Long-awaited emergency intervention

Baroness Joyce Gould discusses the impact the long-awaited emergency intervention funding will have

Yesterday the government announced long-awaited emergency intervention in the crisis of the Rape Crisis sector. It is a relief that the Government has responded before the end of this current financial year to the appeal. Most Rape Crisis Centres are in critical situations in terms of their funding and this announcement will allow groups to remain open so they will no longer have to reduce or freeze their service provision to the victims of sexual violence.

I am also delighted that the emergency funding has been agreed by a range of government departments including the Department for Communities and Local Government, Government Equalities Office, Department for Health, Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet Office. It is essential that these departments continue to work together to take responsibility for the support and well-being of victims of sexual violence, as well as violence against women more broadly.

On 6 March 2008 -- International Women’s Day -- I opened the annual debate in the House of Lords, in which I referred to the cost to society of violence against women. Putting together the health costs, loss of employment costs and costs to the criminal justice system, domestic violence alone costs £23 billion per year and the health-related cost of a rape is now calculated at £73,487 per case. Every 34 minutes a rape is reported.

My involvement in raising awareness of and preventing sexual violence also extends to my role as Patron of FORWARD (The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development) which is committed to eliminating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and other harmful gender-based discriminatory practices that violate the rights of women.

There are complex interrelations between all elements of violence, be they domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, FGM, forced marriage, trafficking or honour killings. Each require a long term, integrated strategy that includes prevention work, with clear targeted funding and evaluation. The FGM Act of 2003 attempts to prevent girls from being taken out of the country for FGM, but policies such as these are often disconnected and as a consequence good policy does not always have an impact on the ground. The Government has yet to fund a comprehensive prevalence study on FGM, without which a robust argument for funding cannot be made. There is no strategy to implement or monitor the law, and no prosecutions have been made since the law was passed in 1958, despite estimates that about 7,000 girls are at risk.

I am also Chair of the Women’s National Commission (WNC), an umbrella organisation set up in 1969 to advise Government on the views of women in the UK. The WNC now have almost 500 partners reflecting the views of some 8 million women across the UK. Year after year, these women tell us that violence against women is a top priority for them, which is why the WNC Violence Against Women Group is one of the biggest and longest running of our working groups. We also run a Sexual Violence Group which monitors policy on all forms of sexual violence including prostitution, FGM, rape, and sexual assault. The Group is made up of service providers, academics, and liaises with Home Office officials on all aspects of sexual violence including trafficking and FGM. The Group is chaired by one of our WNC Commissioners and a leading expert in the field, Professor Liz Kelly. As WNC Chair, I have also been working closely with services providers and other experts from the sexual violence field who are campaigning for increased, secured funding especially for the rape crisis sector.

The Women’s National Commission also advocates on behalf of sexual violence support services in other ways. The four-yearly production of the Shadow Report for the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) outlines current progress by the Government on all issues relevant to women including sexual violence, detailing areas such as trafficking of women and girls, child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, women in prostitution, women in adult entertainment, sexual offences, marital rape and FGM. The Report can be found on our website.

An integral part of awareness-raising on sexual violence is sex education in schools. Compulsory relationship and sex education which, if taken seriously by Government and senior staff in schools alike, will be a step towards ending sexual violence. It is imperative that young men are taught from an early age about consent and that violence against women forms a core module of this. Without this, we cannot hope to change attitudes that condone violence against women and hold women responsible for the violence that is committed against them.

Yesterday, Dr Nicole Westmarland, Chair of Rape Crisis England and Wales, welcomed the Government’s commitment to work towards the development of a ‘sustainable business model’ for the longer term. It is vital that we now work very closely across government departments and that this is led by the Minister for Women and Equalities.’ I would add that it is also vital we understand violence against women as a root cause and consequence of inequality.

Baroness Joyce Gould is the Chair of the Women's National Commission.