I was a police officer for over 20 years and I have seen the terrible consequences of domestic violence particularly where women have lost their lives. These were women who couldn’t escape or perhaps hoped things might get better. For them it was too late but for thousands of others it is not – these victims need to have a safe refuge to go to stay alive.
In my time in the police we did get better at dealing with domestic violence and we needed to because, at times, police have not dealt with this particular crime well. The police are rightly held accountable on how they support victims of domestic violence and always more could be done – but the problem goes wider than just police – it involves the attitudes of politicians and others in the justice system – and the public at large.
Decisions on funding and support are made by elected politicians and they should also be held to account by the wider public. If the public don’t care – the politicians won’t and I suspect many members of the public care little about this issue. Perhaps because it does not receive enough coverage – perhaps because most of us lack the imagination to realise how bad things are for some women.
If a society is to be measured on how much it cares for those most vulnerable and afraid and in need of help – we must surely be measured on how we help women fleeing serious domestic violence – often in fear of injury or death.
For some years we have been making things more dangerous for them – not less.
The Government proposes to remove women’s refuges from financial support via the welfare system and to replace it with ring fenced money to local councils that will be distributed to a number of different groups needing similar help. This means women will not be able to pay for accommodation at a safe refuge with housing benefit money.
The fear is that because this ring-fenced money will be also going to homeless people and offenders and other groups that it will be harder for vulnerable women to access it and that the refuges will lose a significant source of income via the welfare system.
Some councils are less supportive of women’s refuges than others and all this is likely to lead to a ‘post-code lottery’ in terms of help for women.
Domestic violence involves both men and women – but women are more likely to be a victim and to suffer greater violence then men with around two women a week long their lives. Refuges are needed because sometimes women have only one option open to them to stay alive – and that is to find a safe place where their violent partner cannot find them.
These women may be suffering from depression and anxiety and stress brought on by a constant threat to their safety – something most of us will never experience – and these changes to financial support will only add to their burden and make it even more difficult to find safety when they need it.
Some perpetrators are relentless and obsessive and violent and will not easily be stopped. Sometimes the only way women can escape is to go somewhere they cannot be found.
In a Guardian article Charlotte Kneer, a survivor of domestic abuse and chief executive of the Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge in Surrey, said: “If this goes ahead, every single refuge will close and every woman who presents herself to a refuge is at risk of murder.”
Those who have not seen the dreadful results of domestic violence and the dangerous and obsessive nature of those that do the violence cannot appreciate the danger and the reality of it.
Women are getting murdered every week and it is perverse and obscene that the Government would do anything to make it harder for them to get to a safe place.