This coronavirus crisis comes
on top of the rape and domestic violence crisis and the austerity crisis.
For many women and children the
lockdown and #StayAtHome directive are a like a “prison sentence” with a
violent and controlling man. Support
workers and the police have reported that the murder of women has doubled
in the UK with at least 16 killings between 23 March and 12 April 2020, including
of children. Reports of domestic violence
have mushroomed all around the world. China and Spain saw a surge in calls
reporting domestic violence, while police in France reported a 30% increase in
domestic abuse cases.
In the UK, the Home Secretary has said victims can leave their home despite the lockdown. But where are they to go? What are they to live on? As with the protective equipment demanded by health and care workers, our survival and protection are not being prioritised.
A decade of austerity wiped out our financial independence and our escape routes out of violence. Women have suffered 86% of the cuts. Benefits and social housing were slashed – a key source of independence for women. Refuges have been cut: 1 in 6 refuges closed over the past 8 years. Women’s Aid reported this month that before lockdown, they had to decline 64% of referrals in 2018-19.
The withdrawal of social care services leaves disabled women more at risk of abuse as we are forced to rely on family and friends who can turn abusive. Unwaged family carers are suffering domestic violence during lockdown as Council support is not provided to disabled adults with aggressive and challenging behaviour, and day centres are closed.
This is echoed in the criminal justice system’s disgraceful response to violence. Before the virus, an average of two women a week were murdered by partners or ex-partners often after reports to police. And despite a 40% increase in reports of rape over 2012-2018, in 2019 convictions fell to 3% – the lowest in a decade.
Mothers in particular face an impossible struggle. If we report domestic violence or if we
don’t, we are blamed for harming our children by having a violent partner, even
though we are victims. Our children are taken
from us, put in care or even given to the violent father.
The family courts have allowed themselves to be used by
violent fathers to continue their abuse and control. The presumed “rights” of fathers to see their
children, regardless of a history of violence, are generally prioritised over
the safety and wishes of children and the efforts of mothers to protect them
As part of the Support Not Separation Coalition which defends
women and children facing the family court, we know that between 70 and 90% of
cases involve domestic violence, yet only 1% of fathers are denied access to
children. Over 70% of the cases brought
to us involve domestic violence, including rape. Court judgements have repeated flouted the
rights of children and mothers to safety and welfare, and court professionals
often display shocking disregard for the basic legal protections victims have
won. Many of the mothers and children
struggling against injustice are women of colour or immigrant, and/or have a
One judge repeatedly insisted a
violent father, convicted for attacking the mother, be brought from prison to the
family court, breaking an exclusion order from the mother’s and children’s
town. No protection was available in or around the court, and the judge called
her ‘pedantic’ when she asked about it. We succeeded in getting the judge
removed from the case.
Another judge ruled that the rape
of a pregnant woman by her partner who woke her in her sleep was not rape even
though he acknowledged the rape in a text, because she hadn’t fought him off. The
judge allowed contact.
As foster carers and contact centres are inaccessible during
the lockdown, mothers’ contact with children who have been taken from their care
has been curtailed even further, cutting children off from their mothers.
The anti-rape movement has won important
protections over the years: ● WAR’s 15-year campaign got rape in marriage finally
recognised as a crime in 1991 ● We exposed and defeated some outrageous discrimination
in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, especially against those who were
raped as children, and won thousands of pounds for individual victims ● Official
recognition that rape is torture and grounds for asylum: we won the right to
stay for many rape survivors seeking asylum.
But the falling conviction rates
for rape and domestic violence show that in reality the state has
given violent men near total impunity. And without financial independence our
vulnerability to violence and injustice remains.
Immediate safe accommodation for women and children in emergency need.
Support for disabled children and disabled mothers entitled to care and childcare help under the Care Act (made discretionary by the Coronavirus Act).
Immediate changes to the family courts so women who report violence do not risk having their children taken away or given to the perpetrators. (See our amendments on this to the Domestic Violence Bill which is going through Parliament now – the Bill must go further to protect us.) Implementation of Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act to keep children safe with their mothers. Judges who refuse to apply the law must be removed – we won’t go back to the 1970s when rape in marriage was considered legal!
A permanent end to benefit sanctions and other punitive measures, especially to disabled and traumatised claimants. People pressing their needs during COVID-19 brought some benefit changes but Universal Credit is lower than many previous benefits it replaces, and makes women financial dependent on men. ESA which a lot of traumatised women get, has not had the £20 increase like other benefits. They must Scrap the two-child limit, total benefit cap and policies which pay money to the man in the household rather than individually to the woman. Scrap the Bedroom Tax. Raise Child Benefit. All payments must be made without delay. The welfare state must be rebuilt and expanded – we need urgent access to benefits and social housing.
We support the call for a Care Income made by the Global Women’s Strike and the Green New Deal for Europe. The virus crisis has shown how dependent society is on caring work, waged and unwaged, in the family and outside, and how women in particular care for extended families and neighbours. For the health and protection of people and the environment to be prioritised, those already doing caring work must be compensated. Money from the state would guarantee financial independence from men and our ability to protect ourselves and our children. We could refuse unwanted sexual demands, and have the means to leave and to use the law. Women fleeing or surviving violence deserve an income for self-care and recovery, and to be there for tramatised children.
Thorough investigations and prosecutions by the police and Crown Prosecution Service. The Coronavirus Act has given police free rein to arrest, fine and criminalise, and even to fine the parents of young people who leave the house. We demand a change of priorities so that resources go into protecting women and children from violence. We demand accountability from those charged with protecting us – those who don’t implement the law should be sacked.
An amnesty against deportations #Papers For All. Over 70% of women seeking asylum have fled from rape but sexism, racism and other injustice in the asylum process leaves them destitute. Sign the Open Letter to the Prime Minister of the UK and the Taoiseach of Ireland demanding the release of all immigration detainees, free health care, and an end to destitution.
30 April 2020
1 Data collated by Karen Igala Smith of Nia Project. Looking at the
same period over the last 10 years, data records an average of 5 deaths. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/15/domestic-abuse-killings-more-than-double-amid-covid-19-lockdown
3 Women’s Budget Group, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/09/women-bearing-86-of-austerity-burden-labour-research-reveals
4 Women’s Aid, 2020
5 There were
58,657 complaints in the year to March, but just 1,925 of those resulted in a
successful prosecution.’ https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/17/anger-police-just-3-rape-cases-lead-conviction-11918901/