Today (10 October) the government has published information from its Race Disparity Audit, which brings together findings on the inequality experienced by BME communities across areas including health, education, employment and the criminal justice system.
A joint report between the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget group also published today reveals that BME women bear the brunt of public funding cuts, and that BME women will lose most from tax and benefit changes by 2020.
These findings speak to our sector’s decades-long fight to sustain by-and-for services, in the face of cuts to public funding that reinforce BME women’s inequality and decrease women’s ability to access safety and support services when they have experienced or are at risk of experiencing violence. BME services continue to have their funding cut to the bone, which means that resources are being diverted away from supporting survivors of violence: poor funding and a lack of resources leads to women being unsafe and unsupported.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) also today published their 10th Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report, which charts prosecutions for offences across the continuum of abuse disproportionately experienced by women and girls, such as domestic violence, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.
We note that within the CPS’ statistics, there has only been one offence of forced marriage brought. Whilst we welcome the CPS’ commitment to addressing all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), it is evident that as a structure proposed to tackle and eliminate forced marriage, the creation of primary legislation to enable prosecution of perpetrators of forced marriage is not working.
In 2012 the BME women’s sector, including academics, community safety practitioners and legal professionals, and women who are survivors of forced marriage opposed the development of a specific forced marriage prosecution. We expressed concerns about the impact of developing a specific offence; that this could lead to a decimation of women’s confidence in reporting and a ‘cooling off’ of women approaching support services. In 2016 we reported that Police officers and BME women’s organisations shared concerns about some women ‘going off the radar’, following initial contact with the Police. In situations where the police had (correctly) advised women about potential prosecution of parents via the new criminal offence (prosecutions which could possibly proceed without her consent), women and girls had disengaged with the police officer.
If the Government is serious about addressing all forms of VAWG, resources cannot be solely put into developing criminal justice responses. Sustainable funding for support services must be ensured, in order to prioritise a girl or a woman’s safety, and agency to access the support she determines as most vital to her safety and healing.