Wera Hobhouse MP: Every day the Conservatives delay taking action on domestic abuse is another day that victims suffer in silence
Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP is calling on the Government to stop letting down domestic abuse survivors and to bring back the Domestic Abuse Bill, so it can be promptly passed into law.
This Mental Health Awareness Week I am urging the government to provide the mental health support services that survivors of sexual assault so desperately need. Rape Crisis centres across the country are being forced to turn away survivors because they do not have adequate capacity and resources. That is why I have tabled a motion in Parliament to demand that the Conservative Government enshrine the Istanbul Convention in UK law so that no survivor is turned away.
Currently centres are struggling to cope with demand. This means turning away survivors who may be battling with severe trauma. In 2017, 1 in 10 survivors attempted suicide as a result of being raped or sexually abused. Turning survivors away after they’ve had the courage to come forward can leave them feeling alone, isolated and that their experience has been dismissed.
It should not be this way. Survivors should feel able to come forward, supported and heard, and that there will be action as a result of their courage. Yet under-reporting remains a massive issue. Only 15% of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police and last year the number of rape charges in Britain fell by 23%, plunging to the lowest rate in ten years. The situation is deplorable and unjust. Survivors who take the huge step of reporting their experience are then having to face the additional challenges of low conviction rates, lack of support services and being stripped of their phones and made to feel on trial. Meanwhile rapists evade justice as survivors are understandably deterred from coming forward.
The Conservative Government has a duty of care. It is time they act to support survivors. It is time they enshrine the Istanbul Convention in law. The Convention obliges the state to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Failure to do so is the responsibility of the state. Ratifying and implementing the Convention would also help ensure there is a minimum standard of funding and support for victims and survivors. It says there should be at least 150 Rape Crisis Centres in England and Wales. Currently there are only 44.
In the age of #MeToo, one would expect the Conservative Government to have listened to survivors and those on the frontline provision of these services. There is undeniably a woeful lack of funding for Rape Crisis centres. Campaigner Fern Champion’s petition on the issue has attracted almost 155,000 signatures. She has had the courage to share her story of being turned away from counselling and support services and it has resonated with people across the country. Yet, the Tories have done nothing. They are consumed with infighting over Brexit and legislation in Parliament has stalled as Theresa May drops all other issues in pursuit of her ideological Brexit.
The Government pledged to bring the Istanbul Convention into law through a new piece of legislation: the Domestic Abuse Bill. But years on from the announcement of such a Bill, it still hasn’t come to the House of Commons and we have instead spent months debating and pouring wasted energy into Brexit. Every day that the Conservatives delay taking action is another day that victims suffer in silence. The time for empty promises has long gone.
That is why I tabled this Parliamentary motion. MPs from all parties want to see action. The motion has already received significant cross-party support from figures including Harriet Harman MP and Caroline Lucas MP and is gaining more signatures every day. It is clear that the Tory Government need to act. The Government can no longer stuff their fingers in their ears and turn away from the survivors they are letting down. This Mental Health Awareness week it is time they took the mental health of survivors seriously and properly fund vital support services.
Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson and the MP for Bath