I work as a domestic violence worker for a central London health trust. Before the prospect of any cuts, the refuges and domestic violence services I work with were already under pressure — not able to meet demand for their services, the refuges never having to wait to fill a room. Now it is and will become much worse.
Women fleeing violence arrive in the small hours, often with children, few possessions, still carrying evidence of their latest injuries; unable to tell anyone where they were, to have visits from family and friends, often not trusting family and friends.
The pressure on women to stay with a violent partner is sometimes very strong, yet the effects of violence on women is still not recognised.
This was evidenced in the most cruel way by the 2009 imprisonment of a woman in North Wales whose husband had raped her. Under pressure from him and family she retracted the allegation against him and so she was charged. Not for a false claim as the police knew he had raped her, but for a false retraction!
Her children were left in the care of the perpetrator.
It is almost unthinkable that such an act of barbarity can have occurred but let it serve as a warning for anyone who has faith in the bourgeois justice system.
This case and others like it also demonstrate just how far we have to go in fighting violence against women.
In England and Wales in 2009-10 more than one in four women were affected by domestic violence and on average two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.
According to the Department of Health at least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence and this is probably an underestimate
It is incredibly difficult for women to leave a violent relationship and often the one crucial thing that makes a difference is the support they receive from specialist services and the fact that they have a safe, anonymous place to go.
Yet according to Refuge, one in three Local Authorities do not provide any refuges or specialist services.
Worse, for those areas which do have services the cuts are already threatening to seriously damage their provision.
The recent announcement that ADVA (Against Domestic Violence and Abuse), the umbrella organisation for DV provision in Devon, were facing 100% cut to their budget is a cruel reminder of what the Tories are really all about. ADVA have stated clearly that the outcome of such cuts will ultimately be the loss of life as women are unable to leave violent men, putting not only their lives but those of children at risk. This is the Tories Big Society.
Thre are sure to be many more proposed cuts in local authority funding. The good news in Devon is that following a huge outcry, the council looks set for a partial u-turn. But it is not good enough — these services cannot afford any cuts.
Statutory services, including my own are just not in a position to take up the slack, are themselves under resourced and overburdened.
In the next period identifying where local cuts are going to fall and organising local and national campaigns to protect domestic violence services is going to be a vital part of our activity. Stop the cuts that will kill women!