Porsha Nunes-Brown, Network Development Officer, attended the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre, which celebrates women and girls, and assesses the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential. She attended a panel discussion on domestic violence and what changes need to be made to ensure the protection of women and young girls in the UK.
Why doesn’t she just leave if the abuse is that bad?
Domestic violence only occurs in poorer families.
Domestic violence only entails physical abuse.
Above are just a few of the many misconceptions regarding domestic violence. The common belief that a woman is able to safely leave an abusive relationship, is completely false. Research shows that leaving an abusive partner is the most unsafe time for a victim.
Despite there being a wealth of evidence that domestic violence is a common tragedy experienced by women throughout this country, there remains a lack of investment and political will to affect any substantial change to make this country a safer place for women and young girls.
Sarah Ricca, Solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn, outlined how the commonly known statistic, that two women a week are killed due to domestic violence, has remained the same for a number of years with little progress being made to decrease deaths. There is an outrageous statistic, that on average when a woman has contacted the police concerning domestic violence, she has been a victim of domestic violence 35 times.
The appalling level of support women eventually receive after they have mustered up the courage to come forward, is disturbing. Research highlights that 85% of women have to request help on five separate occasions before they access the support they require. This cannot be right, that as we encourage women to come forward and be open about their abuse, that there isn’t a sufficient support structure in place to provide the necessary care and support.
Alison Saunders, Director of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), stated conviction rates for domestic violence are growing, having increased 13% over the last ten years. It is hoped this will give victims more confidence to come forward. The Serious Crime Act (2015), was heralded as a great mark of progress, with legislation explicitly criminalising coercive or controlling behaviour perpetrated against an intimate partner or family member.
Coercive control is at the heart of domestic violence and it enables domestic violence to occur. With the introduction of the Serious Crime Act, this needs to be partnered with investment into the education of judges, magistrates, health and social care professionals, also the police on coercive control and how to enact the law to better support individuals affected by domestic violence.
Nevertheless, the amount of domestic violence cases are increasing but we must remember we are still at the tip of the iceberg, with under-reporting and low conviction rates being key barriers to justice. The CPS is working towards victims of domestic violence not having to provide evidence in court, which can be an emotionally distressing experience for those who have experience of it.
The change in law is welcomed, but it is necessary to highlight the law is only the beginning stages of creating a society, where women and young girls do not have to live in fear of violence, in many cases from their loved ones.
Whilst all women experiencing domestic violence undergo considerable stress and trauma, there are special support needs for women over 50. Research shows a quarter of women over 50 have lived with abuse for over 25 years also the experience of disabled and Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) women was raised as key issues that need addressing.
It was made clear that domestic violence is about gender and the unequal power balances between men and women. Despite it being acknowledged that some men are affected by domestic violence, the statistics demonstrate that domestic violence overwhelmingly affects women and young girls.
Ban Ki-Moon stated at an UN event on Women’s Access to Justice, “Justice for women takes more than new laws and funding. Ultimately, we need new mind-sets.”
CSAN member Women@thewell support women affected by domestic violence, please read about how they carry out their valuable work.