While Brexit dominated the Queen’s Speech, I was delighted to hear the announcement of a draft domestic violence and abuse bill along with the promise of a new commissioner.
This shows renewed commitment from the government to tackle domestic abuse, which remains a huge problem across the breadth of society – including the Jewish community.
I hope the bill will define domestic abuse in law and offer an opportunity to review the way it is perceived and dealt with.
Responses to women affected by domestic abuse are patchy across the country. Austerity funding cuts leave too many women and children unprotected.
Dozens of refuges have been closed and the amount of support and counselling women are able to access is still being cut to the bone. This bill will aim to guarantee a consistent response to women, no matter where they are.
So, what does the bill mean for Jewish women? Just seven percent of Jewish Women’s Aid’s funding comes from statutory sources, a cut of more than 20 percent in recent years.
Through the support of the community and loyal donors, we have been able to survive cuts and postcode lotteries – a hard task, given an unprecedented and sustained 70 percent rise in demand for support, advice and refuge space over the last 18 months.
This huge increase was a curveball for us, and I feel incredibly proud of the women who are bravely calling us. The initial phone call to our helpline is half the battle. Through talking, training and prominent messaging, we’ve empowered women to fight. I don’t think that there is more domestic abuse going on in our community than before.
The hard work we’ve done in engaging the community, shuls, leaders, rabbis and rebbetzens has started to pay off. Women who need us are beginning to find it less scary to pick up the phone and make that call which is the first step to a life free from abuse.
We still have a long way to go – we recently spoke to a woman who’d been in a physically and mentally abusive marriage for 25 years, and told us she’d “just had enough”. Her adult children had moved on and she was, at last, free to make the decision to leave. She’d felt both perceived and real pressure from her children, family and friends to stay with her abusive husband. This is a story we hear every day.
We know that women are typically affected by domestic abuse 35 times before they seek help and, in my experience, Jewish women are still living with abuse for even longer.
This proposed bill will ensure that domestic abuse is talked about more across the country. It will mean that in our community, where we place huge emphasis on family values, we will continue to become increasingly open to women and families that don’t fit traditional models.
I believe that we are becoming more supportive and open to the abused women who need us and I am increasingly aware that people touched by domestic abuse are speaking about it with less shame.
We should be proud of the women who are brave enough to speak out and seek help, and we need to continue to actively encourage them to do so.
I hope that this new bill will help us to offer consistent and longer-term moral and practical support to women and their children who have survived the trauma of domestic abuse.
They need to have their voices amplified at the highest level and a good commissioner will do this.
Jewish women needing support must be able to access it, for as long as they need and with the unequivocal support of their family and community.