If you beat up a woman, you should do time. End of story

"Perpetrator programmes" risk supporting the abuser more than the abused.

Can you imagine the reaction from the majority in Britain if it were suggested that those arrested for rioting and looting should avoid court and prison but attend classes on "Why it is bad to loot and steal", funded by the tax-payer. Think for a minute what would be said if those who set fire to cars, smashed windows with hammers, and stole as much as they could carry were told that if they signed up to a few session in which they explored the "issues" that led them to committing such crimes, they could stop worrying about punishment.

Much of the left and the right would unite in sniggers on this issue, and for good reason. Whether or not the crimes warrant a community service or probation order, fine, or, for the more serious acts, prison, we tend to believe that those who wilfully commit acts of violence and destruction that results in the harm of other people should face some degree of punishment.

Less so, it would appear, if you have beaten up your female partner and smashed up her property. Almost as soon as the phrase, "domestic violence" -- which often includes rape, stalking, serious injury, psychological torture, and other despicable acts -- is mentioned, it seems that someone pipes up about sending the poor men on a "perpetrator programme".

Of course I accept that there are differences between court-mandated programmes and those run by independents, such as the horrendously woman-blaming Temper!, in which warnings are issued about a "feminist approach" to domestic violence, and maintains that men are the real victims.

Perpetrator programmes involve men joining up with other abusers and attending group sessions in which they discuss and are challenged on their violent criminal actions. But are they more supportive of the abuser than the abused? Do they in fact leave the women in more danger than if the men had been dealt with in the same way as other violent offenders?

Davina James Hanman, director of the London-based charity Against Violence and Abuse (AVA), insists that perpetrator programmes are not the "soft" option. "For most of these men -- tightly trapped in traditional notions of masculinity -- prison is the soft option compared with deconstructing your feelings and behaviours. Frankly I'd rather someone tried to change his behaviour towards women than he be banged up for 23 hours a day brooding on the 'bitch' that put him there."

Maybe the problem is that "traditional sanctions" are a mere slap on the wrist? But this is also the case for rape, and yet we do not (yet) suggest that those thought to be guilty of such a serious crime attends a course to talk about his unhappy childhood rather than face the court: unless that rape is committed within a context of domestic violence, of course.

There is no reason why classes re-educating men about stopping their violence against women cannot be run from prison, and prison alone. You beat up a woman, you should do time. End of story.

These men are life-threatening. They ruin the lives of the children who witness it, and often end the lives of their victims. Why should we treat them as though they are "ill" rather than making a choice to inflict pain and misery on someone they profess to love? Do we really want these men sitting in a circle weeping about how their mother didn't love them, and deciding which flower their penis best resembles?

Because perpetrator programmes are becoming so accepted (only for crimes involving forms of violence towards women, interestingly) the appeal is spreading. A recent government inquiry into stalking legislation posed the question as to whether "treatment programmes should be available for perpetrators and, if so, what should be their content?"

The most common form of stalking occurs after the end of a violent relationship, The largest-ever survey on stalking found that many of its 745 respondents fear that they will be killed, or driven to kill themselves. It is risible to even consider removing such dangerous men -- most of whom are abusers of women -- from the criminal justice system, and giving them a soft option.

So long as we think of domestic violence as being the odd slap and kick, and fail to acknowledge that it more-often-than-not involves sexual assault, horrendous, long-term harassment and, for two women every week in England and Wales, death, perpetrator programmes may sound reasonable to many as a way to change behaviour. But in reality, we are treating these men differently from other violent and dangerous criminals.

Julie Bindel is a journalist and feminist campaigner. She tweets at @bindelj

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle