THE BLOG

Leaving the EU Would Put Our Progress on Violence Against Women and Girls at Risk

20/06/2016 17:09 | Updated 20 June 2016

Women are the majority of voters in the EU referendum. We need to listen to them - they will think long and hard before putting progress on violence against women at risk.

The European Referendum is only a week away but for half the adult population it still seems like they are being left out of the debate. In the coverage so far, broadcasters seem stuck in the past, with panels and discussions dominated by men, not one of them listening to what women want from the EU nor, presumably, taking note of the fact that they make up the majority of voters.

But even if Boris, Nigel, Gove and the rest are too busy shouting over each other to listen to the concerns of over 50 per cent of the electorate, women can and will decide the result. And there are many reasons for them to think twice about a Brexit vote, in particular the benefits that EU membership has on their safety and security.

Under this Tory Government, 32 domestic violence refuges have closed due to funding cuts forced onto local authorities. Many services are still under huge financial pressure, drawing upon reserve funding just to survive.

Thankfully, EU funding for charities, community groups, and other bodies has been quietly championing women's equality and tackling violence against women across the country. In total, since 2007 British charities, universities, and other bodies have received £38million (€48million) to improve the rights of children and victims, and to fight domestic violence under the EU's Daphne programme.

Take the Women's Health group in South Tyneside that has supported over 300 women, many recovering from domestic or sexual abuse in accessing 34 different courses which looked not only at developing employability and volunteering skills but critically also at improving mental health, assertiveness and confidence.

The Home Office itself secured £250,000 of Daphne funding to raise awareness of FGM within the UK. This included a targeted communications campaign signposting the free 24-hour NSPCC FGM helpline. Callers to the helpline will remain anonymous, but information that could protect a child from abuse will be passed to police or social services.

The EU's determination to tackle international violence against women and girls has led to measures such as the anti-trafficking directive. Without the obligation to implement that, as EU members, the UK would not be so advanced in our fight against modern slavery and sexual exploitation.

The European Protection Order means that court restraining and protection measures issued in one EU country are recognised across the EU, so that victims of domestic abuse are protected from the perpetrators if they visit or move to anywhere else in the EU.

Member States must also ensure easily accessible rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres, to provide immediate medical counselling, care and forensic services. And just this March, the European Commission announced that it plans to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, something our own Government has delayed doing for four years.

Prior to the European Arrest Warrant, a number of EU nations would not extradite their citizens to face trial in another country. That meant that a victim of a sexual assault might never see their attacker face justice. The EAW has changed that fundamentally. In the past five years 675 suspects from those formerly reluctant countries have been returned to the UK to face justice for crimes like rape, trafficking and other forms of violence and equally importantly we have used the Warrant to remove over 5000 criminal suspects, capable of threatening the UK public to other EU countries.

These progressive, effective measures are not the work of a remote and faceless bureaucracy as the EU is sometimes characterised by its detractors. They represent the collective efforts of our elected MEPs drawing on pan-European experience of violence against women and girls and how to tackle it. Seeking to combat such a widespread wrong in an individual state would be folly, when pooling resources has proved so helpful in the past.

Let's not forget the issues that are at stake on 23 June. We need to work together, across borders and cultures to tackle a problem that affects us all.

Progress on violence against women and girls could be lost if the referendum too is lost.

Women are the majority of voters in the EU referendum. We need to listen to them - they will think long and hard before putting progress on violence against women at risk.

The free 24-hour NSPCC FGM helpline offers advice, information and support to anyone concerned that a child's welfare is at risk because of female genital mutilation - 0800 028 3550

Vera Baird QC was elected Northumbria's Police & Crime Commissioner in 2012 and was returned with one of the highest vote shares in the country. She was a Member of Parliament from 2001 to 2010. During this time she was appointed Solicitor General for England and Wales and was also the Minister with responsibility for taking the Equalities Act 2010 through Parliament

Jack Dromey is the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington and Labour's Shadow Police Minister

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