For most people Christmas is a time for coming together and celebration, but each year there is a reported spike in domestic violence during the Christmas period. There are serious fears that this year will be no different, leading to an estimated 15,000 children exposed to domestic abuse over the 2-week festive season. Too many children return to school in January with that experience.
We need to stop talking about violence against women and girls in the abstract. It is violence at home. In the playground. In the workplace. On the walk home from school and across social media. It can be short, sharp and brutal; it can be sexual and degrading; it can be insidious and coercive; it can be hidden behind closed doors or hiding in plain sight.
As Chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party, I secured a debate in Parliament to press home the need for the Government to act now to get its house in order. We need proper, detailed data gathering on attacks against women and girls. This must mean sex-disaggregated in order to fully understand the impact of all crimes.
We must tackle the institutional misogyny that has gripped public bodies, paralysing them from taking action to support women and girls.
In Bristol, the 2020 mayoral commission on domestic abuse, along with the joint strategic needs assessment, reported the variation in domestic-related abuse and crime across they city, from 7.1 per 1,000 in Redland to 79.9 per 1,000 in Hartcliffe and Withywood here in Bristol South. Analysis in the UK and internationally has consistently found vulnerability to domestic violence to be associated with low income, economic strain and benefit receipt.
Women are more likely to be in low-paid and insecure work. They are also more likely to be carers, which makes leaving an abusive partner more difficult. Where there were once safety nets, we find gaping holes that more women and girls fall through. These cuts to support services and refuges have exacerbated the situation. Improving women’s economic circumstances will help in the longer-term, but better services to help those that need to leave are crucial now.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, remember there are lots of organisations who can help. Refuge offers a free 24/7 telephone line you can ring on 0808 2000 247 or you can visit https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ and chat online Monday – Friday 3pm – 10pm.