David Cameron questioned by MPs on violence against women

11 February 2014

On 16th January 2014 David Cameron was questioned by MPs on violence against women. In Andrew Sparrow’s blog he advises that ‘If you’re interested in David Cameron’s views on energy, it was certainly worth watching. He was relying very heavily on his brief when talking about violence against women and girls, but he sounded genuinely engaged when talking about energy.’ This sums the whole issue up for me. There is not enough focus or will to change a situation in which two women a week are killed in England and Wales by a current or former partner.

David Cameron covered a number of issues during the questions raised, however the main point regarding housing was in ensuring that women’s refuges run by local authorities would be exempt from benefit cap rules as other refuges already are. This is an important statement, but alone it is not enough. All you have to do is look at homelessness figures in the UK and the clear association with domestic abuse. Anyone working in violence against women and girls will tell you that housing is a priority. Having a safe place to stay is vital for all of us. So why the lack of debate and absence of viable solutions to the issue?

I am pleased to hear that David Cameron advised that the Istanbul Convention on violence against women would be ratified when the anti-social behaviour bill, which criminalises forced marriage, became law. He went on to say that Britain would “absolutely lead the charge” to promote equality for women around the world during 2014. However this is merely a statement. Where is the funding and support that is required to implement a holistic approach to tackling VAWG. Where in the conversation are we discussing how we will deal with perpetrators of these crimes? Why are we not focusing on how to change attitudes? During the session Cameron agreed that sex and relationship education is important. But he does not want to open ‘Pandora’s box’ about what should be in sex and relationship education.

This is exactly what is required if we are going to get anywhere in addressing the fact that more than half of the girls interviewed by the NSPCC said they had been in a sexually violent relationship before their 18th birthday. And more than half of the girls reported that they had been a victim of physical violence in at least one of their intimate relationships.

Graham Allen, the Labour Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee raised the issue of training. Having personally trained more than a third of the Peabody workforce and seen firsthand the dramatic impact that this has had on identification (a quarter of our case load is domestic abuse), highlights how vital training is.  The training that is currently available is underfunded and clearly inadequate as otherwise so many people would not be dying. In my experience people affected by these issues are reluctant to report to the Police for a variety of sound reasons including fear of reprisals, not wanting their partner to be criminalised and mistrust of the Police, If there was more awareness and more identification of VAWG perhaps we would begin to collect data that truly reflects how prolific this issue is, rather than relying on CJS statistics to inform our debate.

Gudrun Burnet
@GudrunBurnet