The coalition is making life more dangerous for victims of domestic violence

With no place to lay their heads and no help to apply for maintenance or keep custody of their children, women are more likely to put up with abuse.

With no place to lay their heads and no help to apply for maintenance or keep custody of their children, women are more likely to put up with abuse

The last Labour Government delivered for women’s safety, driven by the advent of over 100 Labour women MPs, some of whom had worked for organisations such as Refuge or Rape Crisis.

We should be proud that we improved the law on sexual abuse and scrapped defences that acquitted men who killed their partners in anger whilst convicting victims of abuse who struck back in fear.

We introduced 140 Special Domestic Violence Courts (SDVCs), brought housing, police and other agencies together in MARACs which bring an all-round approach to support victims, and developed Independent Domestic violence advisers to champion them through both processes and into a safer future.

There were many other achievements and we were on a fast road, though with a long way to go in particular to tackle culture, when the coalition government came to power.

Now, there is no cohort of Tory women pressing this issue and the Lib Dems have fewer women in the commons than men with knighthoods. Refuges have closed across the country and some areas now have no safe places at all for those who want to flee.

Leading the Labour Women’s Safety Commission which publishes its second report today, I heard of a young mother hanging round internet cafes with her baby all night, having been turned away from an already full refuge. I also heard of women sleeping in casualty departments and sometimes going home for want of a place to run to.

More than 40 percent of domestic violence survivors do not meet the totally arbitrary evidence threshold brought in by Chris Grayling and cannot access legal aid. They can only seek justice if they represent themselves and risk cross examination in person by their perpetrator in court.

With no place to lay their heads and no help to apply for maintenance or keep custody of their children, women are more likely to put up with abuse. Domestic violence already kills two women a week, and recent research by Professor Liz Kelly shows it can take years for survivors to recover.

SDVCs which require specialist input from police and CPS are made fragile by spending cuts to both. IDVAs are largely funded by cash-strapped councils and MARACs, at least in Northumbria where I am Police and Crime commissioner, are beginning to be overcrowded to breaking point, perhaps as austerity increases family strife.

Our report asks the next Labour Government to do more than reverse the last five years’ decline by putting tackling violence against women and girls at the heart of our modern welfare state.

It proposes a statutory obligation on government and local authorities to develop integrated domestic and sexual violence strategies. It also proposes establishing a Violence Against Women and Girls commissioner to drive their implementation and bring national standards of service to all.

We would reform how services are commissioned, refocussing on the practical need for specialist women-centred services with a track record of success.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has already accepted our further recommendation of a new, national refuge fund to provide the safe places that women and children need, and national Rape Support Funding on a three year cycle, to give rape crisis centres real security.

We must give better access to legal aid by, at the very least, widening the categories of evidence required to support an allegation of domestic abuse and banning charges which are currently made, in particular by the medical profession, for providing such evidence.

We can drive change in the criminal justice response, in particular by video evidence and cross examination of adult complainants away from the oppressive atmosphere of the courts, as we should imminently do for victims of child sexual abuse.

We should ban rape myths from trials through judges giving juries clear directions at the start of the case. Good outcomes at court positively influence future decision-making by prosecutors and police.

In my full-time role as Police and Crime commissioner for Northumbria I have a team of volunteer observers watching every rape trial in Newcastle Crown Court so we can look for further improvements

This report is about fixing this issue in all its myriad forms, including forced marriage, trafficking, slavery, harassment, honour crimes, FGM and prostitution, and putting it at the heart of the modern public services that Ed Miliband’s premiership will deliver.

Next we should work on a strategy for preventing VAWG in coming generations so that he can also drive a lasting legacy of culture change.

Vera Baird is the Police and Crime commissioner for Northumbria. Follow her on Twitter 

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