The Government's new Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy is an important moment - abuse isn't straightforward and women need both early intervention and crisis support to be available
Today is International Women's Day. It's also the day the Government publishes its refreshed strategy to tackle violence against women and girls.
The stats on violence against women are staggering. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Closer to home, two women are murdered every week in the UK, and a further 100,000 are at high-risk of being murdered or seriously harmed by their partner.
The Government's new strategy contains three key elements that could make a real difference to the lives of women and girls living with abuse:
- early intervention
- local commissioners appointing specialist domestic abuse services in a coherent, effective and sustainable way
- addressing the behaviour of perpetrators.
It is really encouraging to see the Government recognise the importance of these factors.
Building important innovation on firm foundations
It is vital that this innovative shift complements rather than replaces current provision, especially those supporting victims of high-risk domestic abuse. SafeLives' research has shown that we have just half the number of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (Idvas) as are needed to ensure those victims in the greatest danger get effective support.
Provision is patchy at best, and the subsequent impact on professionals' caseloads - and, ultimately, the quality of support offered to victims - is of real concern.
Everybody's business - earlier intervention
Domestic abuse is so much more than a criminal justice issue - for instance, we know that victims are 5 times more likely to be in regular contact with health professionals than the police. Our evidence also shows that victims of domestic abuse are frequent users of physical and mental health services, typically accessing them 13 times before receiving support from a domestic abuse service.
These two facts alone make increased leadership from the Department of Health vitally important. We call on Ministers there to share their plans to implement the strategy, alongside the Home Secretary and Communities Secretary.
Domestic abuse victims need a single point of referral for all safeguarding concerns including domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental ill-health and neglect - allowing us to identify vulnerable women and girls as early as possible and recognising that domestic abuse cannot be understood as an isolated problem. It needs to be approached holistically, something that impacts the whole family and a range of vulnerabilities.
The role of local commissioners
The Government is right to say that local provision for victims of abuse is too fragmented. The importance of good commissioning cannot be overstated. Local authorities, health commissioners and Police and Crime commissioners could do much more with existing funding if they worked together in a more co-ordinated way.
Asking 'why doesn't he stop?' not 'Why doesn't she leave?'
For too long, we've been focusing on the wrong questions, asking women victims of domestic abuse why they don't leave, rather than asking why their perpetrators won't stop.
We know from talking to women that they want their partners or ex-partners to receive specialist intervention to stop the abuse. We must respect and respond to this. While refuges around the country are turning victims away due to lack of space, less than 1% of perpetrators get any specialist intervention to address their behaviour. They need to be held accountable and this strategy signals the Government's intention to improve the situation.
Abuse is complicated - provide help when women need it
The Government's new strategy is an important moment, marking their continued commitment to tackling violence against women and girls for the next four years. We hope those responsible for implementing it will keep in mind that abuse is complicated not linear. Innovation is vital, and so are the gains made over the past ten years. If we want to keep more families safe we should push ahead while not forgetting the vital gains which have got us this far.