Expert analysis: Why the Caroline Flack case placed CPS in a difficult position - Mark Brooks

In November, The Yorkshire Post covered the latest figures on domestic abuse against men. They showed that across the four police forces in the region, there had been 18,646 reports where men were the victim in 2017/18. At the time, we declared this was one of the last ‘taboo’ subjects with thousands of men who were too ashamed to report what had happened to them due to the stigma of being a victim of this crime.

Caroline Flack pictured in 2017. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Zeo)

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that nearly half of all men who are victims of this abuse at the hands of a partner fail to tell anyone – not friends, family, work colleagues – let alone the police, doctor or any other service. The same is seen on our helpline where over half of the men who call only do so because they can speak to us anonymously. For three in every four callers, they have never told anyone they were a victim before calling us.

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What does this tell us? Primarily, there is a real concern from men about stigma and shame alongside worrying what others will think – “will I be believed?”, “will people laugh at me?”, “no other man in the world has ever gone through this”. Often, this is all playing out in a typical male victim’s mind and even more so when the person carrying out the abuse is a woman.

For many male victims, they have become isolated from their friends and family, living in fear, not knowing who to turn to, where to escape to or what will happen next. Treading on eggshells, still in love and thinking they can change their partner’s behaviour.

Against this backdrop, for decades the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had to contend with cases which they have had to drop because the victim withdrew their support – even when the case was clearly worth taking forward for judgment by a jury or a magistrate. It was their fear, the control, the consequences.

This is why there was a campaign for change led by charities supporting female victims to support the CPS to continue with cases where they had evidence and which were in the public interest even when the alleged victim had withdrawn their support.

It was the recognition of the particular pernicious nature of domestic abuse and the experience of psychological control which was a significant reason why an alleged victim withdrew. We supported such a move firstly because it was right in principle but also because we knew that men were withdrawing their support for cases because they also feared feeling stigmatised, ashamed and ridiculed. For many, they often did not even recognise they were a victim of domestic abuse because they thought only women could be.

Fast forward to 2020 and the tragic circumstances surrounding the sad passing of Caroline Flack. Since the weekend, the CPS has been pilloried for wanting to take the case against her forward even when the alleged victim no longer supported a prosecution and withdrew his complaint. Many commentators have provocatively declared that their actions were akin to pursuing this as a “show trial”, with one solicitor publicly stating that “it feels like it was nothing more than an attempt by the CPS to show how rigorously it pursues domestic abuse cases, especially one involving a male complainant”.

None of this is true. The CPS was only doing what society asks and needs it to do.

CPS guidance is clear that they can proceed with a case in this area without the alleged victim’s support if they have sufficient evidence that a crime had taken place. This includes taking into account statements made by an alleged victim around the time that the offence was allegedly committed. More than 50 per cent of domestic abuse cases that the CPS consider are already dropped because the alleged victim will not support a prosecution.

If the CPS does proceed when an alleged victim withdraws, they must believe they have enough evidence to proceed. As Nazir Afzal, a former Chief Prosecutor, has said this week – the CPS follow the evidence. Society over the last 10 years has rightly decided that tough action needs to be taken on domestic abuse, which is why changes in the CPS guidance were made and supported.

For male victims, there is huge internal, mental pressure of dealing with the concern about public humiliation, shame and for some, the chivalrous instinct of wanting to protect a woman from the consequences of their actions.

This means some men decide not to report what is happening to them and when they do, they then want to withdraw from further involvement in any investigation. The consequences of doing so can lead to a further escalation of the violence and the abuse because the perpetrators know there are fewer consequences of their actions.

It is vital therefore that in these cases where there is evidence that the CPS continue with a prosecution – and are not vilified for doing so.

The lives of female and male victims depend upon it.

For support, please call the ManKind Initiative helpline on 01823 334244 or www.mankind.org.uk

Mark Brooks OBE is chair of the ManKind Initiative charity