot of focus on what the legislation should be called.

The fore running campaign in this discussion is ‘Donna’s Law N. Ireland’, operated by Alicia Perry, who’s friend Donna was found dead in her apartment in 2013. The cause of death (from what we can determine so far) is seemingly unexplained, however Alicia details that Donna was part of a violent relationship for 16 years, and is currently campaigning for N.I’s implementation of DVDS to carry her friends name.

While this situation is indeed tragic, and Alicia’s campaign is heartfelt and emotive – We must unfortunately tread the line of sensitivity and political correctness and suggest that being heartfelt and emotive is perhaps not the best frame of mind to occupy when deciding what is right or wrong in implementing actionable law in a country.

It is our belief that gendered titles for any legislation unnecessarily distracts from their focus and indeed can complicate their effectiveness – Whether the law is called Donna’s Law or David’s Law, the issues presented with a gendered title remain the same.

Case Study: The Effect of Clare’s Law

The most relevant living example of the issues presented by a gendered, personal title are with the existing Clare’s Law, which is usually unknown by it’s actual (far more accurately described) title, Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

Despite what you may think from it’s title, DVDS is a scheme available to both men and women seeking to find out more about their partners past, yet despite it’s gender neutral application, the launch of Clare’s Law was mired by gender focused advertising which led to it being touted as a fantastic new resource ‘for women’ – A quick google search of Clare’s Law will show you exactly this sort of promotion:

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As you can see the top result from the Telegraph provides a far from impartial image of a female victim at the hands of a male perpetrator.

Read further down to see the full link for this Telegraph article and you’ll notice it resides in the ‘Women’s Life’ section of the website, giving a very clear indication of who they believe this Law is for and unequivocally promoting the idea that this is indeed a law designed for women to avail of, specifically when abused by a man.

Of course, it is not the fault of any of Clare’s campaigners (or anyone opting for the name Donna’s Law in NI) that the Telegraph chose to promote the law specifically for women – However, who is at ‘fault’ is not the issue here, the issue is how a law is perceived when given a specific gendered title – Our argument at The Men and Boy’s Initiative is that gendered titles imply gendered use, those in objection to this stance have  berated, insulted and attempted to manipulate this suggestion – Yet as you can see above, gendered use is exactly what was implied of Clare’s Law.

This is no longer a matter of opinion. The exact problem we are warning of has already happened with this exact same law under a gendered name.

If you’re still unsure whether the promotion and reception of Clare’s Law was lop-sided, and are possibly wondering why it’s roll out date of March 8th sounds familiar – That’s because it was rolled out officially on International Women’s Day.

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For further reference on how it’s title has possibly altered it’s effectiveness, consider the fact that throughout the UK where Clare’s Law is in effect, only 4% of those availing of the scheme are men – This figure of 4% remains constant in both Scotland and England alike.

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Detractors and those in the habit of pushing agenda/ignoring current evidence might try and argue the point of ‘less men suffering domestic violence’ being the real contributor to this number, however even a cursory glance into the realities of Domestic Violence show’s (and has shown since the 70’s) that men account for almost half of all DV victims while maintaining a considerable unlikelihood of reporting. So we won’t waste any time on this consideration.

Backlash from Donna’s Law Supporters

However, despite considerable evidence the backlash from those in favour of the name ‘Donna’s Law’ has been significant. Not to mention shaming and manipulative. Which has spurred us to write this article, demonstrating the logic and reason behind our position and also the absurdity of some of our opposition.

This week The Men and Boy’s Initiative had the honour of attending Stormont to meet with the Justice Committee (including but not limited to the Committee chairman, Paul Frew DUP). Among many things on the agenda for discussion was the ineffectiveness of gendered titles for legislation, case in point being Donna’s Law which is currently being pushed at party and ministerial level in Northern Ireland.

We were pleased to hear agreement on some of our concerns with gendered titles from Mr Frew, where he agreed it could lead to problems for future application and understanding.

Following the meeting we detailed our encounter as a recap for those interested in our cause, which promoted the following reaction on Twitter:

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And the following on Facebook:

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This backlash occurred in supplementation to more backlash our grouped received (when formerly known as Men’s Aid NI) for taking part in a PUP Party Conference in October where we registered our objection to DVDS being named Donna’s Law.

The motion for the law passed with a vote of 21-22, yet despite 20 other votes against it, our representative was the only person to be singled out on social media afterwards and accused of all manner of things, including but not limited to hating  women and not supporting the DVDS as a whole.

While this is clearly ludicrous behaviour and we can say without any doubt or form of caveat that we wholeheartedly support the introduction of DVDS – This manipulation of our stance is not new and in fact quite common , as you can see.

Our Response

Alicia Perry – Alicia’s reference to a ‘man’s attack’ on her campaign is likely directed toward our Chairman, who attended the aforementioned PUP conference and registered his concern with the name choice.

We’d like to firstly start by saying that The Men and Boy’s Initiative is not a single member, nor was it our Chairman who wrote the post she shared, however he does obviously stand by it’s sentiment.

This was not only a misunderstanding on Alicia’s part, but also another attempt at singling him out, likely for further vilification for having an opinion like he received after the PUP Conference.

Further to this we find the emotive language (while understandable) deeply concerning. To read that Alicia is ‘hurt & upset’ because a group shared a polite and in no way inflammatory conflicting opinion online, causes us to believe that it is perhaps unfair for her to be in this vocal position, given how close she is to the original incident.

We do, despite our conflicting stances on the matter, have the utmost sympathy for what Alicia has been through, and her intentions are highly honourable. However, at the risk of offending the more sensitive of you out there we must state, that the implementation of DVDS is bigger than one person, and it’s main objective should be to facilitate and aid all victims of Domestic Violence in the most efficient and open way it possibly can.

It’s effectiveness as a law must take precedent over everything else, including the desire to honour a tragic death. Unfortunately, honouring Donna is not the most important thing surrounding the discussion of DVDS, no one else (at party or ministerial level) has saw fit to say this so unfortunately it has fallen on us to be the bearers of an inconvenient truth.

Given that this discussion should be rational and logical, we do not believe it to be fair, appropriate or helpful for someone so deeply affected by these circumstances to maintain such an influential decision in the process of implementation, it’s not fair on Alicia (as demonstrated by her hurt at the hands of mild mannered opposition), nor is it going to result in a fair, impartial deployment.

William Ennis PUP – This response to our position is one we must hold with the deepest of contempt.

We find it both malicious and highly dangerous of William Ennis to make such a rash and unfounded implication of our stance, and due to extent of which he has attempted to manipulate our sentiment, we would hereby request the PUP to seriously consider their stance on not only this issue but indeed the specific conduct of Mr Ennis in this particular debacle.

For those of you wondering what our original Facebook post which resulted in all of this said, you can find it here:

https://www.facebook.com/menandboysinitiative/?fref=ts

As you’ll find, at no point did we say that we did not support the use and implementation of DVDS in Northern Ireland, in fact our stance (as we have repeated numerous times in this one post alone) is that we fully support it.

For Mr Ennis to take our stance of clear and decisive support of the legislation and attempt to frame it as opposition, and furthermore promote it as our support of the ‘abuse of women’ is nothing short of deplorable, unprofessional and downright deceitful.

We will not stand for such a blatant and toxic attempt at distorting public perception and as a result of this will be (and are hereby) requesting a meeting with the PUP Party Chairman to discuss not only where the party stands as a whole on this issue, but to find out their thoughts on party members creating nonsensical and damaging propaganda such as this.