Thank you Baroness Williams.
“I was in a very abusive relationship for 15 years. It ended when I was pushed down stairs. I had a fractured skull and bleeding brain. The only thing I remember was waking up in hospital. That was the last time it ever happened. He got 4 years in jail and I got my life back and so did my children. I have moved out of the area and feel very strong and positive about life now. Anyone going through abuse can do it. It is very hard but possible and worth it.”
These powerful and inspiring words are from a survivor of domestic abuse who posted her experience on the ‘This Is Abuse’ website. These words reinforce that domestic abuse is a serious and pervasive crime but they also demonstrate that with the right support women can rebuild their lives. That is what we are all focused on here today and I would like to thank Westminster City Council for hosting this summit today and all of you for coming here, and of course for all you do for victims and survivors.
According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, it is estimated that the level of domestic abuse is at its lowest level in 10 years, yet there were still 1.4 million women abused by those closest to them and 85 women were murdered by a current or former partner last year.
These numbers only serve to show us that we still have much work to do.
As the first Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, tackling domestic violence and abuse is one of my most important responsibilities and one that I take a great personal interest in. I want to do all I can to make sure that survivors feel supported; that they are offered all the help they need to rebuild their lives.
The work you all do makes a real difference to so many women and children and I would like to say again thank you for all your work to protect and support victims of abuse over many, many years.
I would like to begin by stressing that we recognise that the whole government has a key role to play in ending violence against women.
That is why the Home Secretary and I are leading the government in refreshing our VAWG strategy, and are working closely with;
the Ministry of Justice with their responsibility for victims;
The Department of Health recognising the critical role that health partners play in identifying abuse and helping survivors to rebuild their lives; and,
The Department for Education in ensuring that we work with schools and children’s social care on this agenda recognising the impact that domestic abuse can have on children too.
Indeed, the reason that I unfortunately cannot stay for the remainder of this event is that I am visiting local services in Staffordshire today to see for myself how those local agencies – police, A&E, mental health services, young people’s services – are coming together to meet the multiple needs of survivors of domestic abuse.
Which brings me on to some of the challenges we are looking to address in refreshing our strategy to ensure we do all that we can to support survivors together.
As Baroness Williams has highlighted, getting service provision right for all victims of domestic abuse is complex.
Over the summer, together with the Home Secretary, I have met a number of you to listen and understand the challenges we all face. I have also hosted roundtable meetings with the sector and commissioners and have listened to the issues that have been raised.
We are seeing increased reporting of domestic abuse to law enforcement, mirrored by an increase in prosecutions which are now at their highest ever levels. While this is to be welcomed, given that we know domestic abuse has been hidden and under-reported, more victims coming forward inevitably increases demand on support services.
I have also heard about the importance of joined-up local commissioning about identifying the specialist needs of women in terms of:
- Protecting them and their families;
- In terms of supporting BME and LGBT women;
- And as well as protecting high-risk victims.
But we also recognise the need for earlier intervention to break cycles of abuse.
I have been struck by the innovative models being developed by service providers to meet these challenges and to support victims and survivors at every point of the victim’s journey.
- building networks of trusted professionals to support victims;
- Improved multi-agency working;
- And ways to support and disrupt perpetrators.
I am sure you will hear more about these from Diana, Polly and Sandra later this morning, and I am committed to setting out in our refreshed VAWG strategy how we can support and promote these models at a both a national and local level.
Because bringing together national and local efforts to end domestic abuse and support survivors is critical.
I am encouraged that you will be hearing both from Westminster City Council about their approach, and from Vera Baird who has been a champion of efforts to tackle violence against women and girls for many years, and now as Police and Crime Commissioner, is driving local action to support victims in Northumbria.
I am clear that PCCs have a critical role to play. Two weeks ago I visited Essex and heard from Nick Alston about how as PCC he has galvanised local efforts to pool budgets, getting the buy-in of local authorities and health commissioners. Essex has now commissioned 27 IDVAs across the county. They are developing models to target and disrupt perpetrators, and they are harnessing new technology like body-worn cameras to bring more perpetrators to justice.
I am committed to working with PCCs and local commissioners to ensure that we work better together to support victims in a more joined-up way, and that there are no gaps between local and national services.
New offence of domestic abuse
I also want to take this opportunity to stress that the government remains focused on improving the criminal justice response to domestic abuse.
We have enacted a new law that ensures manipulative, controlling perpetrators who cause their loved ones to live in fear will face justice for their actions. The maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment for the new offence recognises the damage that coercive or controlling behaviour can have on its victims.
And we are currently working with the College of Policing and The Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that the new offence will be implemented as soon as possible. However, we recognise the importance of training and appropriate guidance for frontline agencies on the new offence to ensure the best possible protection to victims.
We know that new laws alone are not enough. The HMIC Report into domestic abuse published in March 2014 was a wake up call to many. And under the previous government the Home Secretary established and chaired the National Oversight Group to monitor and drive delivery against the recommendations.
HMIC has commented on early signs of progress, and has re-inspected forces this summer. The work that the Home Secretary is doing through her National Oversight Group on domestic abuse continues to be a very high priority.
So to conclude, as Baroness Williams has said, the government does not have all of the answers. And no one can tackle violence and abuse against women in isolation.
It is critical that departments, local government, agencies, service providers and commissioners work together to develop sustainable service provision for victims – from disclosure to recovery.
There is always more to do to ensure that no woman ever suffers in silence or lives in fear of violence.
I would like to assure you that this government is determined to end domestic violence.
Working together we can make that a reality.