Portsmouth University: White Ribbon Day
NUS Stop Violence Against Women Conference
25 November 2003
It’s important never to begin a speech with a cliché. But, as someone who has been in the criminal justice system for over a third of a century, when faced with an audience of whom many are women students, I am terrified. Absolutely terrified.
This is not a cliché because it’s not for some of those reasons which may be spinning through your heads – I hope not uncharitably because of my age and because I’m a man. I’m terrified because of what I know about you.
For quite a lot of you, men as well as women, will have experienced domestic violence as children. That is a difficult enough starting point for a speaker.
Rather fewer of you statistically, but just as tragically, will have already experienced an abusive relationship – indeed may be in one today and be wondering what to do about it, even whether there is anything you can do about it.
But perhaps most terrifying of all is the largest group who haven’t experienced domestic violence yet, as sure as eggs are eggs, some of you will find yourself in an abusive, violent, even life-threatening relationship at some stage in your life. One women in four is the victim of domestic violence.
What on earth can I say to you on this White Ribbon Day which will address that? For I know that, when you are hit, raped and wounded, you will recall this conference and I will have failed you.
So I thought I would speak today under the three headings of my title – Speak Out, Cry Out and Out. I hope someone will one day find a rather more elegant strap line, but today is business and it will do the business.
I’ll take them in what is really the reverse order and start with Speak Out.
We too often expect a suffering population to do all its own running. We rely on Black and Asian people to lead the field on race relations, when most of the problems stem from the majority white population. We expect gays and lesbians to lead the attack on homophobia, when it is not them who are the problem. And we expect the women survivors of domestic violence to take the lead in stopping it.
With domestic violence – as with the other issues I have mentioned – a major problem is the culture. We do not yet have a culture which recognises how common domestic violence is. We make it embarrassing to discuss, which means that it is awkward for people to speak about it when they are suffering.
It is for us to make it easier for those who are suffering to speak out. Only the majority can clear the air for the minority to speak out. That’s a responsibility on all of us because we are the obstacle to people speaking out.
The encouraging thing is that when we’ve tried, we’ve succeeded. For years, NHS staff have felt inhibited about asking about domestic violence in A&E – although, as I will show later, there are some superb initiatives in the South East which have corrected that. Survey after survey has shown that both victims and non-victims don’t mind in the slightest being asked about domestic violence and victims welcome it.
We have only to extend the principle to our everyday life. If a colleague suffers an injury, we can inquire about domestic violence. It’s awful doing it the first few times, but courage comes with familiarity. We should do the same with our friends and put them at ease if they do it with us. Only if this is actively tackled will we make the climate easier for people to disclose domestic violence.
That would be a major step forward. All the evidence is that victims of domestic violence don’t want to leave their relationship, they just want the violence to stop. If we hear about it at an earlier stage, when things may not have got that bad, there’s a much greater chance of stopping the violence and saving the relationship. At the moment, we generally know when it’s too late. In the case of the two women a week who are murdered, far too late. Reflect that it’s our reticence which may have stopped them disclosing. It’s the majority which sets the rules. We must speak out so that others can cry out.
I want to encourage victims and survivors to cry out more.
Before a woman is killed in this country, on average she has been to hospital and other agencies with domestic violence injuries about 15 times. On average we go to A&E as an adult patient just twice in a lifetime. It does not require a degree to diagnose domestic violence, just an ability to count.
We have to find ways of hearing about this earlier. Only that offers a real chance of improving our chance of being able to treat the perpetrator effectively. At the moment, we are often treating people for whom domestic violence has become a way of life and they do not find it easy to change.
Besides preserving the relationship, that may stop the cycle of domestic violence. One of Myra Hindley’s more commendable acts was to cling to her father’s leg begging him not to hit her mother. What a cycle of destruction that man contributed to.
The distress and suffering caused to children by domestic violence is at last being addressed. The courts are recognising that domestic violence is a proper concern when considering child contact arrangements – and Women’s Aid’s report on this was published last week.
Schools are becoming aware that children who may not be performing well, or are timid, tearful or withdrawn – or, equally, aggressive and out of control – may be witnessing domestic violence at home. There are chilling examples of boys who have said that, when they grow up, they will hit their wives like daddy hits mummy. Domestic violence has become part of normality for them. Zero Tolerance in Edinburgh has done some excellent work to counteract that.
And then there is the issue of the point of separation. Too few people realise that even a non-violent relationship can become violent at the moment when one partner tells the other that they want a separation.
I put that deliberately in a gender-neutral way for it was when Tom Cressman told Jayne Andrews that he wanted to end it all that he was killed.
The point of separation is when sexual consent is withdrawn: so it is often the point when rape starts. The point of consent is when the signal has been given that life together is over: so it is the point when one party may decide that it is better to have no life at all. The point of separation is when the murders of women, and their children, take place.
We have got to grip that. We have to spread the understanding that nobody signals that a relationship is at an end without a planned safe exit. When someone tells us that they are thinking of chucking their partner, we have to check that they will be safe to say so and advise them accordingly.
That awareness must become second nature for friends and family, for the professional services and advisors who will be involved at this time like solicitors, the courts and social services, and the police. It is a very dangerous time.
And the risk extends after separation, for instance to occasions when the couple see each other to provide child contact. Today we remember and extend our condolences especially to Laura Pemberton whose father recently killed her mother and brother in a classic domestic violence shooting.
So crying out must happen before the point of separation. We all realise that nobody wants to advertise that their relationship is over. There are feelings of sadness, grief and the need for privacy; of failure, even guilt; of anxiety about the children and the future. But we have to get to the position when a woman who is separating cries out and tells someone and gets the right advice to protect herself. That is the single, easiest way to reduce the murder rate in this country.
My third heading is Out! I want to see more violent partners outed. I am sure it would make a difference.
We are in the South East region of England. It is one of the wealthiest parts of the UK, accounting for over 16% of the country’s GDP. According to the regional development agency, 30% of the UK’s income tax is paid here. Life is good here. The South East has also become, this year, the safest part of the whole UK in terms of per capita recorded crime.
Why, then, should this most privileged and otherwise safest part of the UK be its centre for domestic violence? According to the British Crime Survey, the South East has 177 domestic violence victims per 10,000 adults, compared with 96 in London or 90 in the North East? Yes, I can take some small comfort from the fact that the 177 is down from an horrendous 296 in 2001/02. But it is truly disgraceful and inexcusable that women should be so much at risk in this comfortable and well-off part of England. Why is the South East so violent?
Part of the reason may lie in the fact that other regions have higher levels of recorded crime. People may be more willing to report the violence in other regions – and that may actually stop some of it.
I am fairly sure that the brilliant lawyer, George Carman QC, would have done something about his serial domestic violence if it had come to light before his death and before the biography by his son, Dominic – who, strangely, was criticised for outing his father. Or that Sir John Junor, Editor of the Express and not someone to hesitate about pronouncing on moral issues, would have curbed his domestic violence before we all came to hear of it posthumously from his daughter, Penny.
But I say especially to this audience, whilst outing to the criminal justice system is important, and we should so that when we possibly can, we should also out to protect other people.
Some of you may already have had an abusive partner and got rid of him. The fickleness of guilt usually paralyses us. But it really was not your fault that you were abused, you have no reason to feel guilty about it – but everybody does. You did not cause the violence: the man was simply violent and is likely to be violent with his next partner. Can’t we find a way of warning her?
I recognised when I started that there may also be some of you who have been raped, most probably by somebody you know. As you will have heard at this morning’s workshops, it’s very common and, again, it’s not your fault but the victims always feel guilty as well as violated. Those men feel that they can get away with it and will strike again. Years ago, I can remember seeing a finding that men who are acquitted of rape are highly likely to be convicted at some later stage. That’s chilling. They’ve got away with it, so they’ll try again. I suspect that’s particularly true of drug-assisted rape.
Finding a way of outing these men is really necessary in order to protect other women, even to stop the behaviour itself. In Southampton, not very far away, sex workers use a website to warn each other about violent punters.
Which brings me back full circle. So much of the difficulty about tackling violence against women lies around creating the climate of trust and confidence so that those who are subject to violence can cry out and be heard: and those who commit acts of violence will know that they will be exposed for what they are.
The challenge therefore lies with us, not the victims. Let’s speak out about domestic violence so that the victims can cry out and the perpetrators will be outed.
White Ribbon Day
White Ribbon Day is when we reflect on these difficult matters, but we can also celebrate. There is some terrific work going on across the country and across the region and organisations like Women’s Aid continue to provide absolutely essential services to victims and survivors. There are also a number of projects in the South East which are doing everything I have spoken about today and more.
This time last year, I created an award of £2000 to recognise the most significant contribution to reducing violence against women in the South East. I said that I would announce the winners today.
This award has been judged by three distinguished women from the region: Julie Burchill, the journalist and Guardian columnist; Sara Thornton, Deputy Chief Constable of Thames Valley; and Professor Betsy Stanko, of Royal Holloway College and one of the country’s leading authorities on violence. I wish to put on record how grateful I am to Julie, Sara and Betsy for judging this award. They are super judges and each came to this from a completely different angle.
Rather than select a single winner, the judges agreed to make one award of £1500 and two awards of £1000 each. They emphasised how impressed they were with the work which is going on in the region.
The £1500 award goes to Hastings and Rother Domestic Violence Partnership which has pioneered the joining-up of agencies, including Sussex Police, in order to improve the services to victims of domestic violence, including support offered to children. This is having a dramatic effect on persuading women to come forward. In their first full year, 715 new women came to the project. Last year this had increased to 1041. In just 18 months, the project has offered support to 2,600 women and 152 children. 2600 – and Hastings is not a great metropolis. The project is remarkable for the ways in which it is adapting and taking new opportunities as they arise. Congratulations to the leaders of this project, Sergeant Wendy Vodrey, Debbie King from Crime Reduction Initiative and Lotte Rizbridger from NCH.
One of the two £1000 winners is also from Hastings – the East Sussex County Council Hastings project led by Jacquie Ballard. This has a significant NHS component from a local A&E, Primary Care Trust and ambulance staff. Getting these agencies to work together, and with child protection, is genuinely complicated, yet it has been done; support staff are now in place; Hastings has had a domestic violence awareness day; and the project is leading to a much more integrated approach to tackling both public place violence and domestic violence in Hastings. So congratulations to Jacquie Ballard and her colleagues too.
The last £1000 winner is the Portsmouth Early Intervention Project, led by Sally Jackson, who is here. This project has tackled early intervention head-on, by training a wide range of NHS staff to be aware of domestic violence issues. It works across a number of NHS services used by women and is being rigorously evaluated by a top academic. The project can demonstrate a staggering 81% decrease in the frequency of violence and an 86% decrease in its severity even though two-thirds of women are still with their original partner. Congratulations to Sally: this is a brilliant result.
I started with tough words and a challenge, because violence against women is nasty business. I’ve been in the criminal justice system since the mid-1960s and I retire from the Home Office next year, so this is my last White Ribbon Day as an official. Although we still have a long way to go, great strides have been made over the last third of a century. When I was a young psychologist assessing murderers, I was told by a senior police officer
“You have to remember that not all murders are equally serious. Some are just men killing their wives”.
Nobody would say that now and Paul Boateng, when he was Deputy Home Secretary, set a new standard when he said that
“Home should be a place of safety and domestic violence should be seen as a breach of trust so serious as to be an aggravating factor in how [offenders are] dealt with and in sentencing”.
But what should really enthuse us is that, difficult though these issues are, people like today’s award winners can do it, and are saving lives. It’s not impossible. We have here people who can show us the way and show us how to make a real difference to the violence which is such a terrifying experience for women in the South East, across this country and across the world.
Address given by Hugh Marriage OBE
Home Office Director, Government Office for the South East