Agenda is publishing research today revealing that one in every twenty women in England has experienced extensive physical and sexual abuse, as both an adult and a child. That's 1.2million women in England alone. And our research shows they go onto face very difficult lives: with high levels of mental and physical ill health, problems with drugs and alcohol, and homelessness all common. One in three have attempted suicide.
These figures are shocking, but not terribly surprising. Time and timeagain we hear about violence against women and girls. Every day in the papers there is a rape, a story of child sexual exploitation, or the murder of a woman (and sometimes her children) by her partner.
This new research brings home the impacts on women and girls who face the most extensive violence: those who grow up experiencing physical and sexual abuse, and face further violence once they are adults. Unsurprisingly, the mental health impacts of this are severe, with higher rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than soldiers returning from active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Many turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope. They have high rates of homelessness and poverty. Half have a disability which means they need help with everyday activities.
Sadly, each experience of abuse these women face makes them more vulnerable to abuse in the future. Girls who run away from abuse at home are a target for perpetrators of child sexual exploitation. Women who become homeless fleeing domestic violence are at further risk on the streets. Perpetrators deliberately target women with mental health problems, addictions, and disabilities, both because they are vulnerable and because they are less likely to be believed if they speak out.
To become an adult with experience of extensive lifelong abuse, you have to have been failed by services. We are an alliance of more than 50 charities, and the women our members work with tell distressing stories. They speak of spending time in care, being sectioned during mental health crises, seeking housing from their local authorities, and having children taken into care at birth without anyone ever offering the help that they needed.
These women need spaces where they can feel safe and understood, and where there are professionals with the expertise to help them through all of the complex interlinked issues they face. Such specialist services exist, but they are few and far between and often struggle for funding. We need a coherent funding solution which supports these services in the long term.
These women also need mainstream services to recognise their vulnerabilities and trauma. When a 15 year old girl is too frightened to seek medical attention for her injured baby, we need social services to recognise that both mother and child need support. When a woman presents to her GP with anxiety and depression, we need that doctor to consider whether she has been or is at risk of being abused. Getting this frontline work right will help stop women moving from crisis to crisis, and get them the specialist help they need.
This holistic response, from frontline to specialist support, is what Agenda has been formed to campaign for. We can't keep consigning these women to lives of abuse and exclusion. More than three-quarters of the 1.2million women affected by this kind of abuse are mothers: for their sake and that of the next generation of girls, we've got to start getting this right.