In case you haven’t already responded to the national consultation here’s some ideas of where to start – responses are welcomed from individuals and groups and it’s important that women’s and feminist voices are heard clearly during this work. The End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Women’s Resource Centre both have fantastic responses to read and consider when working up your own ideas.
Here’s some ideas of my own….
Welcome the Consultation – it is a good first step to have a consultation but as WRC says a lot still needs to be done before this is an integrated and workable strategy to tackle violence against women. It is not enough to consult but this has to be matched by a willingness to act after the consultation and to act on the consultation responses. A consultation is a good first step but can only been seen as that, a first step, not a end in itself.
Gender Equality Framework – To borrow from WRC again: It is crucial that this strategy is clearly based on the principles of gender equality and human rights, and must provide clear targets and guidance for all levels of government to meet their obligations under the Gender Equality Duty, the Human Rights Act and CEDAW obligations. A gender neutral approach to gendered violence will not succeed. Violence against women is one of the ways that women’s subordination is maintained and normalised within a sexist society. There is a need to tackle public perception around sexual violence and the key myths which serve as victim blaming. Ending Violence Against Women must happen within a wider framework of tackling gender discrimination. The women’s sector must be embedded allies in this work and I am concerned about the ways in which they are marginalised and apparently sidelined here.
Naming Perpetrators – A major problem with both the Consultation and the questionnaire on the website is the unwillingness to name perpetrators of Violence against Women. Indeed that questionnaire, in the question on who is responsible for ending violence against women named everyone from the victim to the community except the perpetrators themselves.
Funding – There seems to be an implication that there will be competition for funding between relatively new Government run services such as Sexual Assault Referral Centres and existing, long-running services such as Rape Crisis Centres. The EVAW work on mapping the gaps of services for violence against women shows us that there are severe problems with some areas having no services whatsoever which makes a mockery of other areas where competition is being enforced by bad policy decisions.
Women’s centred, voluntary sector services have consistantly suffered insecure funding and underfunding at the same time that they have been used to deliver statutory services. Such a situation cannot continue. The Government needs to make a commitment to ensuring appropriate service provision with a clear ethos of meeting women’s needs (including single-sex services where appropriate) and to ensuring that funding decisions to meet those commitments allow service providers to deliver and to recruit, train and retain the best possible staff to do so. Stricter guidance for local decision makers involved in devolved funding is needed alongside education of local authories and councillors as to the real (empirically proven) situation regarding violence against women. Whilst for many things local-level funding is a useful and successful approach, in this case it will only be so with clear guidance about provision of single-sex, specialist and woman-centred services in appropriate settings.
Local bidding destabilises women’s voluntary sector services when what is needed is sustainable funding rather than three year project cycle funding. There are currently too few rape crisis centres, too few refuge places and too little money to enable innovation in provision. Making funding harder to gain will not help victims of violence.
Education – The Consultation suggests that education is the core way of ensuring that violence against women happens less. Whilst social change can be aided by formal education this places the solution as a matter of generational change Most violence-safety education has focussed on stranger-danger – the outmoded and incorrect assumption that women are most likely to be attacked by strangers in dark alleys at night. Schools are ill-equipped and unwilling to take on and deal with the issue that the majority of violence against women is committed by people they know in domestic settings. Additionally SEAL education in schools is unlikely to work well without proper deliverers and most teachers are not equipped or positioned to delivery adeqwuate violent prevention work. Teachers must, however, be trained in prevention of gender bullying, sexual bullying and how to handle disclosures of sexual violence which contemplates them both as reports but also as disclosures alone.
Intersectionality – The Consultation begins to, but policy must make more of, the links between violence against women, sexual discrimination, racism, stigmatisation, classism, ablism, heteronormativity and other forms of discriminatory behaviours which are inculcated in contemporary UK society. To ignore these links would continue the systemic discriminations which leave women trying to use single-issue laws to address multiple deprivations. For example female genital mutilation happens not just because someone is female or someone is from a cultural group that practices FGM but because they are female and from a cultural group that practices FGM. This multiple and overlapping positioning is fundamental to understanding why FGM happens as is understanding the heteronormative nature of those cultures, the double standard of male and female sexuality within them and so forth. Violence against women does not have a single cause and the understanding of the intersectional and overlapping nature of the problem needs to run throughout the policy making and implementation system, including the judiciary who at the current time seem more concerned with punishing victims of male violence against women than perpetrators.
Tackling Perpetrators – the Policing element – Restraining orders are not enforced in practice and the division between specialist domestic and sexual violence Police officers and general Police officers only further exacerbates this problem. Ghettoisation of these crimes is not a solution. It leads to women being let down when the specialist services are “off duty” or where the situation is acute and the first officers need to make a clear response. New powers are not necessarily the issue here – the issue is ensuring consistent and appropriate use of existing powers, such as Restraining Orders to protect women.
Tackling Perpetrators – the Judicial element – Despite moves to ban the use of victims sexual histories in rape cases, for example, the practice is still routine.
A judicial system committed to assisting women engage with the process would allow victim advocates at all stages of the process to support, prepare and equip women and would train judges at all levels in conduct of such cases. It is not enough to establish specialist prosecutors of sexual violence cases if they will be constantly prosecuting cases in front on judges who hold victim-blaming and misogynistic viewpoints. This is the time to call for specialist training of judiciary in violence and sexual crimes and in utilising the existing voluntary sector and academic expertise in woman-centred services and feminist research to co-ordinate and provide some of that training. The 22% of rape cases that were convicted as “not rape” but another crime shows a systemic problem with the construction of rape in public folklore/cultural imagination and in the way the cases are handled in Courts (by giving jurors options to release on rape charges but still punish). Custodial sentencing figures show the average sentence for rape to be 6.4 years which is strikingly low and almost 3% of cases found guilty receive non-custodial sentences. What the rationale is for non-custodial sentences in rape cases is unclear, unsafe and fails to send the message that rape is taken seriously.
Language Used – The Consultation has several issues where is becomes clear it isn’t consistent about the approach being taken. For example it uses “violent households” in some places which assumes a family-violence model in which all adults are held co-responsible for the violence whether or not they are and whether or not the violence is qualitatively similar. Additionally the use of the phrase “male attitudes” misunderstands that women are often involved in encouraging other women to stay in abusive situations and in male violence against women. This problem is not just one of “male attitudes” but of victim blaming, anti-women attitudes.
Sexualisation of Girls – The report constantly refers to the “sexualisation of girls” which is an ambiguous term and the Consultation never clarifies whether it sees the problem as being the actions of girls copying media messages and therefore apparently presenting themselves “sexually” or persistent sexual objectification of girls and women. Insisting that the problem lies in the “sexualisation of girls” under the first definition is a way of blaming girls and women for sexual violence both collectively and individually.
In terms of offering help and support to boys and girls, youth services tend to be hugely normative both in terms of messages about heterosexuality and about gender roles. If youth services are to play an active part in tackling violences in young people (and laying down healthy roles for adult life) then they must move away from these highly gendered ideas and ensure they do more. Youth work for girls is not adequate when it simply covers sexual health advice and health and beauty tips (as Feministwebs has shown with their groundbreaking, feminist informed youth work ideas). Youth work for boys must also move away from rigidly reinforcing heteronormativity and traditional gender roles.
Role of the Media – Tackling the sexualisation and sexual objectification of girls and women, however, is difficult within a system in which the advertising self-regulation body refuses to acknowledge that sexual objectification is an issue on which they should take a stand. The ASA has repeatedly failed to take action on a number of adverts complained about which glorify sexual violence against women. Most often these complaints are dismissed before ever reaching the Panel and the Panel itself has no gender equality expert on it unlike other equality campaigns which are represented. Despite calls from women’s groups in the late 1990s and currently, the ASA continues to maintain that sexual objectification is not an issue within advertising as their role is to enforce the “prevailing attitudes of the day” – as decided by a group with a majority male, white and middle-class make up.
No Recourse to Public Funds – The Consultation fails to address the issues faced by those women who are subject to the “no recourse to public funds” clause of immigration law. In these cases, if they experience violence, they often have no place to go as voluntary sector organisations (on whom the Government relies to deliver statutory services) are not allowed to fund their help, support and escape from violence. There is little or no support for women in this situation during the application process and this must be addressed.