To commemorate and celebrate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, Ellen Miller, Interim CEO of Refuge, writes an exclusive open letter for GLAMOUR, calling on the government to invest in community-based domestic abuse support services and to reform policing.
Read her open letter here:
It’s the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which presents a perfect opportunity to have open discussions about the action needed to overcome violence against women and girls (VAWG). While some may believe that eradicating VAWG is impossible, here at Refuge we firmly believe that we can achieve a world where women are safe from abuse and fear, if society unites and if tangible action is taken. We’ve seen positive progress over the last few years, with the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Act (2021), and the more recent Online Safety Act (2023), but there is still a lot more change needed.
This year, the theme of 16 Days of Activism is ‘UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls’, which calls on governments across the world to share how they are investing to protect.
It is no secret that, historically, domestic abuse support has been chronically underfunded in England and Wales, with weak commitments from the Government to provide long-term, sustainable funding that meets demand. We have seen some funding commitments in recent years, such as those outlined in the Domestic Abuse Act – which introduced a statutory duty on local authorities to commission accommodation-based services – but there are vital areas of support which are not getting the cash injection they need.
Community-based domestic abuse services, run by women’s charities, provide essential support to survivors of domestic abuse – both women and their children – who are unable, or do not wish, to flee their homes. They are there to support and empower women on both a short and long-term basis and can be accessed at any stages of the journey to safety. Research conducted by Refuge earlier this year showed that 95% of the survivors we support access community-based services, and in just one year, the number of new clients supported by Refuge’s community-based services increased by 10%. Despite the clear growing demand for these services, they continue to be chronically underfunded, with more than 4 in 5 of Refuge’s frontline staff surveyed seeing their service being impacted by insufficient funding.
This is why, with a coalition of partner organisations, Refuge is urging the government to provide sustainable funding of at least £238 million in the upcoming Victims and Prisoners Bill, so more survivors can be given the vital support they need. We’ve seen the undeniably positive impact of these services at Refuge, with 97% of services users between April 2021 and March 2022 saying they felt safer after using them. All survivors have the right to feel safe and to ensure that we need secure funding.
16 Days of Activism is an important time for spreading awareness of the challenges women and girls face, and campaigning for positive change. The last year has clearly demonstrated that there are major issues with policing in England, which is having a profound impact on survivors of domestic abuse. We’ve seen report after report about a misogynistic culture within police forces and deeply disturbing headlines about police-perpetrated crimes against women and girls. This has left women’s trust in the police at an all-time low. Only 1 in 5 survivors that Refuge support report abuse to the police, over fears of not being believed, or fears that those who are meant to protect them may be perpetrators themselves.