For over 40 years, domestic violence refuges have provided support to women and children fleeing their homes at the hands of their partner’s abuse. These safe houses have provided countless women with a home when they no longer had one.
What’s more? They provided women with a great community of support offering counseling, therapeutic care, health services, legal advocacy, immigration advice and children’s services for their frightened little ones.
For 40 years these refuges have opened their doors to women at their most vulnerable, but now, at a time when police receive a report of domestic violence every minute, safe houses across the UK are being forced to close their doors.
Lack of funding because refuges do not admit men is the root cause of many of the closings. Despite reports of increased incidents of men suffering from domestic violence,”The vast majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women,” says Sandra Horley, chief executive of the charity Refuge which may soon be closing its doors. “Of those who experience four or more incidents … 89% are women,” she says.
Closing refuges because there are more male domestic violence victims isn’t the answer here. Women shouldn’t have to choose between staying with their abuser or being homeless when they are in this situation. After all, when women stay with their abusers they are susceptible to continued violence and possible murder. In fact, on average two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.
“Domestic violence is one of the only crimes where it can feel like the victim is being punished, rather than the perpetrator,” says Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, a national domestic violence charity in the UK.
This could not be more true, particularly given that domestic violence is actually not a crime in the UK. Instead police often use “community resolutions” to resolve domestic violence disputes. In these cases perpetrators avoid court action and get away with simply apologizing to the victim.
“These types of remedies may be effective for some crimes — but domestic violence is not one of them,” says Horley. “When women make the extraordinarily brave step of reporting their partners to the police, they must feel confident that they have the full weight of the law behind them.”
Having the police come over to your home to elicit an apology out of your partner is not enough and actually rather dangerous. There is the possibility that being forced to apologize might further anger an already angry person, putting women and children in harm’s way yet again.
Clearly the system to deal with domestic violence in the UK is broken, but recent remarks from Prime Minister David Cameron make me hopeful that change is on the horizon. When asked about creating a specific domestic violence crime Cameron said the following:
Of course domestic violence is a crime: if you beat someone, if you abuse someone, if you abuse them psychologically, if you stalk someone, if you threaten, those are all individual crimes…But I think the most important thing with domestic violence is to make sure that the police have the training and the understanding, so that when they get a call, they don’t think, “Well, it’s a domestic, it’s inside the house, there’s nothing I can do.” It’s a really important area of crime that we’ve got to get to grips with in our country…every part of that chain needs improvement, and that’s what we’re trying to put in place.
Perhaps the Prime Minister should add the problem of refuges closing to his list of to-dos to protect his country’s women from domestic violence. After all, if the government doesn’t take domestic violence seriously, who will?
Photo Credit: Stokeparker