Yvette Cooper: Why we must end this violence against women

Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper
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TWO women a week are killed by a partner or an ex. Here in Yorkshire alone, 85,000 cases of domestic abuse are reported to the police each year - and police officers in Wakefield tell me it’s one of the main reasons for 999 calls.

Statistics on violence against women are deeply depressing. If there was this level of violence at football matches, there would be a national outcry. Government taskforces would be set up, new laws introduced and strong campaigns launched. Yet, all too often, victims of violence are met with silence.

That’s why today I will be joining women and men across the world campaigning to break the silence and end violence against women and girls as part of the One Billion Rising movement. Because we shouldn’t stand for this.

I’ve talked to women in Yorkshire who’ve been stalked by exes, or who had to flee their homes and move their children’s school, or who spent years fearful of the abuse they would get whenever their partner had too much to drink. Thirty per cent of women and 16 per cent of men become victims of domestic violence in their lives and need support.

But justice and support for victims of violence is getting worse not better as the clock is being turned back. Work done by the last Labour Government to provide more support for victims and prosecute more offenders is being reversed.

Here in Yorkshire the number of cases reported to the police has gone up by 29 per cent since 2010. But shockingly at the same time the number going to court has plummeted by 18 per cent. There were 1,500 fewer prosecutions in our county alone. The figures are similar for rape and child abuse too - more cases reported to the police, but far fewer ever reaching court or getting justice.

The Coalition Government just doesn’t treat this as a priority. They’ve weakened the guidance for police, and cut back on the specialist police and prosecutors. Overall thousands of frontline police have gone. The result is that more criminals and abusers are getting away with it, and thousands more victims are at risk.

Support services are also being hit - from refuges to rape crisis centres. And changes to legal aid mean many women are now told they have to pay if they need to take out an injunction to keep a violent ex away from them.

This is why women and men across Britain will be campaigning tomorrow for justice. Over 60 events are happening - including in Leeds, Harrogate and York – where people will be calling for change.

So what do we need? For a start we need new national standards of support and action in cases of domestic abuse. Victims should never be made to feel they should just put up with it. Nor should they be continually moved from pillar to post, whilst nothing is done about the violent ex who is stalking them because they can’t afford an injunction.

Labour would also appoint a national Commissioner for Domestic Violence and Abuse who can champion the needs of victims and make sure the national standards are met in every area.

Finally, it is crazy that we are not taking action to make sure our young people know that violence in relationships is never acceptable. Surveys show one in three teenagers in a relationship have experienced abuse or violence. Too many teenagers think violence is normal.

That’s why Labour would bring in compulsory sex & relationship education in all schools to teach zero tolerance of violence in relationships. And it needs to be updated to deal with the abusive, violent pornography many teenagers are exposed to online. It is shocking that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats keep voting against updated sex and relationship education for all.

So tomorrow - because Valentines day should be a celebration of love and a rejection of violence - women and men not just in Britain, but around the world will gather together to call for practical action to stop abuse. Last year campaigners estimated that a billion people across the world joined the One Billion Rising events, this year they hope it will be more.

At events in over 160 countries – in India, the Philippines, Iraq, the USA and the Congo – crowds will dance, shout and march for change.

In Atlanta, people are gathering to raise awareness of women in modern slavery, trafficked for sex. In New Delhi, thousands are coming together to show they will no longer tolerate violent sexual attacks. In Iran, where women can’t gather in large numbers in the street, they are using videos to campaign.

Whether it is here in Yorkshire or across the world we cannot continue to ignore these crimes. Today, as I take part in One Billion Rising, I will be urging the Government to listen to victims and make changes to ensure our country is leading the way in this global campaign to end violence against women altogether.

• Yvette Cooper is Labour’s shadow home secretary and MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford. She is writing here exclusively for yorkshirepost.co.uk.