Domestic Violence Is Still Not Being Taken Seriously & That Has To Change

Photographed by Serena Brown
The levels of violence against women and girls in the UK is deeply worrying, with the number of people killed as a result of domestic violence in the UK at its highest level in five years. While domestic abuse affects both men and women, the vast majority of victims are women. Delays to effective and comprehensive legislation and austerity-led cuts to domestic-violence services have cost lives and on average every week in England and Wales, two women die from domestic violence. 
Just this week Geoffrey Boycott, who was convicted and given a three-month suspended sentence by a court in France for punching his former partner up to 20 times, was given a knighthood in the resignation honours list of Theresa May, who I said all along was no friend of women. When asked about the conviction and criticism from the CEO of Women’s Aid by BBC Today presenter Martha Kearney, Boycott was quick to cut her off saying: “I couldn't give a toss, love.”
Boycott has never apologised or shown any remorse for the assault of his former partner. His comments this week were concerning because it exposed a disregard for the severity of the situation, and this blatant dismissal has a negative effect on victims and survivors of domestic violence. If Boris Johnson wanted to show his support for victims of domestic abuse, he could start by stripping the knighthood from Boycott and promising a radical overhaul of the honours system.
But this, of course, goes wider than an honour for a despicable individual. It is shameful the UK remains one of only a handful of countries in the EU not to have ratified the Istanbul Convention, the most comprehensive legal framework that has ever existed to tackle violence against women and girls. It sets the minimum standards for a State’s response to violence against women under four key pillars: prevention, protection, prosecution and monitoring, through an integrated policy approach. It not only covers domestic violence but includes stalking, sexual harassment, sexual violence and rape, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, forced marriage, ‘honour’-based violence, forced sterilisation, and female genital mutilation. 
The UK signed the Convention in 2012 but is still yet to ratify it. In 2016, a Private Members Bill passed trying to force the government to ratify, despite Conservative MP Philip Davies’ attempts to derail the Bill by making a 78-minute speech. Yet seven years later, this Conservative government has still not introduced the Istanbul Convention that could save lives and protect women from all forms of gender-based violence.
Having dropped the Domestic Abuse Bill following prorogation of Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has finally bowed to pressure and tweeted that domestic abuse legislation will be reintroduced in the next session. I don’t trust him, and I don’t trust that he will allow it to be amended and improved. He has undemocratically shut down parliament and the government’s actions show a serious lack of dedication to truly tackling domestic violence. From doing sweetheart deals with Donald Trump to welcoming a Tory MP who violently pushed a woman against a pillar back into his party, and now staying silent while a convicted domestic abuser is celebrated, Boris Johnson already has a long way to go to prove he is a prime minister who will stand up to powerful men.
I want to make sure that the UK keeps its commitment to ratify the Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence. We also need to ensure sustainable long-term funding and national oversight to set quality standards for women’s refuges – a lifeline for the most vulnerable. We will also require employers to have a domestic abuse employment policy and provide up to 10 days paid leave for those who need it. This crucial time will allow women and men to leave their abusive partners safely, and get the help, protection and support they need knowing their livelihood is secure. These 10 days could literally help save lives
It is truly disgraceful that gender-based violence is still a reality for so many women both in the UK and around the world. We should be leading the way on the issue, not allowing our women and girls to suffer and be killed.
Dawn Butler is a Labour MP and the Shadow Women’s and Equalities Secretary

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