‘Women’s lives in serious danger’: Govt fails to protect victims of abuse, say MPs

Reuters / Susana Vera
The government’s ongoing work tackling violence against women and girls internationally has failed to filter into the UK’s domestic policy, a select committee has revealed.

A report from the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, published on Thursday, warned that in spite of Home Secretary Theresa May’s commitment to addressing the issue, and schemes such as the Girls Action Strategy, the government were failing to provide enough support services for victims.

Since the coalition government came to power in 2010, many shelters providing refuge for victims of domestic abuse have closed, with women’s rights groups claiming the move had set back protection services by 40 years.

The committee further expressed their concern at the levels of violence against women within many minority cultures throughout the country. They said they had reviewed evidence from ethnic minority groups in the UK which they deemed “troubling,” saying the government had failed to reach and protect these victims of abuse.

The committee found women seeking asylum in the UK faced a “culture of disbelief” when attempting to find help. They suggested that the treatment of female asylum seekers could leave them in a vicious circle, where “policies can leave them destitute and that this in itself leads to women being at greater risk of being a victim of violence.”

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Dr Hywel Francis MP, the chair of the committee, said violence against women was all too common.

Barely a week goes by without a news story about domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse or some form of violence against women.”

“We commend the government for the commitment it has shown to tackling these crimes, but emphasize that the work to prevent these crimes must not let up. We should not forget that when the police do not conduct proper risk assessments, or women are turned away from refuges due to lack of space, women’s lives can be in serious danger.”

Francis said perceptions and stereotypes in the media must be changed in order to tackle the roots of violence against women.

Gender inequality is prevalent across many cultures in the UK and this is a cause and consequence of violence against women. The portrayal of women as victims of violence is deeply embedded in cultural stereotypes, in the depiction of women in the media, and in how women are treated in the asylum system. This has to stop.”

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The committee recommended the government reassess the payment of universal credit to couples, as they fear this could put women at further risk of domestic violence.

The report comes as Citizen’s Advice revealed cuts to legal aid mean victims, who do not qualify for courtroom representation, are increasingly being cross-examined by their attackers.

The Ministry of Justice says all victims of domestic abuse are entitled to legal aid to help them “break free” of abusive relationships, but the report says the regulations “both in terms of evidence requirements and income or asset thresholds requiring financial contribution, leave large numbers of victims giving up on their rights to justice.”

“In some cases these restrictions expose victims to risk, leaving no alternative but to represent themselves in court facing their perpetrator.”