How social media can be a wife beater’s best friend

The government is moving strongly against psychological abuse visited upon victims of domestic crime. This is good. But even inside the main parties there's plenty to do, and a big revelation to come

Sleeping With the Enemy (1991). No Twitter in those days
Steven George-Hilley
On 21 August 2014 08:26

The announcement that Home Secretary Theresa May has launched a consultation into strengthening the law against psychological abuse, will come as a huge relief for many thousands of victims affected by these hideous crimes.

On average, throughout the year, two women a week are murdered by a current or former male partner, a shocking statistic which captures the clear physical risk but misses the additional psychological torture inflicted by these monsters often on a daily basis through intimidation and bullying.

Having helped support a victim of domestic violence, I know all too well how these criminals operate and inflict further pain on their former partners long after separation. In the case of my friend, her former partner was highly manipulative, an accomplished liar, very wealthy and always one step ahead of her.

He began turning former colleagues and friends against her and started running up huge legal bills with expensive solicitors over trivial issues, to which she struggled to respond. Such constant psychological abuse pushed her nearly to a nervous breakdown, an objective clearly sought by the abuser to weaken her resolve and increase her vulnerability.

A common myth is that many people believe domestic abuse ends once the victim has moved away from the abuser, but very often the total opposite is the case. The modus operandi of these criminals is one of control through constant fear and intimidation. In many cases this behaviour emerges through malicious and threatening online Facebook posts, proxy attacks and smears issued by mutual friends which is all part of an elaborate extension of the abuse.

Unfortunately, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are now rapidly becoming key tools in the wife beater’s armoury, providing anonymity and a new platform from which to conduct online abuse. The ability to issue online messages which on the face of it seem innocent, but are loaded with innuendo and hidden warnings to intimidate the victim, is now available to everyone with an email address.

It is this online world that adds a chilling new dimension to domestic that the Home Secretary is quite rightly bringing to the public’s attention.

But the political world is still demonstrating a deep lack of understanding around the true nature of domestic violence. It took a tremendous amount of pressure before David Ruffley MP decided to step down after accepting a police caution for a common assault on his former partner. 

The final push came from a joint letter, published on the Guido Fawkes site from several leading women political figures, calling for Ruffley to quit, and after much delay he announced he would not be standing in 2015.

I also know of one individual in the Labour party who has been using social media, including blogs, for several years now to target the friends and family members of his victim. The strategy undertaken is to isolate the victim by making it near impossible for her friends to support her, with the individual in question targeting their jobs, livelihoods and character in an attempt to gain total control over her life.

There is of course a clear public interest angle for this conduct to be exposed in the public domain ahead of the general election, and it will be. Failure to do so would be an insult to the woman in question, and deny the Labour party the opportunity to expel this creature from their membership once and for all.

The new consultation is a step in the right direction from the government and yet another excellent, strong policy announcement from Theresa May who is without doubt one of the most effective Home Secretaries in memory. More importantly than that, it will provide a huge comfort for the many thousands of victims of psychological abuse who have suffered for far too long.

Whilst social media may have unintentionally started becoming the wife beater’s best friend, this government is gearing up to become his very worst enemy. The sooner the legislation is changed, the sooner these monsters are jailed.

For tens of thousands of victims who have been beaten, tortured or maimed by an abusive partner, this change cannot come soon enough.

Steven George-Hilley is a director at the Parliament Street think tank and a Conservative Party activist. He is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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