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Monday, October 31, 2011

Legal Aid and Domestic Abuse. Helen Grimbleby

Will victims of domestic abuse be worse off with the proposed Legal Aid changes?
Helen Grimbleby


Today, 31 October 2001 sees the Report Stage of The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in the House of Commons.

This Bill fundamentally alters the way in which the state funds legal advice and representation (legal services) moving from the current opt out system where everything is funded unless specifically excepted to an opt in system where nothing is funded unless specifically provided for.

This blog is an in depth analysis and comparison of the legal aid law and guidance as it is now and how it will be if the 2011 Bill is enacted which will allow us to answer the questions will victims of abuse be worse off and if so how.

Do domestic abuse victims still qualify for legal aid?

Domestic Abuse will continue to be funded being specifically provided for within the legislation including:
·         home rights, occupation orders and non-molestation orders (under Part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996).
·         an adult (“A”) in relation to a matter arising out of a family relationship between A and another individual (“B”) where A has been abused by B or is at risk of being abused by B
o   there is a family relationship between two people if they are associated with each other[1] and
o   “abuse” means physical or mental abuse, including(a)sexual abuse, and (b)abuse in the form of violence, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation

What is all the fuss about?

The legislation continues to provide funding for domestic abuse cases so I started to wonder why some Parliamentarians, media and women’s groups are getting very hot under the collar.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) definition of Domestic Abuse is
‘any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults, aged 18 and over, who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender and sexuality.’ (Family members are defined as mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister and grandparents, whether directly related, in-laws or step-family.)

This definition is wider than the Bill envisages because it includes wider family members.
The current Legal Services Commission Funding Code and its decision making guidance currently provides that funding is
“not limited to any particular definition of domestic abuse” thus capable of encompassing wider family members.

The Bill on the other hand does not include family members and thus reduces the groups entitled to funding for legal services.

I have read and re-read the legislation and nowhere could I find reference to the need for the highest level of evidence of abuse to be able to secure funding.  I am confident that the legislation does not in itself do this. That, however, is not the end of it.

The Lord Chancellor will set out criteria in secondary legislation (Regulations) to determine whether an individual qualifies for legal services. These Regulations are not yet drafted but the government’s response to the consultation gives a good guide as to what they might contain:

1.      (Only) The following circumstances would provide appropriately clear, objective evidence of domestic violence for the purposes of qualifying for legal aid
o   there are ongoing criminal proceedings for domestic violence offence by the other party towards the applicant for funding
o   the victim has been referred to a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (as a high risk victim of domestic violence) and a plan has been put in place to protect them from violence by the other party; and
o   there has been a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic violence by the other party giving rise to the risk of harm.

The current criteria are not prescriptive as to acceptable evidence. The current threshold for refusal of funding is where the prospects of success are poor. There is no doubt that this amendment will raise the evidential bar for those who are eligible for legal services.

This will undoubtedly reduce the pathways for redress that are open to victims of domestic abuse.

It does also seem to go against other measures such Domestic Violence Protection Orders currently being piloted by the Home Office which aim to provide breathing space for victims to seek legal advice and longer term remedies such as non-molestation orders (but not, it would seem if the victim needs legal services funding) – bearing in mind that financial abuse is a common feature of domestic abuse you see the problem? Is this a classic case of the Ministry of Justice failing to consult properly with the Home Office???

2.      There will be a twelve month time limit to protect victims and to enable them to deal with their private family law issues.

Victims of domestic abuse often suffer for years before seeking redress. Enough said. This time limit does not exist at the moment.

3.      Legal aid would only be available for the victim of domestic violence or the protective party, and not to the other party

On the whole, this follows the ACPO guidance which encourages the police to identify a perpetrator and victim in each case. There is, however clear evidence of where this is extremely difficult and when incidents are looked at in isolation those roles might seem to be the reverse of a longer term pattern of behaviour. A blanket rule is questionable.

4.      Mediation will be an alternative to legal action.

Really? This idea is fraught with danger for victims and could risk perpetuating a cycle of violence and low self-esteem. There has been a statutory duty to consider mediation since 1997 but the underlying presumption that this could be appropriate for domestic abuse cases is definitely new.


Victims of domestic abuse will have less access to justice under the current proposals especially if they are non-intimate partners or if they do not make a formal complaint or if they are not assessed at the highest risk.

This will have a disproportionate impact on women but will also impact on men.

Helen Grimbleby
*Opinions are individual to the author. 

[1] they are or have been married to each other, they are or have been civil partners of each other, they are cohabitants or former cohabitants, they live or have lived in the same household, otherwise than merely by reason of one of them being the other’s employee, tenant, lodger or boarder; they are relatives, they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not that agreement has been terminated, they have or have had an intimate personal relationship with each other which is or was of significant duration,  they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (as defined by section 73 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004) (whether or not that agreement has been terminated), in relation to any child, they are both parents or having parental responsibility, they are parties to the same family proceedings  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Children and Young People in Custody

Children and Young People in Custody Report, 2010-2011

An analysis looking at the experience of 15 - 18 year olds in custody has been published and can be downloaded as a PDF HERE .


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Increasing Offences to Face Life Sentences, A. Smith

Increasing Offences to Face Life Sentences
 A. Smith

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has proposed changes to those offences faced with mandatory life sentences. As discussed on BBC News, this includes those who have been convicted of a second serious sexual or violent crime in England and Wales.
Violent or sexual offences were not the only crimes listed to potentially receive increased sentences; those 16 and 17-year-olds who have threatened someone with a knife could face mandatory custodial sentences which could result in an additional 400 young people being in custody per year.

Some young people were asked their thoughts and said this new mandatory sentence is not the way forward. As discussed on BBC Newsbeat, some young people said that the lawmakers are not understanding the reason WHY youth carry a knife in the first place. Their concerns were that some young people carry a knife because they are scared and they use it as a means of protection. Other young people commented and said that the new sentence would not act as a deterrent for young people – if they are going to carry a knife they will do it with or without the threat of consequences.

Currently offenders can be sentenced to an indeterminate sentence. This means that the offender can remain in custody until the parole board decides that they are no longer a threat to society. Indeterminate sentences are known to increase strain and stress on offenders and instead of participating in programs and focusing on how to become a better person, they are constantly thinking about and worried about the fact that they have no idea when they can be let out of custody. If you have been in custody for a long while and have started to become institutionalised, leaving custody can be just as frightening as arriving to custody.

With regards to the new sentences for knife crime, offenders could receive an automatic four-month detention and training order. On the first day of November the House of Commons will debate these new measures and potentially add them to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which is, at the moment, going through Parliament.

For more information visit


What are your comments regarding life sentences for a second violent or sexual offence? Do you agree or disagree with this approach?
Do you think the new mandatory custodial sentence for 16 and 17 year olds who threaten with a knife will act as a deterrent or do you think this could potentially be another method of net-widening?

A. Smith 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Looking Closer at England Rioters, A. Smith

Looking Closer at England Rioters

Information about those involved in the "disturbances" in England between August 6th - 9th 2011 has been released. The information has been condensed below. For more information visit the Justice Statistic Bulletin

*Click to enlarge photos 

So what do these figures tell us? Are these figures similar to the initial statements made by the press when the riots were first taking place?


When reading some of the quotes and responses of those involved or of friends and family of those involved, there seemed to be a common theme; some participated because they were bored, some because they were angry and frustrated, and others because they saw an opportunity to make money when in need. 
I am sure there are many other reasons as to why certain individuals were involved in the riots and I do not condone their actions or approve of what happened; however, I would hope that one of the government responses would be to address the frustrations expressed. 

Or maybe not. 
Wake up. 

*All posts are the opinion of the author. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Considering the “Cycle of Violence” A.Smith



Cathy Spatz Widom is a well-known researcher who has been testing the cycle of violence perspective for years by following a cohort of maltreated children into their adult years. Widom (1998) examined the cohort’s official criminal records “during adolescents and young adulthood and found that childhood victimization increases the likelihood of delinquency, adult criminality, and violent criminal behaviour” (p.226). She found that individuals who experienced childhood maltreatment (physical and sexual abuse, and neglect) were almost twice as likely to be arrested as a young offender for a violent crime than children who were not maltreated and were “of the same gender, age, and race who grew up in the same neighbourhood or who was born in the same hospital at the same time” (p.226). Widom (1998) found that maltreated children were not only involved in criminal behaviour earlier than the comparison group, but were convicted more frequently, were more likely to recidivate, and were more likely to become chronic offenders. Overall, Widom (1998) asserted “childhood victimization significantly increases a person’s risk of arrest as follows: by 59% as a juvenile, by 27% as an adult, and by 29% for a violent crime” (p.226).

As discussed before in this blog, it is the concern that childhood maltreatment not only increases the risk of criminal offending and violent behaviour, but also has a profound impact on the mental and behavioural development of youth later in life. Because a relationship was found between both criminal offending and violent behaviour with mental deficits, it is important that we consider not only the impact of childhood maltreatment on the former, but also consider its consequences on the latter.  Widom (1998) considered the impact childhood maltreatment has on any mental or cognitive deficits in youth later in life. Consistant with most child abuse literature, she found that childhood maltreatment increased the risk of suicide attempts and post traumatic stress disorder  (PTSD) symptoms; it was also more likely to manifest both cognitive and intellectual deficits and also increased the risk of aquiring antisocial personality disorders.

  In addition to examining the impact childhood maltreatment had on mental and behavioural development, in a later analysis, Widom, Czaja, and Dutton (2008) considered the impact childhood maltreatment had on the risk of future (re)victimization. In their recent study of the same cohort of individuals, Widom et al. (2008) found “abused and neglected individuals reported a higher number of traumas and victimization experiences than controls and all types of childhood victimization (physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect) were associated with increased risk for lifetime revictimization” (p.788). This information is important when discussing the cycle of violence perspective because it shows a relationship between early childhood maltreatment, later criminal offending and violent behaviour, and an increased risk of revictimization which, in turn, could lead to a further increase in criminal offending and violent behaviour.

Interestingly, Widom et al. (2008) found certain types of childhood maltreatment that increased the risk of later revictimization. According to their study, “compared to the control group, the neglected only group and those who experienced multiple forms of childhood abuse and neglect reported significantly higher numbers of lifetime traumas and victimization experiences” (p.791). It is important to note that these findings do not suggest that children who experience sexual abuse are not at an increased risk of revictimization. As Widom et al. (2008) explained, compared to the control group, those who experienced sexual abuse indicated a higher risk for later lifetime revictimization.

Although the life-course theories tend to focus much of their attention on the impact of early childhood behaviours on later adult behaviour, the main premise behind the life-course theories can serve to be beneficial when combined with the cycle of violence concept. As Moffitt et al. (2002) described, based on the age of onset, early childhood antisocial behaviour and mental deficits have been found to persist later in an individual’s life which is useful for this analysis as it lends support to the notion that effects of early childhood maltreatment can still shape the behaviour of an individual as they pass through their adolescent years. In addition, Thornberry and Krohn (2005) added to this discussion by arguing that those who manifest behavioural problems in early childhood were most likely to presist in serious delinquency over the life-course and display problems with temperment, aggression, impulsivity, and emotionality. In addition to these behavioural characteristics, Thornberry and Krohn (2005) also mentioned to the impact parental deficits can have on children with behavioural problems.

Even though these life-course theories are extremely helpful in understanding life trajectories of delinquent individuals, they tend to lack specific attention to behavioural patterns of youth during their adolescence as a consequence of early childhood experiences. However, these theories do provide us with reason to believe that what happens in early childhood can still affect how ad adult acts. Regardless, it is important to understand and consider why these individuals develop delinquent behaviours in the first place which is now better understood by looking at the cohort study examined extensively by Widom. She demonstrated that early childhood victimization was related to later violent and aggressive behaviour.

Furthermore, early childhood maltreatment can also increase the risk that an individual may experience later revictimization. Taking this cycle of violence perspective and combining it with the general concept of life-course theories, it is possible to examine the impact that early childhood experiences and behaviour have on later adolescent characteristics. Perhaps if a better understanding of the impact early childhood victimization has on youth who are at this stage of development, can result in more appropriate interventions that are specific not only to young offender’s current needs, but also their past histories and experiences. However, in order to make a step towards these specialized interventions, more attention and discussion is needed with regards to understanding childhood maltreament pre-incarceration, reasons for increased risk of (re)victimization and/or violent behaviour, and also how this risk is displayed in the adolescent behaviour of incarcerated serious and violent youth. In doing so, it is hoped we will be able to better identify the specific needs of those who have suffered from childhood maltreatment and also identify if we are able to predict those who are more likely to be aggressive based on their childhood maltreatment experiences.

*References available upon request. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Our Fascination with Serial Killers. Scott Bonn, Ph.D.

Our Fascination with Serial Killers
              Scott Bonn, Ph.D.

Dating back to “Jack the Ripper,” who terrorized London, England, and the world in the 1880s, serial killers have captured our collective imagination while sending chills down our spines. Although they account for only a small fraction (perhaps 2%) of the 17,000 or so murders each year in the U.S.A., sexual psychopaths captivate many of us, in part, because of the unimaginable savagery of their deeds.  There is currently an unidentified killer of ten people (including at least six female prostitutes) whose bodies, some dismembered, were found on the South Shore of Long Island, New York, between December, 2010, and April, 2011. 

Those of us who have been properly socialized to respect life and possess the normal range of emotions, including kindness, empathy, pity and remorse, cannot comprehend the workings of a mind that would compel one to abduct, torture, rape, kill, and sometimes mutilate or even eat another human being.  Serial killers elicit a morbid fascination from us that we also have for terrible calamities such as train wrecks and natural disasters.  Simply put, we are compelled to understand why serial killers do such horrible things to (generally) complete strangers. 

Many of us just can’t help watching the spectacle of serial killers, and we receive a rush of adrenaline from their deeds, although it is often difficult for us to admit, and we may feel a bit guilty about the inappropriate thrill that their horrible acts offer us.  Serial killers seem to appeal to our most basic and powerful instinct—that is, survival.  Serial killers have a visceral appeal that is fueled by our adrenaline, a hormone that has a powerful, euphoric and even addictive affect on our brains.  Just ask any child who will ride a roller coaster until he or she becomes physically ill.

Perhaps it should not be surprising that serial killers have become fixtures in our popular culture.  Our fascination with them is fueled by the massive news media attention they receive.  One may recall the “Son of Sam” murders during the summer of 1977 in New York City and the relentless media coverage of those events throughout the so-called summer of Sam.  Similarly, fictional serial killers are glorified and even romanticized in the accounts of characters such as Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter in the wildly popular movie “Silence of the Lambs” or Dexter Morgan in the TV series “Dexter.”                    

The profiling of serial killers—that is, predicting their characteristics and behavior, while not an exact science, is well established among criminologists and professional investigators, especially the FBI.  In the vernacular of profiling, the unknown sexual serial killer of six young, white, female prostitutes on Long Island, New York (there are also several unidentified bodies, including a female toddler and a young Asian male) is an “organized” killer.  This means that he plans and executes his murders with great care, making him very difficult to apprehend.  After establishing contact with his victims on “Craigslist,” a classified advertising site on the Internet, he meets them on his own terms, kills them, and then transports their bodies for disposal along Ocean Parkway on Long Island.  In contrast, “Jack the Ripper” was a classic “disorganized” killer and homicidal manic whose crimes were spontaneous and haphazard.  He slashed his victims and left them in a heap where they died.       
Based on the principles of behavioral profiling, the unknown Long Island, New York killer is most likely a white male in his mid-20s to mid-40s. He is likely married or has a girlfriend. He is well educated, technologically adept and well spoken.  He may even be charming.  He is financially secure, has a reliable job, and owns a car or truck.  Although he does not currently live on or near Ocean Parkway on the South Shore of Long Island, he is intimately familiar with the area and may have once lived there.  Most of all, he is careful and meticulous.

Serial killers such as Dennis Rader, the man known as “BTK” (Bind, Torture, Kill) who terrorized the city of Wichita, Kansas, U.S.A., are driven by overpowering compulsions to kill and yet suffer no remorse.  It has been clinically demonstrated that some serial killers actually become tranquil when presented by visual images of brutality and extreme violence, rather than becoming agitated as a normal person would under such circumstances.  BTK, for example, has stated that the moment of ultimate satisfaction in his crimes was reached when he extinguished the life of his victims through strangulation.  At that moment, “I was God,” he has said.

Can there be any prospect more frightening than that of a careful and compulsive sexual killer who cannot control his impulses to murder and absolutely will not stop until he is apprehended? Such an individual (or “monster” as they are generally called in the media) is almost incomprehensible, yet that is who or what now preys on young prostitutes and others on the South Shore in New York.  Let’s hope that he is apprehended quickly and before another innocent life is taken.  Until then, however, a “monster” walks among the citizens of New York who collectively comprise his captive and riveted audience.

Scott Bonn, PhD, is a criminologist and assistant professor at Drew University, Madison, NJ, U.S.A.  He is currently writing a book on serial killers and is the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq.”  He can be reached at @DocBonn on twitter or

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Youth Violence and Victimization. A.Smith


A. Smith.

“Those who have studied child victimization have often noted that the national
concern over cruelty to animals has been stronger than that over children”
(Walklate, 1989; cited in Brown, 1998:114)

During the last 20 years, there has been an enormous amount of theorizing and debates about the relationship between early childhood maltreatment and later antisocial behaviour in adolescence. Runyon et al (2006) report the possibility of various emotional, behavioural, psychological and interpersonal difficulties experienced later in life. To mention a few, Runyon et al (2006) report “common emotional responses included anger, hostility, guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression...and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder” (p.30). Those who experienced childhood physical victimization often display behaviours such as poor-problem solving, aggressive outbursts, lack of empathy and lack of communication skills (Runyon et al, 2006). In addition, when compared to non-abused youth, children who experience physical maltreatment sometimes alienate themselves from others and commonly interpret social interactions with peers as hostile, resulting in them acting out.

It is important to continue to monitor the behavioural outcomes of childhood physical abuse due to the fact that, as mentioned by Briere (1992) childhood physical abuse can increase violent and aggressive behaviours later in the individuals life. Briere (1992) asserts that physical abuse is repeated in adulthood and aggressive criminality committed by those who experience physical abuse in childhood may not be best dealt with through incapacitation. He suggests that abuse specific programs should be administered to those who have suffered from physical abuse in the past as a way to mediate or decrease the chances of future aggression and violent offending. Johnson et al (2002) examine the behavioural and emotional outcomes of child abuse and also find that victimization was a significant predictor of aggression and depression. In Johnson et al‟s (2002) study, they examine the different internalized and externalized behavioural outcomes of physical abuse. According to their study, internalized behavioural outcomes associated with previous childhood physical abuse include problems such as withdrawal, anxiety, and depression; externalized problems include conduct disorder, aggression, and delinquency.

Impact of Sexual Victimization

Child sexual abuse has been well researched and the impact and outcomes of this type of victimization has been documented by many. We know females are often more at risk than males for experiencing childhood sexual abuse and both are at an increased risk when living without a natural parent (Runyon et al, 2006). The impact of child sexual abuse can vary depending on the developmental stage of the child at the time the abuse happened, but also depending on the coping strategy of the child. Various studies (Johnson & Kenkel, 1991; Leitenberg, Geenwald, & Cado, 1992; 35, as cited in Runyon et al, 2006) report coping strategies such as avoidance, self-blame or denial foster more negative emotional and psychological reactions to childhood sexual victimization. Runyon et al (2006) report “although some children suffer full-blown PTSD, major depression, sexual behaviour problems, and other severe and sometimes long –lasting psychiatric difficulties, other children appear to be asymptomatic, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a disclosure and investigation” (p.34). These findings are supported in a study conducted by Beitchman, Zucker, DrCosta, Akman & Cassavia (1992) who find evidence of long-term negative behavioural characteristics in a sample of females who were sexually abused in childhood. According to Beitchman et al (1992) these negative characteristics included “sexual disturbances, depression, anxiety, fear, and suicidal ideas and behaviour” (p.1119).

Those at an increased risk of sexual abuse during childhood are individuals who live in an environment without a biological mother or father at some point during childhood (Sink, 1988). According to Sink (1988), school-aged children who have experienced sexual abuse in early childhood exhibit serious psychological disturbances including aggression, impulsivity, destructive behaviour, and fearfulness. When looking at the behavioural characteristics of adolescents who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood, Sink (1988) finds “24 percent were symptomatic with anxiety, depression, and obsessive concerns and 21 percent showed dependent, inhibited qualities” (p.85). Evidence indicating inappropriate sexual behaviour is also noted within the sample of sexually abused youth. In a study by Friedrich, Urquiza, and Beilke (1986), externalized problems were found as a behavioural outcome of sexual abuse with slight gender differences. Friedrich (1986) finds that 35% of the boys and 46% of the girls show externalized problems such as aggression, depression, and social withdrawal and inappropriate sexual behaviour from the sexually abused boys.

Of significant concern is the fact that these outcome behaviours could be placing youth at an increased risk of adult sexual victimization. In a study by Biere (1984, as cited by Beitchman et al, 1992), 40% of sexually abused women report victimization in adult relationships. It is suggested that one of the reasons for the high frequency of revictimization is in part due to the fact that women who experience childhood sexual abuse may have a feeling of worthlessness and blame themselves for what has happened to them. As a result of this negative feeling, women seek men who are exploitive and will confirm their negative self-image.
Understanding and identifying the effects of childhood sexual abuse can be difficult to accomplish. Dietrich (2002) illustrates the important fact that sexual abuse may not have the same physical indications as would physical abuse. She mentions that one way to identify those who may have suffered from sexual abuse is they may separate themselves from family members and may express knowledge about sex and sexual language that in most cases would not be considered normal for children of that age. The impact childhood sexual abuse can have on later adolescent behaviour is important to consider when looking at aggression in adolescence as it is important to provide the correct type of counselling and intervention based on previous experiences.

With regards to the impact of neglect on behavioural tendencies later in life, Runyon et al (2006) finds both short-term and long-term effects of neglect. Some impacts of neglect include the development of anxious attachments, lacking enthusiasm, being easily frustrated and angered, being non-compliant and also being overly dependent on their mothers for help. According to Runyon et al (2006) “observations indicate that young children (ages 3.5 – 6 years) display poor impulse control, rigidity, a lack of creativity, and general adjustment problems” (p.27). In addition, neglected children are often emotionally withdrawn, inattentive, lacking in self-esteem and self-confidence.

Looking at the statistics from the Home Office Statistical Bulletin 2010/2011 we find that many of the youth victimisation categories have increased since the previous Bulletin twelve months prior. Knowing what we know about youth victimisation, it is important that we increase public awareness of the issue and put pressure on those in charge to not only focus on young people as “delinquent” or as “offenders” but to also be sure to take time to view young people as being high risk to victimisation.

*References available upon request. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Introduction to this Blog

Issues of Crime and Criminality should not rest in the hands of the politicians and policy makers. These are issues that need to be questioned, discussed and debated by many. When I am teaching my Criminology students and see their reactions while we discuss topics such as moral panics, the social construction of crime, and the misrepresentation of "official" criminal statistics, it makes me want to share this information and debate these issues with everyone.

If the wider public had a better understanding of the issues that surround crime and criminality then it may be the case that public pressure and "outrage" could be redirected and be used as a tool to pressure politicians and policy makers to make truly informed decisions about punishments and interventions instead of making highly politicised decisions. 

The purpose of this blog is to share information with readers and to discuss issues that deserve to be discussed and debated. Readers are welcome to comment and share opinions; however, we would like to continue to be productive so please keep your comments respectful. 

If there is any particular issue or topic you would like to see discussed, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do my best to write about your topic of interest. 

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