In England and Wales one in four women will be the victim of domestic abuse over the course of their lifetime, and in the last year around 400,000 women were sexually assaulted and 60,000 raped.
Behind each of those horrifying statistics is a woman or child whose life has been ruined. Domestic abuse has damaged our society and the women, children and men within it, for too long. It must stop and it will stop. It prevents many victims from leading their own lives and contributing fully to society. It does not just scar individuals; it damages communities.
My first experience of violence against women and girls was when I was ten years old. My mother helped to set up the first women's refuge in Carlisle where we lived. I quite often spent my evenings in the refuge watching her help those in need, pretending to do my homework. She would work so hard to give every one of them the support they needed, making sure that their story wasn't lost, and that they remembered who they were; not just a victim of abuse, but a woman with her own past, and more importantly, future. My Mum's work inspired me to want to work with women and children. I went in to family law to do just that, to support families in desperate need. When I was a solicitor the youngest person I obtained an injunction for was a baby, the oldest a woman in her nineties being abused by her alcoholic son.
The government's ambition is nothing less than ending all forms of violence against women and girls. More abusers should, and will, be brought to justice. No more should we hear comments such as: "why didn't she leave him"or "she probably wound him up". These comments suggest that the woman is to blame for the physical or psychological violence inflicted on her. There is no excuse for violence.
The situation is, however, getting better and we are working hard to help victims get the justice and support they deserve. For the first time, stable government funding, amounting to £40m over the spending review period, is in place for organisations that do so much to help victims, often with so little. Clare's Law is being piloted in parts of the country and will allow police to disclose information about a person's previous violent offending to help protect new partners from future abuse. We will also make sure victims receive the information and support they need. That is why we are currently consulting on a new Victims' Code, which will more clearly set out what each victim of crime is entitled to and what they can do if this support falls short. We are committed to targeting all violence and stopping it.
There is always more that can be done. We need to improve the implementation of laws that are in place to protect women, do more to prevent violence, and each of us should fight the ongoing scepticism faced by women and children when they report abuse.
As victims' minister I will do all I can to raise awareness of these issues and champion justice for every woman. There is no room for half-promises. Every daughter, sister, partner, wife, friend and mother deserves to know that this government will not give up on them. We will help victims to get the best possible protection and support against all forms of abuse.
In this blog I've focused my attention on how we can better protect women and girls from their abusers. When we talk about domestic abuse, assumptions are made that we are talking about a man abusing his female partner, husband against wife, boyfriend against girlfriend. But domestic abuse does not discriminate between men and women. It transcends both age and gender. Whilst our focus must be on women, we cannot forget that men can be victims of domestic abuse too and also need help to end the abuse. And sometimes, as a result of a society that assumes men are inherently tougher than women, it can be even more difficult for a man to admit, much less be believed, that he is being abused by a so called loved one.
Domestic abuse will only be stopped if every one of us refuses to accept it. In the past society may have seen violence between partners as private, something that happens behind closed doors and not something that others should involve themselves in. But each of us can, and should, work together to identify, report and prevent abuse. Perpetrators of abuse should have nowhere to hide.
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