06:19, March 12 90 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-12 06:19:04
As survivors of domestic violence, we know this new law will fail others

Last month, a dozen members of our feminist direct action group stormed the red carpet at the Baftas, chanting, in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement – “The DV bill’s a cover-up. Theresa May, your time is up!” We did so to shed light on the inherent dangers lurking in the government’s upcoming domestic violence and abuse bill, which we knew would be a dangerous distraction from the real state of the domestic violence sector in the UK.

On International Women’s Day, the government confirmed our expectations when it laid out more clearly its proposals for this bill. Again, we see smokescreens diverting attention away from what this bill will mean: more survivors being locked up by a harmful criminal justice system while still locked out of refuges and locked into violent situations.

Despite a stated aim “to challenge and change the attitudes that can underpin domestic abuse”, the underlying motivation of this bill is clear: to put yet more power in the hands of the police, courts and criminal justice system. Although the government argues this “tough” approach will “better shield victims”, we know that the police and prisons are no solution to domestic violence. In fact, similar policies to those in this bill have, in the US, led to an increase in the number of survivors being arrested, especially black, minority ethnic and disadvantaged survivors.

The police and courts have plenty of resources and power; giving them more won’t address the reasons they are failing. If the government truly wants to tackle domestic violence, power should be given back to survivors – by properly funding sorely-needed specialist services and refuges.

The government’s purported commitment to develop a “sustainable funding model for refuges” only masks their devastating legacy of funding cuts and piecemeal offerings: in 2016-17, 60% of women who approached a refuge for help were turned away, providing context to Theresa May’s claim elsewhere that “the best available data shows bed spaces have increased by 10% since 2010”.

In fact, this figure not only should represent a cut in real terms when taking into account the reported increase in demand as well as population growth, but also cannot count for those survivors turned away for lack of funding. Local authorities’ refuge funding has fallen by an average of 24% in the same timeframe, meaning many survivors, especially those with specialist support needs, are left with nowhere to go.

As survivors and sector workers, we know a pro-sentence environment isn’t the answer to domestic violence. The government proposes a “statutory aggravating factor in sentencing, similar to those already in law for hate crimes, for domestic abuse to toughen sentences”. When you’re a survivor in danger, there is little difference between your perpetrator getting a three-week sentence or an 11-week sentence if you can’t get safe housing when they are released. It also plays into a dangerous rhetoric prioritising the criminal justice system over support and services in the community.

The government has pledged £2m that will be “dedicated to supporting female offenders who have been victims, as over 60% have indicated they have experienced domestic abuse”, but that’s a drop in the ocean next to the £1.3bn to be invested in 10,000 modern prison places by 2020 and the £500m spent on immigration removal centre over four years. We know that when women suffer violence, it’s the private companies that profit.

Sisters Uncut is not alone in criticising of this bill. In October 2017 a wide range of women’s organisations wrote to the home secretary, Amber Rudd, and the justice secretary, David Lidington, appealing to them to “go further” with the domestic violence and abuse bill, and last week the End Violence Against Women Coalition reaffirmed the need for “radical change”.

At Sisters Uncut we stand with these other organisations in demanding that the government stop forcing through legislation based on ideology and austerity, and start basing it on what survivors actually want and need. We demand, and we deserve, a domestic violence and abuse bill that funds refuges and specialist domestic violence services, rather than focusing on a criminal justice system that only further harms survivors.

For more information on the consultation, please follow this link.

Sisters Uncut is a feminist direct action group made up of non-binary people and women protesting cuts to domestic violence services. The group was formed by domestic violence survivors and sector workers in 2014, and now has a network of groups across the country.