Today is Human Rights Day. It marks the end of #16days of action that began on November 25, the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Some of the wonderful people working at service and advice centres across the country have written blogs for our website during this time that give an insight from the frontline of this fight.
The services in which they work - providing support and counselling and safe spaces for women and girls whose lives have been turned upside down by domestic abuse, sexual assault, FGM, forced marriages and other forms of violence - are constantly under threat because of inadequate funding and disastrously short-term commissioning processes.
That puts vulnerable people at even greater risk.
On top of that, the current housing crisis is making it increasingly difficult to find enough space to support women through the transition into their own safe, secure and permanent accommodation.
Today I am visiting Greenwich Domestic Violence and Abuse Services, whose staff contributed to our blog series. I am looking forward to meeting women for whom Greenwich DVA’s refuges provide a safe space in which to begin their recovery from trauma and start to rebuild their lives.
I will see first-hand how these spaces save lives.
The Women’s Equality Party is working hard to help these services, all around the country, continue to save lives.
We have set out our own policy commitments to bring about an end to violence against women and girls:
WE aim to ensure that all women and girls who experience sexual, domestic or other violence have access to specialist advocacy and support services
WE will create a fund – more than £800m by 2018-19 – to support the legal aid budget, restoring half of the cuts made in 2012, and providing ring-fenced funds to local authorities for VAWG services
WE will expand services to ensure we can provide a stable place to live for all women and children fleeing domestic abuse, starting with crisis and refuge services and moving into more permanent housing
WE will ensure that access to support services for women who have experienced violence is not dependent on their immigration status
And we think that all parties should unite in their commitment to end violence against women and girls by also committing to sustainable and secure funding that is not put at risk by different political priorities.
Our 16 blogs in 2015 told the story of poor funding, poor planning and poor provision for the women and girls in our country that need us the most.
In 2016, we’d like to tell a different story.
Surviving rape or sexual abuse and coping with the traumatic aftermath can be the hardest thing a person can ever have to deal with. At Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, we provide a safe space for survivors to be listened to and believed. We cannot erase the abuse but we can work together to lessen its emotional power.
Over the last few years our much needed service has faced various challenges: increased demand due to more media coverage; and constant fire-fighting to maintain year-to-year funding.
Those accessing our service face new challenges from ‘welfare reforms’ which places a huge amount of pressure on an already vulnerable group of people and negatively impacts on their recovery. The constant threat of sanctions and repeated assessments for benefits relating to mental and physical illness and disability add to the traumatic stress of survivors.
The proposal to limit child tax credit to two children from April 2017 unless a woman can prove that further children are a result of rape is potentially harrowing. Rape Crisis Scotland’s Sandy Brindley comments: "It can be difficult for a rape survivor to disclose what has happened to them to their closest friends or family but under this proposal they will be expected to disclose it to the DWP in order to qualify for benefits."
"Most rapes aren’t reported to the police. How is someone going to 'prove' to the DWP that they have been raped?"
Women’s services are ever increasingly under threat from a lack of secure funding and squeezes on local and national government spending as a result of austerity. We are grateful to have received continued funding from the Scottish Government, which has increased this year with the announcement of a new strand of funding until 2017 for a national advocacy project with Rape Crisis Scotland.
Support is a lifeline for survivors of sexual violence and we must fund it properly. You can find out more about out our prevention work, training, information and support services here.
Anna Carr is an Information and Fundraising Worker for Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?” asked Eleanor Roosevelt in her remarks celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1958.
She went on to say: “In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
Condemning human rights violations far away is an easy task. But addressing the violations in our own backyards takes courage.
Almost everyone participating in public debate expressed total disgust against the gang rape case that shook Delhi in India in 2012. The solidarity was with the victim and her family.
But how do we react to similar violations in our own neighbourhood?
The most widespread human rights violation in the UK is male violence against women and girls. Statistics needn’t be repeated, but they show that sexual assault and domestic violence is a constant threat to women’s lives, so continually imminent that it is in fact casual.
Yet services and advocacy organisations are closing their doors due to lack of funding. Policy makers come up with new arrangements that make it impossible for established women’s organisations to continue their operations.
While the government spends £1.9 billion on cyber security, all they can find to end violence against women and girls is £40 million over the course of five years (and an additional few million that women pay for themselves through an unfair tax on sanitary products).
Cleaning up after the most widespread human rights violations in the country is not a business like any other. It is about saving lives.
Whether you are the chancellor of the UK or a representative of local government – think twice before you act to shut down women’s services.
Those women (and some men) who run VAWG services are not just saving the lives of VAWG survivors. They are saving your life.
They are also helping you to stay on the right side of history, by making sure the human rights violations in your backyard do not go unaddressed.
Because if our human rights have no meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
Halla Gunnarsdóttir is Senior Advisor at McAllister Olivarius and co-leader of the Women’s Equality Party’s policy group on ending violence against women and girls.
Over the last three decades and more, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) has consistently addressed the needs of BME women, in particular in the face of their experiences of violence and multiple or intersectional discrimination. This is a term used by the United Nations and statutory and voluntary bodies to refer to the specific ways in which multiple strands of discrimination overlap in simultaneous and complex ways to create heightened vulnerabilities and discrimination.
It is precisely because of the complexity of BME women’s experiences and the historical failure of statutory and other generic services to address them that specialist organisations led by and for BME women like SBS developed in the late 1970s.
We provide an important lifeline for BME women who remain one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in our society. Just as importantly, we have often led the way to key reforms in areas such as forced marriage and honour-based violence.
Currently, through a number of cases, SBS is pressing for greater awareness and government effort to tackle the problem of religious, especially Sharia, tribunals and councils that discriminate against women and children and put them at risk of further violence.
We are also campaigning to highlight the emerging phenomenon of transnational marriage abandonment and violence against women. These are acts of violence committed against women in transnational spaces that leave vulnerable women without recourse to protection and rights simply because the offences against them occur in spaces that straddle a number of jurisdictions. Precisely because of jurisdictional problems, governments and states can and do abdicate their responsibility in bringing perpetrators to account and in upholding the human rights of such women.
A growing list of long-established secular BME refuges and advice centres based in Brent, Manchester, Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield, Coventry, Rotherham and elsewhere have either closed or are facing the threat of closure in recent months. SBS is no stranger to these threats.
In July 2008, at the High Court, we won an important legal challenge affirming our right to exist and to continue our work as an organisation of, by and for BME women.
Despite our success, secular BME women’s organisations are being decimated across the country and this development is exacerbated by the state’s promotion of regressive religious forces that are filling the vacuum and benefiting from the democratic deficit that is created in the process.
The future of the BME women’s movement symbolised by long-standing BME women’s organisations like SBS is now hanging by a thread. This unfolding crisis needs urgent attention from all those concerned by the growing levels of inequality in our society.
But what is also urgently needed is the development of a progressive politics of solidarity between and within the women’s groups that recognise that what is at stake is no less than the fight for secular, progressive, feminist, anti fundamentalist, anti-racist and human rights values.
Welsh Women’s Aid represents and supports a federation of 26 specialist domestic abuse services across Wales who provide support, advocacy and prevention services for women, children and families affected by domestic abuse. We currently face a situation where most of these vital lifesaving services have not had their funding confirmed beyond March 2016.
Last year in Wales, over 10,000 adult survivors and nearly 4,000 children and young people received refuge, community-based advocacy and/or support by domestic abuse services in Wales. Yet we also know that at least 284 women in Wales could not be accommodated by refuges because there was no space available when they needed help.
While struggling refuge services in England recently received an extra £13.4 million to keep them afloat, in Wales refuge services and the survivors that depend on them still face a postcode lottery when accessing funding and support. Many do not know if they can sustain their services at current levels, let alone whether they can grow and meet future demand for support.
Most services fear the worst, and expect cuts to be made to their already limited funding. They face the risk of being tendered out to the cheapest bidder – often large, non-specialist UK-wide organisations – or of being cut altogether. This is in spite of the European Directive on Victims’ Rights, which includes obligations for states to ensure the provision of specialist services for survivors of violence.
Refuges and community-based domestic abuse services are needed now more than ever; they provide a vital package of support for women and children living in fear as a result of coercive controlling abuse, sexual or physical violence at the hands of partners or family members.
That is why we launched Save Refuges, Save Lives, our campaign that calls for refuge funding in Wales to be protected by government and public authorities, accompanied by a sustainable funding model for refuge services so that all regions of Wales have capacity to meet demand.
We do not want to live in a country where women have nowhere to turn for help when they need it most.
Alice Moore is Campaigns and Communications Officer at Welsh Women's Aid.
Welsh Women’s Aid runs the Live Fear Free Helpline on behalf of Welsh Government. It can be contacted on: 0808 80 10 800. You can also follow them on Twitter @WelshWomensAid or like them on Facebook at Welsh Women’s Aid.
Legal aid is a lifeline for victims of domestic violence, enabling them to escape from abusive relationships, protect their children, and manage their finances. Without access to legal advice and representation, a woman trying to leave a violent relationship has two options - to represent herself in court against her perpetrator, or to continue living under abuse.
Our research, Evidencing domestic violence, demonstrates that over 50% of women experiencing violence take no action in relation to their family law problem as a result of not being able to access legal aid, leaving them unable to escape from violent relationships or rebuild their and their children’s lives after separation.
Recognising the importance of access to justice for women and children experiencing abuse, the government promised that legal aid for family law cases would not be lost to those affected by domestic violence. However, the new legal aid regulations introduced in April 2013 are crafted in such a way as to prevent the majority of domestic violence victims and survivors from accessing legal aid.
The key problem with the regulations is that they require applicants for family law legal aid to provide evidence of domestic violence. The list of acceptable forms of evidence is dangerously restrictive, focusing on evidence from statutory agencies or of remedies which we know do not reflect the reality of the lives of women experiencing violence. It also places an arbitrary 2 year time limit on evidence which simply does not reflect what we know about ongoing risks to women and children. Our research shows that 40% of women who are experiencing domestic violence do not have the evidence required to be granted legal aid.
For this reason we brought a legal challenge against the regulations. Although unsuccessful in the High Court, our appeal will be heard by the Court of Appeal in January 2016.
Rights of Women leads a campaign against the legal aid cuts which so dangerously restrict women’s access to advice and representation. You can read more about the campaign here and find out how you can support our work.
Broken Rainbow the national LGBT Domestic Violence charity has worked with nearly 42,000 individuals in the 13 years since its conception. In 2014 we took over seven and a half thousand calls for help and this year we are on track to hit the ten thousand mark.
Much has changed since the days when all we had was a mobile phone, shared amongst a group of friends who wanted to offer help. Sadly, the types of abuse played out in LGBT relationships haven’t changed and the demand for Broken Rainbow’s help has increased.
We believe that one in four LGB and four in five Trans individuals will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime, from an intimate partner or family member.
This year we have had increased contact from gay men living with HIV, civil partners with no asylum status frightened they will be deported if they report their abusive partner, lesbian and gay men and women being forced in to marriage, lesbians enduring corrective rape, and young LGBT people experiencing abuse in their first relationships.
We know this is only the tip of the iceberg and that iceberg just keeps growing. Over the years we have faced continued cuts in our funding head-on. Somehow, we have not only continued offering services, but provided more; extending hours on the helpline, introducing online chat, and recruiting a specialist LGBT Independent Domestic Violence Advisor.
This year we are facing our biggest challenge yet, up to 40% cuts in government funds following the public spending review. This may be one challenge too many. Realistically, we will need to severely reduce the level of support we offer. At a time when the community needs us the most.
The biggest barrier anyone faces is having to ‘out’ themselves in order to gain help and for many that is an impossible act, particularly if they’ve spent years with someone who uses their sexual orientation or gender identity as a weapon. LGBT victims more often than not find themselves staying at home with their abusive partners and facing escalation in the abuse.
That's why it is so important that we are there to take that call, be supportive, and give a voice to the thousands of invisible victims we have contact with every year.
There really is No Pride in Domestic Violence.
Jo Harvey Barringer is CEO of Broken Rainbow
Broken Rainbow helpline: 0300 999 5428, 10am – 8pm Mon & Thursday, 10am – 5pm Tuesday & Thursday, 1-5pm Friday. Trans service Tuesday pm.
Online Chat via website: www.brokenrainbow.org.uk, 2-10pm daily
The issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) might be front page news and the go-to policy success for the PM, but work to prevent it and support survivors on the ground is grossly underfunded, or not at all in some places.
When we started Daughters of Eve five years ago the issue had been neglected for years so the idea of funding for a survivor-led or focused organisation was wishful thinking. Years on this is still the case. Organisations working directly with those affected or at risk of FGM are mostly run on good will and commitment from some amazing people.
Integrate Bristol, which is the UK leading charity working with young people from FGM affected communities has since it was founded in 2008 till only months ago been staffed by volunteers. This an organisation that supports over a 100 young people, and has spearheaded campaigns on ending FGM and other forms of violence against women and girls within BME communities.
The practice of FGM is a reality in this country and those at risk need specialist support, which cannot be provided on the shoestring grants or funding pots currently out there. Nor can we keep relying on volunteers to deliver life-saving work.
The systems needed to help identify FGM have been successful and we are now more aware of the issue, but this also means that more young women will be coming forward for support that is currently lacking. I can personally tell you how painful it is to be on a phone for hours seeking a bed for a young woman who fears for her life because she needed medical treatment after an act of violence.
The lack of services and support for those affected by or at risk of FGM is only one part of a bigger picture, and we need to take a more reliable, thoughtful approach across the board.
Nimco Ali is the founder of Daughters of Eve
SurvivorsUK is the longest established UK service supporting male victims of sexual violence. Since its inception in 1986, the organisation has offered national helpline and London-based counselling and group therapy services to both male survivors and those who care for them.
The recent GLA Conservative report "Silent Suffering - Supporting the Male Victims of Sexual Assault" estimated that based on four years of actual reports from male complainants (26,483), the likely number of male victims in the same four-year period was more than 670,000. This clearly indicates that male survivors are among the least likely to report or come forward for help. In part, that’s because there are few places that they can go — there are only four male specialist services in the UK. But the larger issue is that as a society we inadvertently act to silence them.
Rape and sexual abuse are devastating experiences for anyone who has experienced them, regardless of their sex, sexual identity or gender will face many of the same challenges and barriers. Shame, guilt and trauma are also inevitably thrown into the mix.
However, male survivors experience some unique challenges that act as additional barriers to engagement and help-seeking.
One of the biggest challenges faced by male survivors is society’s projection that men should be able to withstand and endure terrible circumstances. From infancy, males are told that they should strive to be masculine, i.e. resilient, self-sufficient, dominant in sexual interactions and able to defend both themselves and those relying on them for protection. An experience of rape or sexual abuse contravenes all of these expectations. In essence, it leaves the survivor feeling ‘less than a man'.
The rape and sexual abuse of men and boys continue to be difficult and under-discussed phenomena. Until we are able to embrace this difficult conversation on a public level and to shatter some of the myths that surround these crimes, that is unlikely to change. It’s the work of a lifetime but for the 670,000 male survivors cited in the GLA report and the estimated three million plus male victims of child sexual abuse in the UK, it’s work that we all have to start right now.
Michael May is a team member at SurvivorsUK.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition was set up ten years ago this week with the aim of making ourselves redundant in less time than that. We are a unique coalition of more than 60 women’s organisations all over the UK working to end all forms of violence against women and girls – sexual and domestic violence, FGM, forced marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation. Sadly, a decade after we handed a ‘could do better’ report card to Tony Blair’s Downing Street, we are still here and our message is not very different.
When we launched in 2005 we highlighted the failure to stop Ian Huntley's predatory behaviour which allowed him to go on to murder Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman – he had come to the attention of the police numerous times for suspected sexual offences but still been able to get a job in a school. Years later we see the same devastating mistakes made in the cases of Jamie Reynolds’ murder of Georgia Williams, and in Asher Maslin’s murder of Hollie Gazzard. In the intervening period, there have been multiple scandals, including the Jimmy Savile revelations which have exposed not just his behaviour and obvious confidence in his impunity, but also his abuse survivors’ reasons for not seeking justice. Multiple child sexual exploitation ‘grooming’ cases which were not previously making it to court have now been prosecuted. But still, we have catastrophic system failures in stopping violent men offending, and as a society we have not yet consciously set about trying to prevent abuse of women and girls.
We published a new report yesterday – ‘Where are we now?’ – which reviews the Government’s work over the last decade towards ending violence against women and girls. It’s really important that we give credit where it is due – there is now a strong policy framework on violence against women and girls in place, which is a huge leap on from a decade ago, and all credit should go to the politicians and civil servants who have worked with the women's sector to deliver this.
In addition, the CPS was the the first government agency to adopt a pioneering violence against women and girls strategy which has enabled significant changes in the prosecution of these crimes; Rape Crisis centres have received more support since 2010 than previously (although their funding situation is very precarious right now as no funding is agreed after March 2016); and action has been taken to implement some new regulation of harmful media images and the availability of online pornography. The law has been changed to recognise ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ as key to domestic violence, a critical step which we need to be vigilant on as it works itself through the system.
This work shows that the intention to make women and girls safe is there in Government, and at the general election this year was endorsed by all opposition parties. But the reality is that conflicting policies elsewhere undermine this intention constantly – localism, ‘austerity’ cuts and poor commissioning practices are decimating women’s support services at a time when more women than ever before are seeking help. Education policies fail to protect girls from abuse now and are not working towards the prevention of future abuse, as seen especially in the resistance to making Relationships & Sex Education compulsory. The most marginalised women, including women in prostitution and asylum seeking women, have very few rights to protection and support. Legal aid cuts threaten the safety of women and their families.
Our report author Holly Dustin said: 'There is huge demand from the public to put an end to these scandals. A society where women and girls are not safe is incompatible with a just and equal society.'
And, we have a five-point prescription for how Government should go about a renewed drive to end violence against women and girls. It is time for a law which guarantees that survivors of abuse can access a support service whenever they need it; we need to seriously step up policy and practice to prevent violence in the first place, especially via compulsory sex and relationships education in our schools; we need consistent regulation of harmful media images; we need a coherent approach to tackling violence against women and girls overseas; and local councils should be required to develop violence against women and girls strategies.
Our Coalition was founded on a very simple and basic belief – that violence against women and girls is not inevitable. And, political leadership which makes a priority of eradicating it will succeed.
Sarah Green is the Acting Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition