Domestic violence means women and children living in fear and suffering significant emotional and physical harm. But despite this local councils are decimating domestic violence services.
Joy Small and her two young children, Chanara (2) and Aubarr (3), were recently murdered by her partner and the father of her children. This was a tragic example of what domestic violence means and the very real and terrifying threat it poses to women and children.
Home Office statistics show that at least 101 women were killed in 2009 by a husband, boyfriend or ex partner; an increase from 72 women in 2008.
53% of female homicide victims were killed in a domestic violence incident.
In any one year there are 13 million separate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women from partners or former partners (Walby and Allen 2004); one incident is reported to the police every minute (Stanko 2000) and domestic violence accounts for between 16% and 25% of all recorded violent crime (Home Office 2004).
Domestic violence includes physical abuse, sexual assaults, verbal insults and control being exercised by restricting movements, access to money etc.
Women subjected to domestic violence are made to feel worthless and powerless and, on average, those women who do successfully leave abusive relationships make seven attempts before they manage to do so.
On average women will be physically assaulted 35 times and will contact between 5 and 12 different agencies before they receive an appropriate response (Rowsell 2003).
Against this background of women and children living in fear, and suffering significant emotional and physical harm, local councils are decimating domestic violence services.
There is an increasing concern that groups that support women are seen as easy to cut.
Devon county council announced plans to reduce funding for domestic violence support services by 100% (yes that is 100%, not a typing error).
After vigorous campaigning Devon instead reduced funding by 42%. Cuts of that size will have a significant impact on 3 local charities, which last year supported 2,709 women. North Somerset Against Domestic Abuse is warning that it could close because its £120,000 grant is at risk. There are fears of major similar cuts in Northampton and Norwich.
Women’s Aid, an umbrella organisation which unites small charities, has reported that 50% of their organisations have no idea if they are going to receive any funding after April.
The Supporting People budget has helped vulnerable people get into housing, and has been used to help fund refuges for women fleeing domestic violence.
Now that it is no longer ring fenced, councils are cutting the amount they spend on it, reducing the amount of support available for these women. Nottingham City intends to cut their Supporting People budget by 50%.
These drastic cuts are occurring at a time when the increased pressures of unemployment, benefit cuts and threatened homelessness are likely to exacerbate tensions within the home and bring increased risks of domestic violence.
Local authorities are also trying to protect resources by arguing for a narrow definition of what constitutes domestic violence. Hounslow council claimed in the Supreme Court that a woman had made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ when she left her husband because he was abusing her by intimidating her and denying her money.
Hounslow appear to have preferred to wait until her and her children had been subjected to an actual assault before offering to rehouse them, rather than support a vulnerable woman trying to protect her children by removing them from a situation of risk.
Councils have little to fear, however, because the government has removed the performance indicators that once obliged all English councils to, at the very least, pay lip service to tackling domestic violence.
Maybe, the Big Society will help out? Probably not. Domestic violence is not appealing to donors. The Donkey Sanctuary alone receives annually over 3 times as much in donations as the top 3 UK domestic violence charities combined.
Women trying to divorce in cases of domestic violence will also be hit by the attacks on legal aid criteria. The Ministry of Justices green paper (paragraph 4.67) shows legal aid will only be available for divorce proceedings where there is ‘clear objective evidence’ of domestic violence and then only physical violence.
Domestic violence in all its forms takes place, by definition, in the isolation of the home. Its cause may be stress, anger, a need to exert power or a result of individual pathology. Any of those factors can be seen to be a result of living in a society where people are placed under incredible pressures just to try to hold relationships together, whilst coping with financial pressures, alienation at work, lack of control over many aspects of life, constant competition and imposed role models.
Domestic violence affects LGBT relationships as well. Research by Sigma in 2003 found 29% men and 22% of women in LGBT relationships had suffered forms of domestic violence.
A final thought as we remember the two women a week killed in Britain by their partner or ex partner...this year’s Valentines display at the National Crime and Punishment Museum in Washington is entitled ‘Crimes of Passion’ and contains pictures of O.J Simpson and Nicole Brown. A marketing display of domestic violence as romantic and sexy. An insult to all those living in fear whose options for escape are narrowing as the cuts bite.
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