JOINING THE DOTS


LWD’s Working Group Statement on the
Labour Party Green Paper ‘Ending Violence to Women & Girls’

Women are demanding action to stop the epidemic of rape, male violence
and abuse targeted at women and girls. The Labour Party’s Green Paper
outlining a strategy, whilst it acknowledges how overstretched and
underfunded support services are, fails to address key points which need
to form part of any effective and realistic policies.

1. The voluntary sector of refuges, support and counselling services
was developed largely by women for women. It has many years of
experience in developing appropriate and safe, well-used services
for women. This sector has been underfunded and run down by
successive Tory governments and valuable expertise lost by a
competitive tendering system which has all too often awarded
contracts to commercial operators. As well as a commitment to
secure, long-term funding, and increasing provision to meet the
growing need, the party needs to extend its manifesto commitment
into an explicit policy to support the provision of single-sex as well
as other specialist services. These services centre the needs of
women and girls. Women need and have a right to chose safe
services which are often provided by other women who have had
similar experiences and understand the best ways to support one
another during some of the most difficult times of their lives, from
the violence itself to taking their cases through the justice system.
The sector which has been built up over the last 50 years needs to
be valued and supported.

2. Links between what have historically been considered ‘low level’
forms of harassment and abuse and the escalation to increasingly
violent offences have been made clear. Policies need to develop a
Zero Tolerance approach which understands these links and
commits to tackling all levels of misogynistic hate crimes against
women. This also needs to encompass the area of social media
which has become extremely hostile to women and where threats of
violence are routinely ignored.

3. Similarly, the separation of ‘domestic’ violence from stranger
violence needs to end. It has been shown that committing acts of
domestic violence is also an indicator of the potential for acts of
terror. Many men found guilty of rape and sex-based crimes also
have a record of domestic abuse. Taking seriously male violence in
the home is an essential part of any wider strategy – violence to
women is a continuum which arises from a wider environment of sexism and the social acceptance of such acts and the attitudes which give rise to them.

4. The huge increase in the use of pornography and its explicitly violent and misogynistic content contributes to that environment.Violent content has become one of the most searched for categories. It has contributed to the normalisation of all forms of violence to women and children and the failure to address this problem is the elephant in the room. Porn is now easily available to many children. The shocking levels of sexual abuse of girls in schools and the highest ever levels of depression and self-harm now found amongst girls and young women must be seen as red flags.

What sort of society are we allowing to thrive? We cannot tackle violence and abuse perpetrated on one sex principally by the other without taking measures to radically alter the education system and wider environment in which our children grow up and where they fail to learn mutual respect.

5. Institutions such as the police and those involved in the criminal
justice system have been shown to tolerate a culture of disrespect
for women and consequently a failure to take violence to women
seriously. That rape should go almost unpunished, that judges
should give light sentences to men who kill women, that the vast
majority of offences of this kind go un-prosecuted are all factors that
need to be urgently addressed. This is how we have come to this
point of endemic and epidemic male violence which has been
tolerated in ways that would seem extraordinary if applied to other
crimes.

6. We do not know who was consulted in the preparation of the green
paper, but, women’s organisations that have been working in the
field over many years must be consulted. There is existing expertise
both on the causes of male violence and best practice in supporting
women and any policy development needs to incorporate those
perspectives.

Women are not the only victims of male violence, but
overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence and abuse to women
are men. The right to live in peace and safety is a fundamental
human right not currently enjoyed by girls and women, half of our
communities. The Labour Party must develop a comprehensive and
holistic approach which recognises the sex-specific dynamics
involved and which seeks not only to provide support to victims but
which addresses the root causes and does not shirk these critical
issues. We owe it to women. And it is urgent.

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