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We Cannot Go Back to a Time When Victims Were Ignored and Violence Against Women Dismissed

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Imagine a world where two women a week are killed by their partners or former partners. A world where women are more at risk from domestic violence than from cancer, where every nine minutes a woman is raped.

You don't have to imagine, for this is our world. This is the reality of life in Britain today for many women and girls. Yet there are no headlines in the papers, it doesn't lead the television news and calls for action from people working in this area are routinely ignored. Many perpetrators get away scot free.

If this was happening in any other part of the criminal justice system there would be an outcry, but violence against women is a silent epidemic and the survivors are too often left without support and without justice.

Under this government, with a home secretary who pledges to end violence against women, the situation is getting worse rather than better. The number of reported rapes rose from 13,074 in 2008/09 to 16,316 in 2012/13. Yet in 2012/13, police forces passed over 2,700 fewer rapes to the Crown Prosecution Service for decisions on charging than they did in 2010/11.

The number of recorded incidents of domestic violence has risen by 31% since 2010, but the number of cases referred to the CPS is down by 13%.

The reasons for the failure to prosecute are complex, but they stem from a failure by government to make violence against women a priority, or to understand the impact of its decisions on women's safety.

The Women's Aid Annual Survey for 2013 showed refuge services struggling to provide the support women need. It paints a sorry picture of women having to be turned away, of services being run without dedicated funding, of many relying on their reserves, and 30% of respondents expecting to get less funding next year than they received this year.

For years, the police, social services and the voluntary sector have worked hard to improve the way rape and domestic violence is dealt with. In the three years of this government, that good work has been undermined. Specialist domestic violence courts are being closed, Independent Domestic Violence Officers are being cut, and commissioning of services is chaotic with more generic service being commissioned to save money rather than the specialist women-only services which are needed.

All of this impacts on the number of cases getting to court. Women who have been raped or experienced domestic abuse need support to see a case through, to ensure their safety and to make sure that evidence is collected right at the beginning.

We cannot go back to a time when victims were ignored and violence against women dismissed.

We need the police to develop national standards to deal with these crimes, and we need a government which understands the complex needs of the women involved and supports the services which help them through a case.

Otherwise, criminals will simply get away with it.

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