I am delighted to be here with you today.
During 2010/11 in England and Wales
- Over 1 in 4 women were victims of domestic violence.
- 400,000 women were sexually assaulted.
- 60,000 women were raped.
- And two women died every week because of domestic violence.
Behind these statistics are people and families whose lives have been utterly ruined.
My first experience of domestic violence came when I was ten years old. My mum had been inspired by Erin Pitzey and with some other women she helped to set up the first women’s refuge in Carlisle, where we lived. I remember going to the refuge sometimes. I would sit at a big brown table pretending to be getting on with my homework, but really I’d be watching her work, seeing her surrounded by, and helping people who were really in need. I think some of this must have rubbed off because eventually I became a family lawyer and practiced for 23 years before becoming an MP.
During my time as a solicitor I worked with many needy and vulnerable women and children. Every year we sought to obtain hundreds of non-molestation orders and occupation orders under the Family Law Act. The youngest person that I obtained an injunction for was a baby. The oldest was a woman in her nineties being abused by her alcoholic son.
I have had many multi-millionaires in my office seeking protection but I have also had many young girls sitting before me who literally had nothing.
Perhaps the most brutal case that I dealt with was where my client was hit over the head with a pick-axe by her husband and left for dead. Amazingly she survived but had it not been for our emergency services she would have died leaving four children under the age of 12.
For me, domestic violence is a scourge.
- It does not discriminate.
- It permeates age, race, class and gender.
- It also crushes self confidence and self esteem, which are the prerequisites for aspiration, motivation and success.
From a zero tolerance point of view I think progress has been made over the last 30 years but it’s been hard won.
- There are a wide range of laws to protect victims.
- There’s a wide range of organisations who support victims, and who are able to do so much to help, often with so little.
But there are still more major problems in terms of:
- Implementation of laws.
- More needing to be done in terms of prevention.
- And ongoing scepticism greeting women and children, and sometimes men, when they report violence.
Scepticism in our society is our reason we still hear comments such as ‘why didn’t she leave him?’ or ‘she probably wound him up’ or ‘that men can’t be victims of domestic violence’.
Such comments reveal an underlying suspicion that somehow the victim is to blame or is responsible for the violence inflicted upon them.
We know that there is no excuse for violence, but society needs to understand that message too. The message needs to start at schools, with our young people. We need to talk to them about respecting themselves and respecting others, and about gender equality and empowerment. NSPCC research found that one in four girls, some as young as 13, had been hit by their boyfriends. This is terrible because it’s creating a breeding ground for the abused and abusers.
Eradicating domestic violence is a question too of social responsibility, which will require us all to accept that we all have a role to play.
Our government ambition is to end all forms of domestic violence. And as a woman who has worked with the victims of abuse for many years, I am pleased that our government has ring-fenced £40m to fund:
- Local domestic violence support services
- National helplines
- Rape crisis centres
We are also constantly looking for new ways to protect victims.
We have created two new stalking offences.
And we are piloting a domestic violence disclosure scheme – commonly known as Clare’s Law, giving people the ‘right to know’ if their partner has a history of domestic abuse. The pilot is running in four police force areas; Greater Manchester, Gwent, Wiltshire and Northamptonshire. When the pilot ends this September, we will consider whether to roll out the scheme nationally.
We have also changed the definition of domestic violence to include:
Those aged 16 and 17, and coercive control, with the aim that this will raise awareness that young people suffer domestic violence too.
In June 2012, the Home Office concluded a one year Domestic Violence Protection Order pilot. The Orders are a new power which enable the police and magistrates to protect victims in the immediate aftermath of domestic violence. 319 orders were granted during the pilot and an evaluation will be published this summer.
So progress is continuing – but of course there is always more that can be done.
And our success should be measured in terms of:
- More victims helped.
- More abusers bought to justice.
- And more attitudes changed.
As I said at the start, two women are killed every week because of domestic violence, devastating the families left behind, and leaving them often unable to cope.
Help for those families has been improved in recent years with the creation of a National Homicide Service offering tailored and intensive care to those bereaved by homicide.
The Ministry of Justice also provides Grant Funding to thirteen organisations under the Peer Support Fund.
Following the implementation of section 9 of the DVCVA Domestic Homicide reviews are now expected to be undertaken so that lessons can be learned and further homicides prevented. The Home Office have been delivering training across nine regions, new revised guidance will be published shortly and a quality assurance panel has been created to overview reports.
Domestic violence is abhorrent and inexcusable. And every time I hear about an incident – I think: ‘What kind of world are we living in and what can we do to make it better?’
As Victims’ Minister and Minister for Women and Equalities I will do all that I can to protect victims and to raise awareness of the issues they face. For years now victims have felt overlooked and unsupported in making their way through the criminal justice system that can often be confusing and intimidating.
And it’s my job as Victims’ Minister to put this right.
We are therefore driving through a number of reforms that will put victims at the very heart of the criminal justice system. Where they belong.
- We are raising more money for victims through the Prisoner Earnings Act and the Victims’ Surcharge.
- We are giving victims a louder voice through the appointment of our excellent Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove.
- And we are increasing victims’ entitlements through the revision of the Victims’ Code*.
Every victim and witness of crime needs to know that they will be offered all the help they need and deserve to move on with their lives and bring perpetrators to justice. Each of us can and must work together to identify, report and prevent violence so that perpetrators know they have nowhere to hide.
Thank you for listening.
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