Making Misogyny A Hate Crime Is The Only Way To End Violence Against Women

Our criminal justice system is not fit for purpose, Labour parliamentary candidate Dawn Butler writes.

Violence against women is one of the most wide-spread and persistent human rights violations in our society. An estimated 1.3 million women experienced domestic violence and abuse in the last year in the UK, with two women every week killed by a partner or former partner. Enough is enough. No woman or girl should have to live a life of fear.

Not only do women make up over three quarters domestic violence victims, they experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed than male victims of domestic abuse. Women are also far more likely to be subjected to coercive and controlling behaviours.

We must challenge the deep-rooted misogyny that leads to gender-based violence and abuse and still permeates our society. This is why Labour will make misogyny a hate crime and an aggravated offence in the criminal justice system.

Our criminal justice system is not fit for purpose. Shockingly, 85% of those experiencing domestic violence sought help from professionals an average of five times before they received effective help to stop the abuse. Valuing all women and their experiences is key to a just, equal and fair society.

Cropped Hand Of Man Harassing Woman Sitting On Bed At Home
Cropped Hand Of Man Harassing Woman Sitting On Bed At Home
Yaowarat Boonyarattaphan / EyeEm via Getty Images

When victims finally manage to access the justice system, it overwhelmingly fails them. The vast majority of domestic abuse cases are not prosecuted - fewer than 10% of incidents reported to police will end in conviction.

Last year the most common outcome for rape cases was listed as “victim does not support action” (40%), followed by other “evidential difficulties”, no suspect being identified and prosecution “not in the public interest”. It is just not good enough. It’s an outrage that secret performance targets lead to rape cases being put in the ‘too hard to deal with’ pile. This system is letting women down and letting the perpetrators off the hook.

Labour will establish an end to end review into shamefully low rape prosecution rates and improve the safety of the family court system for domestic violence victims, banning their cross-examination by their abuser.

Domestic violence must be tackled through fundamental changes to our society – through housing, health, education, immigration, social security and specialist domestic abuse services, as well as to the justice system.

The current system of Universal Credit and the two child limit includes a rape clause, which last year meant over 500 women had to go through the indignity of filling out a four-page form to prove that their child was born as a result of rape. That’s why the next Labour government will scrap the two child limit and the immoral rape clause.

Refuges are in crisis, suffering cuts of over £7m in the past nine years, and the situation is getting worse. An estimated 21,084 referrals to all refuges in England were refused in 2017-18 because of a lack of funding or space, meaning thousands of people – overwhelmingly women – had to return to the situation they were fleeing. Labour will introduce 10 days paid domestic violence leave to support survivors when they are at their most vulnerable, 10 days that could save a life.

I am proud that our manifesto announced a National Refuge Fund to ensure financial stability for rape crisis centres so that no one is turned away. It also committed to reintroduce a Domestic Abuse Bill, something the Conservatives failed to do, and set new standards for tackling domestic and sexual abuse and violence, appointing a Commissioner for Violence against Women and Girls.

A Labour government will ratify the Istanbul Convention immediately, something the Conservatives have refused to do since it was agreed back in 2012. And we will introduce a no-fault divorce procedure, so that victims of domestic violence are not trapped in legal bureaucracy. A Labour government will also take action against image-based sexual abuse including ‘revenge porn’, introducing new, stronger protections for victims.

It is absolutely right to demand a world where there is no violence against women and girls. Under Labour, this ambition can become a reality.

Dawn Butler is Labour’s shadow women & equalities secretary and parliamentary candidate for Brent Central.


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