The creation of the new offence of coercive or controlling domestic abuse in 2015, combined with provisions in the current government’s domestic abuse bill including the creation of a specialist commissioner, ought to mean that the situation for survivors across the UK is improving.
The new tools are important ones for police, prosecutors and campaigners. A broader definition of abuse taking in psychological and economic factors was overdue. The bill, published in January, will outlaw the cross-examination of victims by abusers in the family courts and introduce new protection orders.
But that only applies to the United Kingdom. Guyana should contemplate similar measures particularly with the growing number of abuse, almost reaching crisis proportions.
International Women’s Day ought to be an opportunity to celebrate such successes, while continuing to advocate for change (2 million adults in England and Wales experienced abuse in the year to March 2018, with women more than twice as likely to be victims as men).
In Guyana the ratio of abuse victims to the population of the country, was directly proportional to what occurred in England and Wales.
In England, Theresa May has been widely observed to care about these issues, even amid the maelstrom of Brexit. Last week’s quashing of Sally Challen’s conviction for murdering her husband reinforced the idea that it is becoming easier for women to access justice; that domestic abuse is becoming better understood.
Mrs. Challen maintained she had killed her husband after suffering years of being controlled and humiliated by him. Judges ordered a retrial after new evidence was presented that she was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the killing.
But while the court of appeal’s ruling was welcome, as the domestic abuse bill was, advocates of women’s rights in the UK are frustrated and alarmed. That sense is echoed internationally.
This week the World Bank reported that only six countries in the world enshrine equal rights in employment law. Reproductive rights are under attack in countries including the US, Poland and Brazil. The reasons for this are complex and discrimination cannot be neatly mapped across the public and private spheres.
But the rise of populist, authoritarian politics spearheaded by anti-feminist leaders is relevant, as are economic pressures that disproportionately affect women because they are overrepresented among the poor and unpaid.
In Guyana rape prosecutions are not as high as they should be, and the incidence of domestic abuse has barely altered in a decade according to Crime Survey data. Other figures suggest sharp increases. Three-quarters of all women murdered by men in 2017 were killed by partners or other men they knew.
Police need more training if they are to tackle coercive abuse effectively. Before it has even been passed, the new bill, in London, risks being undermined by local cuts, which there is no mechanism to challenge. Nor will it adequately protect migrant women who are vulnerable as a result of “hostile environment” measures.
In Guyana there has been all the legislation in recent years. Legislation is not the problem. Sometimes it is getting the victims to testify against the perpetrators. In other cases, the cases take so long to get to trial that the victims have often moved on with their lives and are reluctant to relive the experience of a rape or an assault.
In other areas there have been significant gains. Women form the bulk of the public service but they are disproportionately absorbed into the leadership role.
International Women’s Day must be a time for deeds not words.
(Excerpts from the Guardian)
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