It’s been a year since I wrote my letter to our political leaders regarding the cuts to domestic violence support services, and just under a year since I received my (sole) reply from Theresa May. Since then, despite May assuring me that councils were being asked not to see this area as an ‘easy cut’, along with a vague reference to investing in ‘people’, everything that we predicted would happen to the sector and the women it supports, has happened.
In particular, refuges are closing down or losing their funding. Women’s Aid are reporting that refuges are turning away 230 women a day (http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/care/charities-have-to-turn-away-women-seeking-refuge/6520815.article), often with advice to sleep in occupy camps or A&E departments, or even in bus stations. Of course, many of these women, having found the courage and strength to leave a violent home, often with children in tow, will be forced to go back. They might not have anywhere else to go.
The warning from the domestic violence support sector was stark. Make these cuts, they said, and more women will die. And they have, devastatingly, been proven right.
According to Nia Central, between 1st Jan 2012 and 20th April 2012, 33 women and girls have been murdered as a result of gender-based violence. The suspects are their husbands, their boyfriends, their exes or male family members. That’s 33 women in 111 days. That’s one woman or girl (as some of the victims are under-18) every 3.3 days (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=362416127128605&id=251422554894630).
There is little to say in the face of such horror, such damning evidence. Other than that this is a war against women. As a comparison, less UK military personnel have died in Afghanistan (15) than women have died as a result of gender-based violence in the same time period.
The government cuts are leading to the destruction of a support system that was – despite always being underfunded and overstretched – helping 1000s of women every day escape violent homes (and men too – Gemini for example provides refuge places for men). The closure of refuges has resulted in hundreds of women being told every day that there is no-where for them to go to escape violent homes. And this lack of support, this lack of escape route, is resulting in a higher rate of domestic abuse deaths – a figure that some evidence suggested was decreasing (from 2 a week to 1.5).
A report published last month found that funding from local authorities to organisations supporting victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse had fallen from £7.8 million in 2010/11 to £5.4 million in the current financial year (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/mar/03/refuge-chief-warns-charity-close). This is in spite of official reports that there were 400,000 domestic violence incidents reported last year and the police receive a domestic abuse related phone call every minute. Some local authorities have made funding cuts to this sector of nearly 50% (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-12402776). Despite Theresa May’s promise to me last year, councils are seeing domestic abuse support services as an easy cut. Victims and survivors of domestic violence are being silenced and they are being forgotten. And with the continued closure of refuges, women are being offered the impossible choice of staying in a violent home and risking being killed, or leaving and sleeping rough with their children. This is not a choice at all.
When I write about domestic abuse murders, I am often questioned on my statistics. People who don’t believe the numbers, who think they are ‘too high to be true’. On the flipside, I’ve (unbelievably) had people comment that 104 murdered women a year doesn’t seem ‘very much’. I now feel that the government and local authorities have joined those online ‘trolls’ who don’t see the terrifying domestic violence figures as ‘very much’. Because, really, how many women have to die, before they say enough is enough? Before they stop these cuts? Before they see that closing refuges, cutting domestic violence support services is leading to the deaths of more and more women every week?
33 in 111 days?
Mr Cameron. Mr Clegg. Mr Osborne. Ms May.Ms Featherstone. Enough is enough.
I will be sending a copy of this blogpost to above names.