22nd May 2015
When the Sun publishes pictures of women, your natural reaction may be to wince. But this Monday’s front page made a stark – and upsetting - change. To mark the launch of their campaign against domestic abuse, the Sun filled their front page with pictures of the women who’ve been killed by their partners in the past year.
It made the point better than words ever could. Every type of woman looked out at us from that front page. Every one killed before her time because we all failed to protect her from her husband, boyfriend, partner or ex.
We at SafeLives are clear: domestic violence is too big a problem to only be talked about in right-on journals. We need the Sun – and we’re glad they’ve joined the fight to end domestic abuse.
But what was interesting was how narrow the campaign was. It wasn’t a grand narrative about what we all have to do to end domestic abuse: it was a carefully targeted plea to the government to fund refuges – and, audaciously, to reopen those which have closed.
As a campaigner, I applaud the focus. Tell one story, make it human, reach out to unexpected allies, and show how change can happen. The domestic violence sector’s hero (heroine?) narrative is refuges - brilliant women facing institutional opposition from the police and the state in the 1970s to provide a desperately needed safe space for victims and their children. It resonates with people – which is why we keep telling it.
But as a policy wonk, I’m concerned. While we only tell a story about refuge, about leaving your home to escape abuse, we perpetuate the attitude that “she should just leave”. Maybe she should. But why don’t we say “HE SHOULD JUST STOP ABUSING HER”?
Why should women have to lose their homes? Why should they have to uproot their children from school and disrupt their everyday life? Why should they have to leave their tenancies and mortgages, their possessions and furniture?
While we have domestic abuse, we will always need safe places in an emergency for women at very high risk of murder or serious injury. But going into a refuge isn’t always right for every woman – women with children, women with complex needs and women who are in work all sometimes find that refuges aren’t the right place for them.
So, those of us who work to end domestic abuse should talk about the other choices women have too.
One of those choices is to get help in the community from a trained, professional Idva. She can help women get an injunction or domestic violence protection order to keep the abuser away. She can help the victim get a move to a safer property or make her current home more secure. She can get help from the police to make sure that the address is monitored, and get all the right agencies at Marac to play their role in helping the family get safe.
In 60% of cases where a victim has got help from an Idva and from a Marac, the abuse stops. That’s pretty incredible – but it’s one of the best-kept secrets in UK social policy.
Across the country, we only have 50% of the Idvas that we need to help every woman at high-risk of murder or serious harm. We’d like to see the Sun paying tribute to their work to keep victims safe, and campaigning for more funding for all domestic abuse services – in the community, and residential too.
And if we’re serious about stopping abuse – rather than just helping the victims – we have to get serious about intervening with perpetrators. Otherwise we’ll stay in the same cycle of picking up the pieces.
Stopping domestic abuse really is everyone’s business – and it’s good to have the Sun on-board.