Just the Usual Suspects?! – Personal reflections on domestic abuse following Baby Jacob Crouch’s tragic murder.
Words escape me on some occasions.
As we are left to take in the horrific details of Jacob Crouch’s all-too short life, that of a 10 month-old, viciously abused baby boy who was murdered by his step-father Craig, we are left, yet again, with many more questions than answers.
Last week at Derby Crown Court, Crouch, 39, was sentenced to a minimum term in prison of 28 years for the murder of baby Jacob, while his partner, Jacob’s mother, Gemma Barton was sentenced to 10 years for causing or allowing the death of a child and one count of child cruelty.
It is, of course, the job of a judge not just to deliver justice but also society’s official verdict – or ‘take’ – on these terrible events. That, in turn, informs how the rest of us should view or try to make sense of what happened.
Mr Justice Kerr said Crouch, who told many lies and used bullying tactics, was “domineering, aggressive, boastful and arrogant” to Barton who had reacted with “submissive and meek misplaced affection”.
Quite rightly, in my opinion, the judge concluded that Barton had herself been a victim of domestic abuse in the relationship. Crouch had exploited Barton’s “low self-esteem” and convinced her she “needed his help to be a good mother.”
As we know from thousands of victim/survivors in NCDV, and, as the law has finally recognized and made a criminal offence in 2015, coercive control is always a factor in domestic abuse and can lead victims themselves to commit crimes, as a result of being controlled and coerced.
Many women prisoners in the UK have experienced domestic abuse in one or more of its forms [57% of the current population according to some estimates] and many are in prison because their former abusive partners coerced them into offending.
I have to say that I disagree with the judge on one point. As he was sentencing Crouch, the judge said Crouch was “in some ways, an unlikely murderer.” [This seems to be because Crouch had no previous convictions and was, allegedly, tidy about the house]
Sadly there are plenty of dead women and children who are the victims of just such an ‘unlikely’ perpetrator. Two women a week in the UK are still being killed by partners or former partners, who are usually described in the media and by their family and friends as ‘normal people’ and ‘wonderful neighbours’. If there is one thing that more than 25 years of fighting domestic abuse has taught me it is that there is no such thing as an ‘unlikely murderer’.
The myth, that all victims and survivors of domestic abuse, come from a particular, troubled section of society, still exists!
I still remember the reaction when I told someone, years ago, that I worked in a refuge for women escaping domestic abuse. “Oh those places are full of council house women and snotty-nosed kids,” they said.
For the record, I was brought up in a council house. I live in one now. These stereotypes are offensive and just not true.
It is true that women seeking to escape their abuser in a refuge do tend to be in local authority housing and on benefits. For good reason too: a refuge place in London can cost upwards of £500 per week. Women who do work, are likely to have needed to give up their job to move into refuge in a different area and even if they have been able to keep their jobs, they would need to be earning a significantly high salary to afford to pay the ‘rent’ of a refuge. This is another myth. Refuges are not free!
The reality is that, generally, only women who are entitled to benefits and social housing can go into refuge because they are able to claim housing benefit to pay the ‘rents’, and thence the breathing space they need to rebuild their lives and eventually move back into regular housing.
The reality is not the same for women who are in employment or who have savings, or have their names on joint mortgages. I was once talking to a fellow survivor who had not been able to access refuge or legal aid to get a non molestation injunction – as I had – and she told me she envied me and that the money she had, had only served to further trap her within the abusive relationship.
For the women who are unable to access housing, benefits or civil legal support, they are every bit as trapped as those women who have fallen back on the state. Domestic abuse does not discriminate. There is no ‘unlikely murderer’!
It is only when we can look past the stigma of domestic abuse and our own narrow minded views of what a typical perpetrator looks like, or who a typical victim is, or where he/she comes from, that we will have a chance of understanding the profound, pervasive and insidious nature of domestic abuse – in all its many guises. Perhaps then, we have a chance of at least, making domestic abuse socially unacceptable. Because the sad reality is we may never eradicate it completely.