Ending violence against women

As part of our series looking at where the London Mayoral candidates stand on particular issues <em>

Whoever wins on Thursday 1 May - be it Boris, Ken or Brian - will face the challenge of one of the biggest, most persistent inequalities in London today; violence against women.

Three million women across the UK experience rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, trafficking or another form of violence each year.

This affects all of us, whether we ourselves have experienced violence or know someone who has.

The impact ranges from physical injuries to long-term mental health problems, self-harm and suicide, poverty and social exclusion. And as taxpayers we are paying the price – £40 billion each year according to a recent report.

There has already been real progress in London including the Domestic Violence Strategies, which have cut domestic violence homicides by 57 per cent, and the Safer Travel at Night campaign which has significantly reduced the number of mini-cab related assaults.

However, policies in London, as at a national level, are often focused on just one form of violence (domestic violence) and on the criminal justice system. The reality is that most women don’t report to the police and these women need the kind of specialised support that is all too often last on the list of funders’ priorities. Shamefully there is just one Rape Crisis Centre in Greater London!

If a woman does report to the police she is unlikely to see justice served as conviction rates for all these offences are woefully low. In London, less than 6 per cent of rapes reported to the Met result in a conviction. Assistant Commissioner John Yates said recently that the police still do not treat rape cases with the same professionalism as other cases.

End Violence Against Women has asked the mayoral candidates to commit to develop a London-wide strategy to eradicate violence against women, similar to the approach being taken by the Scottish Government and the Crown Prosecution Service. Such a strategy would ensure adequate support for victims, effective prosecution of perpetrators and long-term work to prevent violence in the first place. So how do their policies stack up?

Boris Johnson says he will provide the funding for four new Rape Crisis Centres in London by cutting the number of GLA spin doctors. He will ask for a review of Home Office resources to support women. But Johnson does not commit to a violence against women strategy, meaning he is out of line with David Cameron who has made repeated statements about the need for one at the national level.

Ken Livingstone sets out his record since 2000 including integrating domestic violence into work on women offenders, ensuring minicab drivers are registered, increases in arrests and prosecutions of domestic violence and rape cases, research on police performance, and lobbying the government on the ‘no recourse to public funds rule’. Livingstone says he has discouraged the growth of prostitution and trafficking and will lobby the government to reclassify lap-dancing clubs. However, he does not commit to a single integrated strategy.

Brian Paddick is the only candidate to promise a London-wide strategy. He says he will set up a Violence Against Women Taskforce with representatives from the voluntary sector to help in establishing the commonalities and connections between all forms of violence against women. He has also pledged to take over as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority to increase the professionalism of rape investigations and to improve conviction rates.

So Londoners can make their choice on these and other key issues when they vote on Thursday.

A final thought - on the other side of the Atlantic a black man and a woman are battling it out to become the Democratic nominee for the most powerful political job in the world. Isn’t it just a bit depressing that all three main candidates for such a richly diverse city as London are white men?

Holly Dustin, Manager, End Violence Against Women