Tuesday, 19 April 2016

No more Violence against Women

The WI has been campaigning for an end to violence against women for many years. This blogpost gives members an update on some of the recent developments on this issue.

The recent Archers storyline on domestic abuse has had the nation talking, donating and seeking help; fans are both shocked and saddened by the storyline which is a reality for many women and men on a day to day basis. Rob’s long-term emotional abuse of Helen has kept listeners hooked in a two-and-a-half year long story that has gradually revealed Rob’s manipulative abuse and systematic undermining of Helen’s personality. 

The Archers has brought to light an under reported type of abuse; psychological abuse, a type of which can also be referred to as ‘gaslighting’, after the 1944 film, Gaslight.  In the film, featuring husband and wife Gregory and Paula, Gregory does everything to try to isolate and control Paula. One particular tactic involves secretly dimming the gaslights in their home and telling Paula she is crazy when she questions the flickering lights. As a result, ‘gaslighting’ is used to describe a particular type of mental abuse that makes the victim doubt their own sanity and memory.

Examples of Rob’s ‘gaslighting’ tactics include attacking Helen’s eating disorder by forcing her to eat, buying clothes that are too large or small for her and persuading her to stop driving. 

‘Gaslighting’ is particularly dangerous as it skewers the individual’s perception of reality and often goes unnoticed by the victim and victim’s family due to its very calculating nature. The Archers storyline has helped to change perceptions of domestic abuse and has shone a light on this calculating behaviour, which victims perceive as the norm. This is highlighted by new figures which reveal a 17% increase in calls to the national domestic violence helpline run by Women’s Aid and Refuge.

The Government has taken a step forward in recognising this manipulative behaviour by introducing new legislation in March 2015, to hold people accountable for controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships. The offence carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. Types of behaviour listed include; isolating a person from their friends and family, and enforcing rules that humiliate and degrade the victim. 

Although this is a step in the right direction in recognising other types of abuse, in many cases victims are not able to take advantage of specialist services or are unaware of the controlling behaviour as they have been trained to believe that they are the problem. Increasing awareness and improving GPs’ responses to look beyond the surface of the victim’s basic communications is essential to preventing further abuse. One way of improving domestic abuse services is through Domestic Violence Champions Networks, which focuses on improving agencies’ knowledge and understanding of the issues and providing the victim with the help they require immediately. The scheme is made up of a network of practitioners or ‘champions’ from a range of agencies. An example of this scheme in action is Cumbria City Council, which has set up three Domestic Violence Champions Networks

On International Women’s Day in March, the Government made a further commitment to improving domestic abuse and violence services by committing £80 million to protect women and girls from violence as part of a new violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy.  Through the refreshed strategy, the government sets out a vision for the next four years with a focus on prevention and early intervention, and making VAWG a priority across agencies, services and the wider public. Measures laid out in the strategy include support for greater use of body-worn cameras by police, a National Statement of Expectations that provides a blueprint for what good commissioning and service provision looks like, and rehabilitation for perpetrators.  

While the strategy has been broadly welcomed, some concerns have been raised that it does not reflect the situation on the ground. Since 2011, Refuge has experienced cuts to 80% of its services, and a on a typical day for Women’s Aid’s refuges, 103 children and 155 women are turned away. Local authorities are coping with shrinking budgets and an increased demand for services, often resulting in charities’ funding being cut, with specialist domestic abuse charities bearing the brunt. Specialist domestic violence charities are integral to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities as they have expert knowledge on how to help with particular patterns of abuse within communities and they understand specific needs.

The NFWI has been campaigning on violence against women since 2008; raising awareness of the nature, extent and impact of all forms of violence against women. The NFWI called for better access to domestic violence services for women and girls in rural areas and commissioned research from Bristol University that highlighted the additional problems faced by rural women such as confidentiality and lack of access to transport. In 2009, WI members made a ‘Map of Gaps’ quilt to help publicise research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that demonstrated the postcode lottery of violence against women support services; one in four local authorities lack any specialist support services. 

'Map of Gaps' quilt
In addition, the NFWI secured key concessions to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill that affected thousands of women and girls who experienced domestic violence. NFWI-Wales has been working on the Not in My Name campaign since 2012 to engage men in pledging their support to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women. 

The Archers storyline has been influential in raising awareness of psychological abuse, and the Government’s VAWG strategy and control and coercion legislation are positive steps in the right direction, but the key will be to ensure that changes are made in practice, and that local providers are given the support and resources they so urgently need to ensure that when victims seek help, they are referred to the correct service.  

Please share this blog with friends and family to raise awareness of controlling and abusive behaviour and encourage anyone who feels trapped in a relationship of abuse to come forward and seek help. 
If you or anyone you know requires any help or support from domestic violence please contact the National Domestic Violence helpline on 0808 2000 247, the Welsh Government’s Life Fear Free helpline on 0808 8010 800 or consult the NHS advice page.  

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