Two worrying stories came out this weekend with regards to the support available for victims of domestic violence.
Firstly came the statement from Refuge (which supports 1,600 women and children) which said that they were ‘fighting for our very survival’ after government cuts ‘decimated’ their funds. Reports suggest that hundreds of women in desperate need of help and support are being turned away every day. I dread to think where they go. Getting to the stage where they seek help and attempt to leave a violent partner is difficult enough, but being turned away when they get there must be devastating and leaves them at real risk of further violence.
David Cameron’s big society is intended to fill these gaps in funding by voluntary workers, donations and private funding but in these times of austerity not everyone has the time or the spare funds. Plus, how do you choose which charities or social enterprises to support when so many are deserving? Women whose lives are being put at risk cannot hang around waiting for someone to do a fundraiser for Refuge.
The second, related story that caught my eye this weekend was that a collection of faith leaders had written a letter to Ken Clarke to say that the legal aid reforms would also leave domestic abuse victims at risk as they struggle to get legal support.
Clarke defended the bill saying
Legal aid will continue to be available in many types of cases including where someone is at risk of serious violence or losing their liberty or their home, or where children may be taken into care.
The problem is, how do they define ‘serious violence’. Does it only become serious when bones are broken? When someone ends up in hospital? The implication is that legal aid won’t be available until a situation has escalated instead of allowing victims to access it before they end up being seriously injured.
The Guardian adds that
The Ministry of Justice contends that legal aid will still be available to victims of domestic abuse as long as they meet at least one of various qualifications such as having a non-molestation order, occupation order, forced marriage protection order or other protective injunction either in place or made in the past twelve months.
So, victims will need to already be in the legal system before legal aid is available and not at the start when they really need it. As the letter, organised by the Caritas Social Action Network states
Most worryingly, the fact that someone has used specialist domestic violence services, provided by voluntary agencies such as women’s refuges, will not necessarily be accepted as evidence.
So, just when a victim of domestic abuse is a their most vulnerable, seeking help for the first time and possibly trying to leave their partner, legal aid will be denied them because Clarke feels
we do not believe that people must have taxpayer-funded legal help for whatever they want, whenever they want. And it is not always in people’s best interest to resort to the courts. There are often better ways to resolve disputes
The awful implication here is that people are using legal aid frivolously so will not only have it available when things get serious.
This government is leaving victims of violence in their homes –primarily women and children – extremely vulnerable and it’s an absolute outrage. It’s vitally important the news outlets continue to cover this, and attention is drawn to the effects of the cuts being made by the coalition. People’s lives are being put at risk on a daily basis and it’s up to each of us to ensure this is challenged at every turn and bills like this are not allowed to pass. Please support organisations like Refuge to ensure they can continue to survive and provide vital support to women and children who need it and campaign to stop bills like this passing.
Everyone once in a while, I read a news story that makes me genuinely sad. Sunday was one of those days as I read on The Guardian site that
teenage girls between 16 and 19 are now the group most at risk of domestic violence, closely followed by girls aged 20-24 – all victims of a new generation of abusers who are themselves in their teens and early twenties.
It’s hard to believe that not only is intimate partner violence still happening in our society but that it’s actually getting worse. We tend to think of our society (ie Western society) as getting better, progressing and becoming more ‘equal’. It stuns me to think that it’s potentially regressing.
There’s so much food for thought in this piece (and I’ll be posting more on the topic) but one thing that springs to mind is the prevalence of ‘slut-shaming’ in these young people’s lives. The girls in the article speak about being called names like ‘slut’, ‘sket’ and ‘slag’ on a daily basis. For these girls how they are perceived in their peer group is closely tied in with their sexuality. The boys they socialise and have relationships with seem to view them as possessions until they no longer have a use for them. When the relationship ends ‘sket’ sites spring up with compromising photos of the girls and they are subsequently called names in school - not just by the boys but by other girls. This kind of slut-shaming is often talked about on feminist sites as a tool used to control girls and women. The idea that only a virginal girl has any worth is still pretty pervasive in our society.
While this example sounds extreme it’s not just something that happens to girls. It happens when women run for public office or put themselves in the public eye. It particularly happens when women accuse men of rape or assault. While legally a woman’s sexual past cannot be brought into the courtroom, it can be raised during initial questioning and can lead prosecutors to decide not to proceed with a case. It can also do an awful lot to discredit a victim publicly and in their community, as happened in the Listowel case, even though the man in question had been tried and convicted of her assault. Similarly, the Swedish women who accused Julian Assange found their personal profiles and online presence publicly trawled for evidence of sexual behaviour.
One of the most blatant examples of this I’ve seen lately has been in the case of an 11 year-old girl who was gang-raped in Texas. 18 young men and boys were arrested and the town was horrified but as the New York Times reported, not because it had happened but that the ‘boys would have to live with this the rest of their lives’. They also took pains to interview local people who pointed out that the girl often wore clothes and make-up appropriate for a woman in her 20s - she looked like a slut, so they treated her like one. In other words she was asking for it,. All of this was done to discredit her story and destroy her credibility.
It’s such a confusing message to be giving young girls. They’re constantly told that they need to be beautiful, be thin and be judged on their appearance. In other words, look sexually available. However, daring to act on this behaviour and express sexual desire or even have sexual experience marks them out as sluts and if they’re no longer required for a particular boy/man’s use, then they’re publicly shamed. It marks them as lesser, and worthless and leaves them increasingly vulnerable to controlling partners and self-esteem problems. No girl wants to be the one pointed out and shamed, so they join in themselves calling each other names and engaging in bullying behaviour.
It’s an attitude that I’m shocked and saddened to see is so pervasive in the minds and relationships of young people in the UK, but in some ways it’s no surprise as the adults in their lives and the media they’re exposed to continue to reinforce it so consistently. It’s up to us to act better and pass on the good example.