‘Politically Speaking’ column for the County Times
November is always a busy month for my office as I am involved in events to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on the 25th. One of the events I am organising this year, with the support of the WI, is a White Ribbon vigil in Machynlleth on Saturday 23rd. It is an opportunity for people to come together to make the White Ribbon promise to: ‘Never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women. Groups, businesses and individuals of all ages will be taking part. The plan is to gather at St Peter’s Church at 10am, walk to Y Plas, then back to the church for speeches at 11 o’clock. We did something similar at the town clock two years ago which was really well attended. It would be wonderful to have your support again – if you are able to join, please walk with us against abuse.
Why focus only on male violence against women? Because the majority of victims of domestic abuse are women and the majority of perpetrators are men. To take one three-year period: between April 2014 and March 2017 there were 400 domestic homicides in England and Wales – 73% of victims were women. Four in five were killed by a male partner or ex-partner. And it’s getting worse: the number of people killed as a result of domestic violence in Britain last year – 173 – was the highest for five years. Meanwhile, domestic abuse cases in Welsh courts are up, despite a big drop in cases prosecuted over the last decade.
There are lots of reasons for the rise – we can all ponder the complex cultural causes. But that drop in court cases suggests political and economic causes too, namely austerity. It is an issue I raised in the Senedd last week, when I questioned the first minister about UK government cuts to legal aid. Since the budget was slashed in 2013, the number of firms providing support in Wales has fallen by nearly a third, creating ‘legal advice deserts’ in many parts of the country, particularly mid Wales. So fewer people can access justice, including victims of abuse. The Crown Prosecution Service has also been hit by UK government cuts, shrinking by about 30%. At the same time courts like Brecon and Llandovery have closed. More than half of the courts in Mid and west Wales – 7 of 12 – have shut since 2012, so more people have to travel further to attend court – to Welshpool, Llandrindod, Aberystwyth and elsewhere.
Even when cases do make it to court, of course, women might not get justice. Look at the case involving a former aide to Conservative MP Alun Cairns. The victim had to endure two rape trials because the first one collapsed – was deliberately sabotaged, the judge said. Mr Cairns still has very serious questions to answer about what he knew and when he knew it.
So that is why I campaign on male violence against women. And with next month’s General Election, this November will be especially busy! All I will say here is have your say. If you’re not already registered to vote, the deadline is 11:59pm on 26 November: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote