The danger of cuts to violence against women services
Posted on February 17, 2012
This is the text of a speech I delivered earlier today at UNISON’s National Women’s Conference. It’s on motion 7: ‘Women at risk – the danger of cuts to violence against women services.’
The statistics speak for themselves.
Almost half of all adult women in the UK have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Between 50 and 80,000 women are raped every year in this country. An estimated 70,000 women living in the UK have undergone female genital mutilation, and up to 7,000 girls remain at high risk of having it done to them. Thousands more women and girls are threatened with so-called honour crimes or forced marriage and, according to the UN, some 200 million women and girls are missing from the world today because of sex selective abortions and female infanticide.
Last year the Home Secretary Theresa May declared:
“No level of violence against women and girls is acceptable in modern Britain or anywhere else in the world. …As women and girls we have made great strides but we need to do more to ensure that women and future generations are not held back. My ambition is nothing less than ending violence against women and girls.”
And yet despite the government’s new found concern about the prevalence of violence against women; despite its avowed commitment to both preventing this violence and dealing better with the aftermath of the gender hate crimes committed against us, specialist by women for women services, set up with the express purpose of providing support for the survivors of these crimes, remain desperately underfunded, and a woman’s ability to access such services remains subject to a postcode lottery.
Already, as a direct result of the cuts, many of these services are now facing a crisis in their funding. There have already been a number of closures and many other services are creaking under the weight of demand: helplines are often engaged, refuges are full, Rape Crisis and survivors’ groups have long waiting lists, and domestic and sexual violence advisors are having to ration their support to those individuals designated highest risk.
Earlier this month Professor Sylvia Walby and Jude Towers of Lancaster University reported on the impact of the ConDem’s cuts; reductions in national budgets that are leading to cuts in local services and more specifically cuts to violence against women services.
She reported that in 2011 for example, 230 women, just under 9% of those seeking refuge, were turned away by Women’s Aid on a typical day due to lack of space.
She reported that the number of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors has been reduced; that 2 out of 6 specialist refuges for black and minority ethnic women have been forced to close, and that two others have had their local authority funding cut.
And she reported that Police and court services that involve specialist expertise have also been reduced, with cuts being made to the operating levels of Domestic Abuse Officers, a unit on female genital mutilation, and to domestic violence courts.
Professor Walby’s report chillingly concludes: “There is serious concern that the reductions in services following from cuts to budgets will lead to an increase in the amount of violence against women and girls.”
And we’re already seeing worrying indications that this is actually happening.
Nearly all of the country’s Rape Crisis centres have reported an increase in referrals during the last twelve month for example, and, in the first two weeks of this year alone, ten women and girls were murdered by partners, ex partners, or fathers. Ten women and girls. Not two women a week, which is the usual statistic for these crimes, but one woman or girl for every single working day.
Just imagine what those figures are going to look like by the end of the year if this keeps up, and then remember, these are not just numbers we’re talking about but women’s lives.
Sustainable frontline services are essential in supporting the survivors of endemic male violence, and those services need to be funded effectively. Not piecemeal funding, but ring fenced funding, funding that enables specialist organisations to meet the needs of vulnerable women and girls.
Amazing speech. Amazing. Thank you for standing up and saying it.
I think about that letter i sent last year to May et al about the cuts to support services and how it has actually got worse, has been worse. They can talk all they like about their commitment to ending VAWG but they are doing nothing.
And, as you say, these aren’t numbers, these are women’s and girl’s lives. A 17 year old girl was murdered last week, 17 years old and murdered by her partner. And that was just the one i heard about – not that we heard about it on the national news.
Thanks for the speech & post Cath.
Things are getting very grim out there for women and girls.
It certainly was a slaughter going on at the beginning of this year, unbelievable numbers. 😦
I am a Women’s Aid worker in a medium sized town in Wales. It’s unlikely, due to lack of funding, that our organisation can even survive at all in its current form.
At present the only funding we receive for our floating support service is tenancy based, meaning that if a woman experiencing domestic abuse comes to us but has no specific tenancy issues, she does not qualify for floating support and we are not allowed to support her. This may sound completely mad but it is the truth. We are not funded to provide support for domestic abuse, but for tenancy issues.
We receive no funding AT ALL for outreach and drop-in services, which are arguably some of the most important services we provide, as these mean that women can literally come in off the street and be seen by someone straight away. We somehow manage to keep this service afloat thanks to help from volunteers and other staff but it’s on a very chaotic ad-hoc basis.
Our funders are now making noises to the effect that there is far too much refuge provision in our area and we know that area of services will be cut next.
We are dying I tell you, dying. And we’re not the only ones. It’s a similar story with Women’s Aid groups all over Wales and I believe the situation is similar in England also.
Please excuse my language Cath, but fucking fucking bollocks to Theresa May and her ilk at the Welsh Assembely. They’re full of pretty words regarding ending violence against women and girls but they do not care a fig. They say these things because they sound good while at the same time refusing to provide even basic statutory funding for front-line support services, and it makes me beyond furious.
The end result of cuts to womens support services is that more women will be killed due to gender based violence. More women will die. That is the bottom line.
The Conservative government – because it is a Tory one not a Coalition as is claimed have always been contemptuous of women and are determined to eliminate the tiny fundamental rights feminists fought long and hard for. Now proposals are being put forward to grant men even more rights of ownership and control over ex-female partners and their children. Then there is the issue of ‘provocation’ wherein males charged with murdering their female/ex female partner claim they acted ‘in the heat of the moment.’ Plans are afoot to amend the law again so that men charged with femicide will be able to claim ‘but guv I lost control because she nagged me/provoked me.’
Bottom line is when feminism is weak male supremacy rules and this is precisely what is currently happening. And no I do not think a labour government would be any more supportive of women’s fundamental rights because they too are terrified of popular (male-centric) public opinion. As one male tory MP claimed ‘it is all about individual worth’ as if male supremacist system is non-existent and men do not oppress and dominate females because we happen to be female not male.
Thanks for the effort on this Cath.
I was wondering if you happen to have your sources for this. ONS, BCS, and police figures are incontestable and underpin the argument.
Additionally, the huge figure of 70,000 FGMs is abhorrent – but who is going to actively interfere in another culture? My understanding is that there have been no prosecutions! Why not?
Finally, the sex selective abortion argument is most welcome – again it is usually ignored because it’s another culture. Who is prepared to criticise it in today’s climate of p.c.? I tried once and get what I got called? ‘r’ word.
Peter, FGM isn’t an issue about another culture, it is a women’s rights and child protection issue. The sooner the government start seeing it like this, and the training for social services etc see it like this, then the sooner we can tackle it in the UK. This idea that it’s a cultural issue and therefore untouchable is harming 1000s of girls and women.
The Daughters of Eve website is a great place to learn more about this issue, they are a fantastic charity of young women tackling FGM on the ground in UK communities.
Action is desperately needed on this – desparately. That is why I am trying to phrase accurately. We have to be honest to save lives and suffering.
It is women and children’s rights issue, that emanates from another culture. It is not to be found within traditional British culture (sorry about the phrasing but we can’t pretend otherwise). The reason there have been no prosecutions is because the authorities are reluctant to tackle African / Muslim / religious cultures, with all the blowback that would raise. No individual wants to take responsibility for assuring that women and children’s rights are above religious or cultural ones. I am 100% behind stopping this, please bear in mind that there has to be prosecutions. The law has been determined twice (’83 and 2003) – still no prosecutions.
We haven’t got time to be diffuse on this. I will review the web-site you have mentioned of course,
police figures are incontestable
OK, maybe incontestable is too strong, but better than some ‘survey’ on the internet.
In hindsight, you’re probably right.
My understanding is that there have been no prosecutions! Why not?
I think the answer is complicated and not as simplistic as you try to present. The vast majority of women in the UK who have undergone FGM had it done before the woman came to live in the UK so the potential for a prosecution is much lower than it might appear.
Secondly it’s worth considering how other countries have managed to achieve prosecutions, what it means to ‘interfere in anothers culture’ and the consequences of that. In France for example, they have managed around 100 prosecutions which they do through mandatory vaginal checks of ‘at risk (read: brown) girls. Let’s just say that hasn’t been a great contributor to race relations. Also checks cease at puberty. There is some evidence to suggest that in France, girls are now undergoing FGM in their late teens instead so as to avoid detection. Are you in favour of extending mandatory vaginal checks to adulthood?
It seems to me that focusing on the lack of prosecutions is looking at the wrong end of the problem. We need to be focusing on prevention and education and there is some progress here. I am NOT arguing that prosecutions shouldn’t take place but sweeping statements attributing the lack of them to a misguided reluctance to ‘interfere in another’s culture’ is far too simplistic an analysis.
PS What ‘survey on the internet’ are you referring to?
Sorry I was disparaging general surveys on the internet.
Here is my logic:
FGM takes place in other cultures, – Islamic, African e.g. Egypt, with British people with those heritages also continuing. You are right that education is vastly preferable to prosecution.
Pople feel scared to tackle those cultures because of being seen to be racist or interfering.
We need to not be scared of being seen to be racist or interfering, in order to save lives and keep bodily integrity for women an children.
Is my logic faulty?
Pople feel scared to tackle those cultures because of being seen to be racist or interfering.
Again I think this is too broad an statement – whilst it may be true for some people, there is now also a large body of people who are actively challenging the idea that to take a stand is somehow racist or interfering. Sadly I would say that it is health care providers who are most likely to feel awkward (as – weirdly – they seem to around a whole host of issues – including domestic and sexual violence – which calls into question whether the reason for their discomfort is ‘cultural sensitivity’ or just that they aren’t as a sector very good at ‘sensitive issues).
Yes, the situation is grim for WA in England too. My local has been struggling to keep its doors open for the last few years. Over the last few years, funding has effectively been eroded (the ‘conditions’ attached to some of this funding amount to political blackmail). All this is happening at a time when demand for their services has had a dramatic increase.