As I write there’s been strong criticism of the Sun newspaper’s front page story which had an interview with JK Rowling’s first husband under the headline: “I slapped JK and I’m not sorry”. The paper’s treatment of the story was condemned as giving voice to an alleged perpetrator of domestic abuse and causing huge distress for the tens of thousands of women who every year are victims of domestic abuse including here in Fleetwood.
Domestic abuse is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, for the year ending March 2019, an estimated 1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse. On average, every hour, the police in England and Wales receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse – but at the same time only 18% of women who experience partner abuse reported it to the police.
The long-delayed Domestic Abuse Bill is now being scrutinised by MPs. The draft bill proposes to introduce measures to address coercive control and economic abuse, how domestic abuse affects children and transform the response in the justice system but at present it goes nowhere near far enough in tackling the hurt that’s going on behind closed doors. Last year the Home Office released research on the cost of domestic abuse to society which they calculate as being £66bn. This includes the cost to health services of £2.3bn, the cost to police of £1.3bn and the cost to victim services of £724m.
Yet the Domestic Abuse Bill provides nowhere near the level of resourcing that is needed to keep women and children safe. Like all local services, those for domestic abuse have had their funding slashed since 2010. The extra funding announced by the Government in February for refuge services will not fill the gap – the number of refuge spaces in the UK is almost a third lower than the number recommended by the Council of Europe. In addition, there’s been no extra funding allocated for community services, which are accessed by most domestic abuse survivors. The legislation will give the police greater powers to enforce domestic abuse protection orders, but the Government is not providing resources or training for the service which has also had its budget slashed over the last ten years.
As the chief executive of the charity Women’s Aid says, domestic abuse costs lives and it costs money. It’s happening at epidemic levels yet it’s been largely hidden behind closed doors. Now is the time to bring it out into the spotlight and address the impact of domestic abuse properly once and for all. The bill represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address domestic violence; but in order to do so, we must ensure its aspirations are matched by adequate resource.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse there is support, you’re not alone. You could call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 which is free and available 24 hours a day. Or you can go online for support from https://www.refuge.org.uk/ or https://www.womensaid.org.uk/.
If I can help in any way then please call my office on 01253 490440 or email me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember there are lots of support networks available to provide alternative housing, help with money issues and help to create a safety plan. Please stay safe.