EVAW Coalition - Spring Bulletin March 2019

News on support and justice for rape survivors, schools work, the Domestic Abuse Bill and VAWG Strategy ‘refresh’


Support for rape survivors

Justice for rape survivors

Domestic Abuse Bill & VAWG Strategy ‘Refresh’ welcomed, but…

…deep concern as migrant women excluded from DA Bill and VAWG Strategy

School curriculum and school inspections – good enough?

Support for rape survivors

Rape survivor Fern Champion launched a petition on International Women’s Day last week which shot to 130,000 signature in less than 24 hours – when people were moved by Fern’s call on the Prime Minister to ensure that rape counselling is always available to rape survivors.

Waiving her anonymity, Fern is speaking out after her experience of being turned away by consecutive Rape Crisis centres who wanted to help but could not because of their full waiting lists. Very unusually, Fern’s private sector employer recognised her serious distress and stepped in to fund private support for her, but Fern does not want to see other women left in the same position.

Actor and activist Emma Watson pushed Fern’s story and petition on her Instagram and Twitter, and Fern was featured in the TelegraphIndependent, Mirror, Channel 5 News and on BBC Woman’s Hour. Many MPs shared Fern’s story and many EVAW members shouted loud about their experience of wanting to but being unable to meet demand for this specialist ‘by and for’ support. EVAW is working with Fern to keep the push going, and Fern hopes to meet to the Prime Minister soon to discuss the need in detail.

Justice for rape survivors

After the revelations late last year of the alarming collapse in the charging rate for rape, alongside attention to different outcomes in rape trials when defendants are young men, and the problems with gathering digital evidence during rape investigations, the Government has announced a ‘rape review’ of the whole criminal justice system’s response to rape. EVAW has warmly welcomed this and looks forward to contributing. We urge our members and supporters to follow this review closely, share your expert knowledge and experience with those leading it, and we hope for some meaningful change at a systemic level as a result.

The review is tasked to be ‘end to end’, and as such should be able to take in the prevalence of rape, who it happens to, and who does not report it to police in the first place – which will reveal multiple, intersecting inequalities. It will also need to take in the critical problems with bail management, and in the probation system. Watch this space.

Domestic Abuse Bill & VAWG Strategy ‘Refresh’ welcomed, but…

EVAW and many of our members welcomed some of the key provisions in the Domestic Abuse Bill which was published in draft in January. It is great that measures are included which will finally enable the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention, and we warmly welcome the clear extension of the definition and potential responses to economic abuse.

We also warmly welcomed the Government’s ‘refreshed’ and ambitious Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy in early March. New commitments to tackling perpetrators, and online abuse and sexual harassment are strong. The ongoing commitment to this evidence-based, forward-thinking cross-department Strategy is part of what makes it so disappointing that the Domestic Abuse Bill is based on a ‘gender neutral’ framework.

…deep concern – migrant women excluded from DA Bill and VAWG Strategy 

While EVAW and many of our members have welcomed the Domestic Abuse Bill and the refreshed VAWG Strategy, we are deeply concerned that both significantly exclude migrant women from protection and access to justice. Migrant women, who have a range of immigration statuses and are subject to immigration inspection and control, have severely restricted routes to safety and support whether they are abused by a partner, a stranger, an employer or multiple perpetrators. The “hostile environment” can make women fearful of approaching health workers or other public services workers for help, particularly the police; it means women’s support organisations are not funded to support migrant women; and ultimately it means abusers can “weaponise” women’s immigration status.

The VAWG Strategy will not be comprehensively tackling VAWG in all its forms until migrant women and girls are specifically addressed in it, including migrant women’s support needs and the guarantee of a “firewall” between public services and immigration enforcement. The Domestic Abuse Bill as drafted is similarly a missed opportunity to specify that protection must always come before immigration enforcement. It is likely that legal challenges will eventually tackle some of this injustice, but women and children should not have to wait for this.

School curriculum and school inspections – good enough?

EVAW welcomed the publication of the Government’s compulsory Relationships and Sex Education guidance for schools in February. We believe the Government listened to women’s groups’ responses during the consultation period, and are pleased to see that schools will now be instructed to cover the law on sexual consent, FGM, forced marriage and domestic violence; and that the centrality of Equality Law has been foregrounded.

Making schools ‘safe and equal’ places for girls needs a comprehensive “whole school approach” however, and there was a stark reminder of how schools are still failing on sexual harassment and sexual assaults on girls when Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman answered MPs’ questions very poorly in regard to how school inspections examine this area. And this despite recent successful legal cases against schools. We urge the DfE to consult specialist women’s organisations and to ensure the approach to teaching, training and leading around VAWG in schools is much more joined up.

Thanks for reading and please visit our website to read all our news in depth and check what we’re saying on Twitter for most up to date news.

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