Last year there were 92,779 prosecutions of domestic abuse cases. 84% of the victims were female. On average the police receive an emergency call relating to domestic violence every 30 seconds. The vast majority of domestic violence incidents are not reported to the police so needless to say, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The UK’s domestic violence services are woefully inadequate. Last year 66% of women and children who are referred to domestic violence refuges were turned away, for the most part due to lack of bed space.
The Istanbul Convention is the single most constructive move that has been made towards ending violence against women and girls globally. It requires the 44 signatory states to protect funding for domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres, 24/7 helplines and to offer counselling to survivors of abuse; to ensure education on healthy relationships and gender equality in schools and to guarantee awareness-raising campaigns. The Istanbul Convention is about helping women out of violence, but it is also about tackling systematic gender violence at its roots, so that the next generation of girls might grow up safer than the last.
Over half the states who signed the Istanbul Convention have now ratified it into their own domestic law. The UK, which promotes itself as a leader in women and girls’ rights, signed the Convention in June 2012 but has as yet failed to ratify it, despite repeated promises it will.
Our failure to ratify this Convention, which we helped to draft, is embarrassing. The UK claims this failure is due to the potential incompatibility of the Convention with domestic law. This is disingenuous. The Convention and UK domestic law are compatible. The real issue is that the funding of domestic violence refuges, required by the Istanbul Convention, is incompatible with Government spending cuts agenda. However, failing to properly fund domestic violence services is a false economy. Domestic abuse costs the UK £5.5 billion a year through criminal prosecutions, medical costs, loss of earnings, social services etc. The emotional costs to the 20% of the UK’s children who are exposed to domestic abuse is unquantifiable.
The Istanbul Convention rightly has cross-party support. We urge the Government to make good on its commitment to tackle violence against women and girls by ratifying the Convention now.