The will is there to tackle domestic abuse - at last
PUBLISHED: 11:28 21 March 2018
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It’s time for the Government to make good its promises on tackling domestic abuse, says Mandy Proctor.
The Government have outlined their proposals in the domestic abuse bill, recently released for consultation, promising landmark changes to transform the national approach to tackling domestic abuse.
There have been some great changes to domestic abuse services that have taken place over many years, but amazingly we are still campaigning to secure funding and protect services for people whose lives can be at further risk of serious harm or homicide.
I have been involved with local domestic abuse charity Leeway since 1987 and, whilst the charity has changed and grown considerably, we are yet to see any major political change that reflects this.
Recently, I found some old newspaper articles, which were really fascinating, but it struck me that we are still campaigning on some of the same issues 40 years on.
One particular issue is funding, and it has been persistent for decades. An article from 1976 said that Leeway would close if it could not find the funds to keep running its services.
I do remember a time in the 80s where grants ceased and the refuge service was at risk, along with the refuge children’s service.
However Leeway is very lucky at the moment and has the support of many partner agencies, stakeholders, community groups, charitable trusts as well as individual members of the public, but many similar organisations with refuge provisions are closing.
The reality is that, without funding, many more refuges will close, leaving many people experiencing domestic abuse with nowhere to turn and at further risk of harm.
An article I found from 1991 highlighted the need for extra bed space, which a recent report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism uncovered as still being a major problem.
Whilst understanding of domestic abuse has improved and there are more refuge facilities available, the demand considerably outstrips the supply, and will only get worse if the government don’t find a model of sustainable funding.
The proposed removal of housing benefit from refuges would put a lot of strain on some services and could force them to close, if they are not deemed as a priority by local councils, who will be managing the budgets under the government’s new scheme.
National charity Women’s Aid, of which Leeway is a member, are currently campaigning for secure, long-term, funding for specialist refuge services to be able to continue to protect adults and children facing domestic abuse.
It was really positive to see that their petition attracted nearly 200,000 signatures, showing that attitudes towards domestic abuse are changing and more people are recognising the importance of life-saving refuge spaces.
That is not to say that we don’t still hear misconceptions like “why doesn’t she just leave?” or similar, but things are heading the right direction and people are beginning to understand the complexities of domestic abuse.
The introduction of Coercive Control laws in 2015 has helped people to realise that domestic abuse is a lot more than just a physical act, and can entail other types of abuse too.
There was also due to be new legislation to prevent the cross-examination by perpetrators in the family courts, although this has been delayed for quite a while due to the Brexit negotiations.
We have moved on from the views held in 1975, where an article quoted a Home Officer Minister as saying that “nothing can be done” to stop domestic abuse.
That simply is not true and Kerri’s Campaign went a long way to proving this wrong, as the amount of support that Leeway received was truly amazing and it really felt like the community came together in helping us to equip a new safe house.
Many people who donated to the fund had never met Kerri, but gave what they could so that Leeway can support others that may be experiencing domestic abuse and living in fear.
This kind of support for domestic abuse charities on both a local and national scale will make all the difference in ensuring that we see change that makes a real impact.
We are also very lucky to have the support of our local MPs, including Chloe Smith, who has been excellent in listening to ours and Kerri’s family’s thoughts on the proposed Domestic Abuse Bill.
It was great to meet Chloe and Domestic Abuse Minister, Victoria Atkins recently, and hopefully this will be the start of a year filled with positive outcomes for those experiencing domestic abuse.
We have still face a battle to fight some age-old issues, but 2018 could finally be the year where we get the landmark changes that we have been promised for so long. Let’s wait and see!
Mandy Proctor is chief executive of Leeway
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