There’s a bit of an uproar in the U.K. over a law named after a woman who was killed by a man she met on the Internet. Clare’s Law would give women the right to check an abusive partner’s criminal past. It’s being pushed by British Home Secretary Theresa May.
The Daily Mail article noted the bill is in response to rising fears that more women may be at risk of meeting dangerous men with the rise in online dating.
The law is named after Clare Wood, who was killed by George Appleton, whom she met on Facebook. The man, who hanged himself after he strangled Wood, had an extensive criminal history, such as repeated harassment, kidnapping one of his ex-girlfriends at knifepoint and other threats.
As expected, the law is being greeted with some backlash:
Tory MP Robert Buckland, a member of the Commons Justice Committee, said: ‘We’re all in favour of curbing violence against women but we have to be certain this will not lead to fishing expeditions by women demanding confidential information about potential boyfriends without proper justification.
‘You cannot have a carte blanche system where people can simply turn up at a police station, give the name of a boyfriend or potential boyfriend, and expect the police to open up all the files on him. There will have to be strict controls on any proposal of this nature.’
Lucy Reed pinned an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper noted the law would not cut down on domestic violence.
The “Clare’s Law” proposals would not hamper the ability of serial abusers to continue. Although the scheme could permit the sharing of information, it is easy to imagine a potential victim still in the romantic haze of a new relationship being persuaded that it was just malicious gossip, a misunderstanding, perhaps mistaken identity or, as is often the defence in such cases, that their lover was defending themselves against a violent ex-partner.
“Clare’s Law” is based on the assumption that people would make safe choices about relationships if they were better informed. But it is difficult to think of a practical mechanism that could turn this assumption into reality.
Such a system also risks creating a false sense of security and a tendency to rely on official agencies rather than a person’s own instincts when judging the suitability of partners. There are many violent and potentially violent offenders who would be given a clean bill of health under the proposed scheme. Would that make their partners safer?
Reed noted that many victims of domestic violence are not lacking information, but lack an “escape route” or an ability to survive without their partners.
Those who are rallying against this are calling it a privacy violation, such as the blog entry written by Anna Moore at Adamsmith.org:
The issue is risk. An individual has the right to defend herself against direct harm. She has the right to try to avoid risk. She does not have the right to violate another’s privacy to avoid risk, however. Privacy, like all other individual liberties, should be jealously guarded, and is only justifiably breached to protect against direct harm. Probability is insufficient.
To think otherwise denies a tenet of our justice system, that people are innocent until proven guilty. With Clare’s Law, Casey is juxtaposing a rap sheet and crime stats and assuming recidivism. This is unacceptable.
Justifying a rights violation on the basis of likelihood is an argument of infinite regress: mightn’t every woman with whom an offender comes into contact be at risk? Everyone, for that matter? The only acceptable bright-line is actual harm.
The proposal subverts the purposes of punishment. Submitting an ex-felon to perpetual privacy violations does nothing to further the aims of incarceration, deterrence, rehabilitation, or retribution (well, perhaps some ignoble part of the latter). It is likely to alienate offenders who are trying to move on with their lives. Indeed, Clare’s Law actively undermines rehabilitation. Treating offenders as statistical data points denies the possibility of reform.
Violence against women is unacceptable. So are witch hunts and privacy violations. We restrict who can access police files because we believe privacy is important, and correlation is not enough to encroach upon this right.
So, it’s okay to subject sexual offenders to privacy violations, or as Moore called them, “ex felons,” and make their criminal history against minors accessible to the public by a searchable database, but a woman seeking basic information about a person she’s interested in makes that a privacy violation?
What I find ironic is if these opponents were so concerned about privacy violations of suspected wife/girlfriend beaters/killers, they would be drafting laws to crack down on private companies working with concerned citizens to get background information on a certain person. The criminal history on people is already accessible and can be made readily available, provided a customers pays a hefty fee to a PI or company to obtain the information.
I think the uneasiness about this law stems from opponents feel a woman would jump over these hurdles just to snoop on a potential mate. But, I can’t reconcile how everyone seems to be okay with requiring “ex felon” sexual pedophiles to register with the government and make their crimes and sentences available for the public to scorn, ridicule or critique, but want to prevent women from obtaining a potential mate’s criminal history.
What do your thoughts on Clare’s Law?