Safety, justice and equality

Unite calls for action on violence against women amid domestic abuse bill victory

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Unite and other unions are demanding safety, justice and equality for women after Sarah Everard’s murder has reignited a national conversation about violence against women.

Earlier this month, Sarah Everard went missing after last being seen walking home from a friend’s house from Clapham Common to Brixton where she lived. Days later, her remains were found in Kent, and a serving police officer was arrested on suspicion of her kidnap and murder.

It was later reported that the arrested police officer Wayne Couzens was reported for indecent exposure after flashing a woman in Clapham Common where Everard was last seen only days before her murder, but nothing was apparently done and Couzens was allowed to continue working.

Sarah Everard’s murder sparked an outpouring of women on social media and other outlets telling their own stories of feeling unsafe walking alone or being attacked or harassed by men. Women have highlighted how they have for too long been forced to modify their own behaviour or have been blamed if they’ve been attacked by men, while male perpetrators of violent and sexual crimes are often not taken seriously by police.

On Saturday (March 13), a socially distanced vigil was held in memory of Sarah Everard in Clapham Common, which descended into chaos after police used aggressive and violent tactics at the peaceful protest. The police tactics drew widespread condemnation and highlighted again the issue of male violence against women.

Statistics reflect the countless stories women have told in recent days about male violence and sexual harassment of women, which is widespread.

A recent survey found that 97 per cent of young women have reported being sexually harassed, with 80 per cent of women of all ages having been sexually harassed in public.

A separate poll found that one in two women have been sexually harassed in the workplace. Other research has shown that women who report rape have less than a four per cent chance of it being heard in court. Three women are killed each week as a result of domestic abuse homicides.

Unite has long advocated against sexual harassment and violence against women both in and out of the workplace, and now has backed a new statement from the TUC.

“Violence against women and girls is rooted in structural inequalities and power imbalances between men and women,” the statement read. “Women’s experience of violence is shaped by other factors such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, immigration status and disability. Experiencing intersecting inequalities compounds the threat of violence women face.

“Male violence threatens women in all areas of their lives – in our homes, workplaces, and in public and digital spaces,” the statement continued. “Institutional and systemic failings enable and empower perpetrators and deny women safety and justice.”

The TUC, including Unite, has said it stands in solidarity with the survivors of male violence, as well as the families of Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry and countless others who have lost a loved one to violence.

Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were found stabbed to death at a park in north London last year where they had spent the day celebrating Bibaa’s birthday. It later emerged that several police officers were being investigated for taking and sharing on a WhatsApp group ‘inappropriate’ photos of Nicole and Bibaa’s bodies at the crime scene.

The TUC has said that the government must act now to dismantle institutional sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination.

The TUC has said ministers can start this vital work of tackling violence and sexual harassment of women by taking a series of immediate actions, including implementing a new mandatory duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment at work and ratifying the ILO Convention No.190.

Migrant women should also be included in the Domestic Abuse Bill provisions and the government should ensure safe reporting routes for women with an insecure migration status.

The TUC has also called on the government to reverse cuts to public services and ensure all relevant public sector staff receive training on preventing and responding to violence against women.

The government must also provide long-term funding commitments to support the provision of vital, life-saving services for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence that meet the level of need, including specialised by and for BME and disabled women’s services.

The TUC is moreover calling on ministers to draw up a cross-departmental action plan to tackle the structural inequalities experienced by women, Black communities, LGBT+ and disabled people in work, health, education, housing and justice.

Unite national officer for women and equalities Siobhan Endean highlighted a recent victory with the Domestic Abuse Bill, where the Lords overwhelmingly voted in favour of an amendment to the Bill which will tighten rules on stalkers.

Endean explained that under current laws, stalkers are not ‘tracked’ if, for example, they stalk one victim, move away and commence stalking someone else. The amendment seeks to create a ‘stalkers register’ so that they are monitored in the same way that serious sexual and violent criminals are.

“Getting this amendment through is a key victory that will make a massive difference for women,” she said. “The work of stalking advocacy group Paladin was absolutely instrumental in securing this victory.”

Endean also highlighted another amendment under consideration that will give women extra protection if they are being stalked on their way to their place of work. If successful, Endean said this would also be a vital new protection.

The Bill is in its Third Reading in the House of Lords, after which it will return to the Commons for final consideration before becoming law.

Endean went on to note the work of Labour’s shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves, who is lobbying for a system where victims of rape are assigned legal advocates from the moment they report the crime to a police station right through to trial.

“The extremely low number of successful rape prosecutions in the UK is an utter scandal and victim support is shambolic. Rape victims should be supported at every stage of the process,” she said.

“Above all, restoring the justice system — by reversing funding cuts to courts, the CPS, legal aid and other facets of the justice system – will be absolutely vital for women in securing justice,” Endean added.

“Unite will continue to advocate for these changes in the law to protect women from harassment and violence but we’re also working within our workplaces to make a difference. Last year Unite Equalities published guidance for reps to support women in the workplace who may be experiencing domestic abuse or violence at home. Violence against women is an incredibly pervasive problem and we all must work together to end it.”

By Hajera Blagg

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