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Why Policy Must Take Into Account Domestic Abuse Survivors

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Resham Kotecha who is a Conservative Party campaigner and Founder of Podium Perfect.

For all the Government’s advice to stay at home and save lives over the last four months, for millions of Britons home is often the least safe place to be. Even in ‘normal’ times, domestic abuse survivors face a herculean task to escape their abusers, but the lockdown made the challenge almost impossible. Survivors faced the added challenge of struggling to call support lines with their partner always home. They were forced to bear the brunt of a perpetrator’s rage and frustration at a time of increased stress and pressure. They faced added challenges of making preparations to leave in secret, making it almost impossible to escape.

The scale of domestic abuse in this country is shocking – and often ignored. In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse (1.6 million women and 786,000 men) with the majority linked to partners rather than other family members.

Whilst domestic abuse affects men and women, women are statistically more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of abuse, including sexual violence. They are also more likely to have experienced ongoing physical, emotional, psychological or violence abuse that results in serious injury or death. Women experience higher rates of repeated attacks and are much more likely to be seriously injured.

In the same 12-month period, 80 women were killed by a current or former partner – a 27% increase compared on the previous year. In four out of ten cases, the victims were killed in a domestic homicide. On average, two women every week across England and Wales are killed by a current or former partner.

Counting Dead Women, a project that records the killing of women by men in the UK has suggested that in the first six months of 2020, at least 61 women are suspected to have been killed by men, showing the fatal impact of our (much needed) lockdown for survivors of abuse. Since lockdown began, almost 300 beds in domestic abuse shelters were closed, awaited desperately needed Government funds to reopen. Lockdown meant that the mainly female survivors of domestic abuse had few options with regard to finding a safe space - few landlords were able, or willing, to take in new tenants. It is all too easy to forget the needs of these survivors, for whom daily life involves a fear for their emotional, physical and psychological health.

That is not to say there has not been action to address the issue. The Government introduced a #YouAreNotAlone campaign to raise awareness of the help available to domestic abuse survivors, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £750million of funding for the charity sector, £2 million of which has been set aside to bolster helplines and online support for Domestic Abuse charities. In addition to this, the Domestic Abuse Bill has passed its final stages in the Commons and includes measures such as placing a duty on councils in England to provide shelter for victims of abuse and introduces the first legal government definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse and coercive or controlling non-physical behaviour.

As we continue to lift restrictions, we must not forget to consider policy implications on survivors of domestic abuse. As the former Prime Minister, Theresa May pointed out, enforced working from home could prolong the extreme suffering survivors face, and this is likely to have fatal consequences. We must also recognise the likely longer term effect of coronavirus on survivors of domestic abuse. A significant economic contraction will mean higher unemployment, worse mental health and, most likely a surge in domestic abuse. If the mental, physical and sexual health of survivors was not reason enough to consider action, abuse itself has a profound economic impact, with a Home Office report in 2017 putting the cost at a staggering £66 billion a year. In addition to this, it is highly likely that we will see a surge in demand for domestic abuse services, as the release of lockdown means those who were unable to leave their abuse partners will be in desperate need of support to escape, and to escape quickly.

The Government has made great strides in the last ten years in its work to strengthen protections for domestic abuse survivors, with some examples including the introduction of Clare’s Law, the criminalisation of forced marriage and the inclusion of coerced control in the definition of domestic violence. The Domestic Abuse Bill that is now headed to the Lords will take the UK another step forward in supporting survivors. However, in order to ensure the survivors of domestic abuse have the protection they not only need, but deserve, Government policy - and even more importantly - funding, needs to be tailored to the urgent needs of survivors.

For those of us lucky enough to not live in daily fear for our lives, we need to ensure we fight for the policies and funding needed to ensure survivors can live in safety too. Most of us are wishing for life to “get back to normal” as quickly as possible. For those who are survivors of domestic abuse, they will be wishing for a new normal. A safe normal, where home is as safe for them as it is for the rest of us.


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