by Sisters Uncut, MCR
During the pandemic, we have all felt trapped inside our homes. But for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, this prospect is horrifying. For many, staying indoors means confinement with those who harm them. A survey by Women’s Aid reported that 67% of survivors currently experiencing domestic abuse say it has worsened since Covid-19 reached the UK and 72% say their abuser now has more control over their life. Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic violence charity, reported a 700% increase in referrals in a single day. Local specialist services have reported that women are waiting longer to reach out for help—resulting in high-risk situations with dire consequences. These statistics are unlikely to even scratch the surface.
Meanwhile, a new Domestic Abuse Bill is finally in the ‘report’ stage. This step precedes the third and final reading in the House of Commons. And Sisters Uncut Manchester have been asking the question: does this Bill go far enough to protect survivors?
We are the Manchester branch of Sisters Uncut: a direct-action feminist group founded in 2014 in response to the murderous cuts in funding for domestic abuse services. As intersectional feminists, we understand that an individual’s experience of violence is affected by interconnecting and mutually reinforcing systems of oppression. Domestic and sexual violence does not exist in a vacuum. The systems of power and privilege in our society enable and protect the actions of perpetrators.
The new Bill’s broader definition of domestic abuse encompasses physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse. This can be celebrated as a helpful start point for educating our communities. It hands local authorities more responsibility in supporting survivors but no hard promises for long-term funding. Early drafts of the bill offered little to no support for migrant communities but we are pleased to see that, thanks to the advocacy of survivors groups nationwide, we can expect changes to the Immigration Acts which give survivors some recourse to public funds. The Secretary of State must now ensure the personal data of migrant survivors will not be used for immigration control purposes.
Of course, new protections are celebrated but we are profoundly concerned that the cornerstone of the new Domestic Abuse Bill is that of increasing police powers. Creating more criminal offenses cannot be the primary way in which we deal with domestic violence. The Bill builds upon a framework that requires individuals to approach the police for safety. To ask this, particularly from those communities that are consistently and aggressively over-policed, has not and does not work. The police are notoriously ineffective in dealing with domestic violence. They have none of the specialist knowledge, skills or trust required to positively transform communities or adequately support survivors. Survivors who are marginalised, including people of colour, migrant communities and the LGBTQ+ community, often have good reason to fear and distrust the police. Handing additional weapons to a police force which terrorises these communities routinely, in the name of safety for survivors, is not only unhelpful but dangerous.
Lasting support and safety for survivors cannot be found within the criminal justice system. Writer and organiser Lola Olufemi writes that “the most pressing issues for survivors is not that their abusers go to prison, but that there is a safety net for them to fall back on that enables them to leave abusive situations.” Justice for survivors goes well beyond a carceral solution. We must move the emphasis from the expansion of police power to ring-fenced funding for specialist frontline community services.
There are organisations across the country that, unlike the police, have expert and specialist knowledge of domestic abuse, and are dedicated to supporting survivors within their communities. They have been starved of funds after a decade of Conservative-driven implemented austerity. A Manchester specialist service provider told us this week that, “they’re making us work in darkness. We can’t put things in place that ensure trust and availability to service users [without long-term funding].” The money that is available for these services is being auctioned off to the lowest bidder, often going to a de-specialised service provider with less experience. Properly funding these vital organisations will save lives.
We demand a long-term funding plan for specialist services that meets the needs of all survivors. To those in power, our message is this: your cuts are violent, your cuts are dangerous, and you think that you can get away with them because you have targeted people who you perceive as powerless.
We are those people. We are Sisters Uncut. We will not be silenced.
* We use the term ‘survivor’ when referring to those who have experienced or are experiencing violence and abuse, but we know that this language isn’t perfect. We recognise the resourcefulness and resistance of those living with the impacts of violence whether in the present or the past. We acknowledge that not everyone who experiences or has experienced abuse defines themselves as a ‘survivor’, and that society may determine who is allowed to identify as one. We also recognise that not everyone does survive domestic, sexual, gendered, and/or state violence; we remember those who haven’t in our fight.