The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan announced today a commitment to invest an additional £15 million to help services that support women and girls who have been affected by violence, most notably domestic abuse and sexual violence.
The investment has been made in response to new figures that show the true scale of the issue and the dangerous provision deficit that has been created under this Government’s austerity measures. The ‘Beneath the Numbers’ report funded by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) shows that domestic abuse offences in London increased by 63% between 2011 and 2018. It also highlighted that three quarters of victims were female and that victims were more likely to live in deprived areas. In 2018 we saw there were 29 domestic homicides, up from just 9 the previous year. We know that reports of rape and sexual assault increased by over 20% last year and the indication is that it will continue to rise further in 2019.
Despite this, national figures show that under this current government, the demand for women’s services has risen by 83% while funding has fallen by 50%. 15% of recorded sexual offences take place in London and yet just 6% of government funding is sent to London, leaving services chronically underfunded and in crisis.
The Mayor notes today the reality that Rape Crisis Centres across the capital regularly have to close their waiting lists, leaving so many women without a lifeline. Certainly throughout last year we had to close our waiting lists several times, meaning women who need support are living with trauma for unacceptably long periods of time. Our aim is to never turn a woman away nor leave her without hope and it is our hope that the Mayor’s stance on this issue will make a change. Sadiq Khan states:
"Support services in the capital do an amazing job, but the funding situation has left them at breaking point. Victims, some of the most vulnerable people in our society, are often having to wait a long time for help. This can’t continue- we are doing what we can and investing a further £15m, but the situation is now so bad that services are having to close their doors and turn people away.”
We were also pleased to see the Mayor focus on the issues through more than just a criminal justice lens, highlighting the need to look at factors affecting women such as mental health needs and accommodation. Our criminal justice system is flawed and it needs continued scrutiny, particularly with how it treats victims in terms of disclosure and cross-examination. It is not and must not however be the centre of our focus, women need support far beyond achieving the legal definition of ‘justice’. They need a holistic approach to their care to help them build a safe and strong future.
Sara, is a survivor of domestic abuse who accessed our services.
“During the years I struggled with low self-esteem as a result of years of abuse. I was moved around a lot but wasn’t able to find the help I needed. I was eventually was placed in a Solace refuge where they supported me to rebuild my life. If only I’d had this support earlier, I might have been able to avoid some of the abuse. Now I can finally see a future, a life ahead of me.”
The Mayor crucially mentioned the issue of accommodation. We know that there is increased demand for refuge space and that when women leave refuge they find it really difficult to find safe and suitable accommodation. When women make a decision to leave an abusive situation, there must be systems in place to help them maintain and secure tenancies so that they are not vulnerable to becoming homeless. Housing is a human right and it is unacceptable that anyone fleeing abuse should be further victimised in any way, especially by losing their home.
It is important that the Mayor is committed to working in partnership around finding solutions to the causes and consequences of VAWG, as that understanding is the key to understanding and preventing further harm.As Mary Mason our Chief Executive points out:
“The Mayor’s commitment to shining a light on violence against women and girls is exceptionally important and welcome. Many women who experience domestic violence also face other forms of violence, and for some, this is part of a lifetime of abuse. It is vital that we understand how domestic violence impacts the whole of society and all our public services.”
We are so pleased to live in a city where our Mayor prioritises supporting women and girls and join him in calling upon our government to make significant investment in future funding for the Violence Against Women and Girls sector.