Tracy Brabin: Violence against women is a global health emergency

Tracy Brabin, speaking in the Commons about how she was sexually assaulted as a young woman.
Tracy Brabin, speaking in the Commons about how she was sexually assaulted as a young woman.
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TRACY Brabin, the Batley & Spen MP, spoke movingly in the Commons on Thursday about the trauma of being sexually assaulted. This is what she said:

I WAS 20, and the worst thing that I could ever imagine happening to me was about to take place. I was going to be one of those very rare statistics of a woman who is attacked by a stranger, not by someone she knows.

I was in my second year at university. The man had seen me walk past his car, and had waited ahead for me to turn the corner. As I came up against him, all those words of advice given to me by my mum –“Knee him where it hurts, then run like hell”–disappeared. I was frozen in fear.

As he shoved me to the ground, trying to rape me, I fought back, but I was battered. It was only the community spirited Indian neighbour further down the road who saved me from something worse.

I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I had managed to memorise his car number plate, and he was caught an hour later. He went to court; not many do. He pleaded guilty; I did not have to go through the horrors of a trial. He was sentenced; I did not have to look over my shoulder, checking if he was following me. He was a stranger; I did not have to wake up in the same bed as him, or go to work with him as my boss. He did not use a broken bottle to hurt me. He was alone, not with a group of other men. It was only once, not several times.

The point to this story is that even though, on the scale of violence against women, I was lucky because justice was done, the following few years were hard. I got afraid walking alone, so I bought a bike. I got scared in the night, so I slept with a knife. I was easily startled, and cried at the drop of a hat. However, again, I was lucky. I did not have a job to keep down, children to care for or elderly relatives to see to. I could work my way through the impact of this violent assault at my own speed and in my own space.

A new investigation by Nata Duvvury recognises that violence against women is a global health emergency and that it can have an impact on the GDP of a country. After a woman experiences violence, as I did, the hours, days and weeks a community and family have to spend taking care of the affected woman has a quantifiable financial impact on her community through the loss of her unseen caring responsibilities and work contributions.

As I said at the beginning, there are all sorts of versions of violence against women — domestic abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, actual bodily harm, murder. Every assault is very different: some are one-offs, like mine, but for others, violence is a regular and painful part of the fabric of their lives. At least one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. On average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before her first call to the police.

Statistically, violence against women is happening in large numbers, and it can be predicted in some instances. Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, has said: “The killing of women, especially when women are killed by an abusive partner or ex-partner, is often reported as an isolated incident.”

However, there is an abject failure to look at the patterns of behaviour. It is as though we accept that fatal male violence is an inevitability, not a conscious choice that a man has made to end a woman’s life. These killings are not isolated incidents; too many follow a similar pattern of violence and are premeditated. Many are committed in similar settings, similar weapons are used and similar relationships exist between the perpetrators and victims.

We need joined-up thinking on this issue. We need to educate young men about consent and about respect for women. Victims of abuse do not fit any one stereotype. In my previous industry – it is famous for tales of the casting couch – 65 per cent, or nearly three quarters, of women media workers have experienced intimidation, threats and abuse.

It does not matter how famous people are or how big their public profile is. In fact, this week Lady Gaga admitted that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after being raped at 19. The actress in Last Tango in Paris, Maria Schneider, has said that the infamous scene with the butter was not consensual and that it was an assault, but because it was in front of cameras, she had to suck it up as all in a day’s work. Oprah Winfrey has been very open about being raped aged nine.

We know about those cases because the survivors are in the public eye, but what about the millions that suffer in silence? Are they just statistics in a newspaper – an awful inevitability – or are they someone’s daughter, someone’s mum and someone we should be doing everything we can to protect?

In such a spirit, I urge the Government to stand up and take action by ratifying the Istanbul convention to prevent violence against women, protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators.