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.