#TimesUp – victims of domestic violence need safe places to go!

Yesterday’s #TimesUp campaign to stand up against the abuse and harassment of women built on the awareness-raising of #MeToo. Women’s Aid, in joining organisations around the world for #TimesUp, said

“A culture that enables abuse, control and violence is thriving without challenge…..our first response to countless survivors is that she is not alone and she is not to blame. Control, abuse or violence towards an individual is never acceptable. Spotting the patterns and making individuals and agencies accountable for their actions is essential if more people are to come out of the shadows and know they will be seen and heard.”

Celebrities showed their support at the Baftas by wearing black. They wrote an open letter, “Dear Sisters…” with over a hundred signatories. This was in addition to a “Dear Sisters” activists’ letter which includes these moving words:

To every woman afraid to walk down the streets, or take public transport, we see you. To every woman scared to go home or who is trapped at home, we hear you. To every girl and every young woman who is terrified of going to school, we are with you. To every woman who has been detained, while seeking safety, we believe you. To each and every one of you, who has been subjected to any form of harassment, abuse and/or victimisation, we say this: we hear you. We see you. We believe you. We are with you.

We believe that it is possible to create a different world; one that is equal and just. We believe that it is possible for us to have freedom and safety wherever we are, from our homes to our workplaces. So today we come together with sisters in the entertainment industry to call Time’s UP on sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse, harassment and victimisation.

Today, the Sentencing Council has published new guidance on domestic violence. This is a welcome development. The seriousness of domestic violence is outlined:

The domestic context of the offending behaviour makes the offending more serious because it represents a violation of the trust and security that normally exists between people in an intimate or family relationship.

The guidelines also recognise the scope of domestic violence and recommend increased sentences

Domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident and it is the cumulative and interlinked physical, psychological, sexual, emotional or financial abuse that has a particularly damaging effect on the victims and those around them.

The government announced last year its intention to ratify the Istanbul Convention, creating a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act. The Convention’s full title is the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, and it covers all forms of violence against women and within domestic situations (including men, women and children). I wrote about the Istanbul Convention back in 2016, calling on the government to make this UK law.

But it is still not enough. Many women fleeing abuse now have nowhere to go. Funding for refuges has been terribly cut, leaving women and their children vulnerable and often homeless. The tales are horrific. Local authorities across the country have cut funding of refuges by up to 25%. Many women face no choice but to return to the abusive relationship. The choice is either there or on the streets.  My friend who was a victim of many years of domestic abuse felt her children were safer in the home, so stayed with her abuser. Women should not be put in this position.

The statistics quoted in the Times article, Domestic violence needs a #MeToo moment, yesterday were horrific:

Almost 100 women in England and Wales were killed last year by a partner or former partner, yet they are barely mentioned. According to the Office for National Statistics there were 1.9 million adult victims of domestic violence in the year ending March 2017, 1.2 million of them women. But because the abuse is happening at home rather than at work it’s still ignored.

There are now calls for the government to include in the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill a statutory requirement on Local Authorities to provide enough refuges in their area for women and their children fleeing violence. This is the least we can do. I will certainly be looking into this at Oxfordshire County Council, and I encourage activists up and down the country to do the same.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Feb '18 - 8:51am

    I have spent large chunks of the past 20 years assiting victims of domestic violence in family courts and they are overwhelmingly female. It is worth reminding ourselves, however, that there are very many male victims of domestic violence every year who are neither supported nor in many cases even acknowledged.

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