Open letter

Dear domestic violence survivors, workers, and service providers,

Women’s Aid, Refuge and independent providers of domestic violence services – all are facing ‘inevitable’ funding cuts, ‘efficiency’ measures, amalgamation and closure. Services that support, empower and protect thousands of families and single women will shut down. Thousands of workers in our sector will lose their jobs in 2011. Councils are being given more choice in how they spend their budgets and are closing their borders to homeless people arriving from other local authorities, making it harder for women to become safe by fleeing to another part of the country.

These measures will leave women and children homeless due to domestic violence with no safe accommodation, families needing support to stay safe in their homes with no advocacy or emotional support. Children living with violence at home will be even less likely to get support and be listened to. Adults coming to terms with childhood abuse will face an even more staggering absence of services. Simultaneous cuts to benefit payments, the NHS, mental health provision, legal aid, homeless hostels, Social Care, debt assistance, childcare, assistance for disabled people etc etc etc… will leave the most vulnerable survivors with a shrivelling safety net. Abandoning survivors of abuse and other vulnerable people to the “Big Society” having bailed out banks and cosied up to corporate tax-dodgers is violence that will impact our society for generations.

These cuts are neither inevitable, fair nor beneficial to the economy. As survivors and supporters we are face to face with abuse on a daily basis and understand all too well how abusers operate. We have a responsibility to speak out and describe the abusive attitudes of the people behind the cuts programme, and the violence that is enacted in it. The cuts target the most vulnerable in society, while empowering the rich and the richest: the design of the cuts displays the government’s breathtaking sense of entitlement to act purely in their own self-interest – a core trait of an abuser.

We know full well the links between abuse and homelessness, abuse and poverty, abuse and unemployment, abuse and mental illness. And we know that this cuts programme re-enacts and reinforces abusive structural social injustice. We are acutely aware that these cuts will compound this interlinked violence and make it much harder for the most vulnerable people to become free.

Strangely, so far there is little public rage and action from the Federations and big providers of gendered violence services, despite the well-documented fact that women will face the greatest economic hardship as a result of the cuts. As providers of, and workers within, gendered violence services – how can we respond to this crisis and act not merely to defend our salary structures, but as if stopping abuse in our communities is our absolute priority?

Are we going to bicker between women’s services over our share of the crumbs and step on one another to stay in business? Are we going to unite as women’s services to gain a larger share of the crumbs at the expense of perhaps asylum seekers’ services, or homeless men’s services? Or are we going to challenge the system that attempts to divide and rule us in this way? We know that to isolate and silence victims through divide-and-rule is a tactic of abusers. We know that the antidote is to tell the truth with others, identify the abuser, and unite to fight the abuse.

Millions are on the brink of homelessness: women experiencing domestic violence – and so many other people with histories of abuse, discrimination and marginalisation. As ‘experts’ in domestic violence (and all survivors are experts), we have a responsibility to promote the right of everyone to a safe and secure home.

Those of us working hard as refuge, outreach, helpline and crisis-support staff have been privileged enough to have “good” jobs – allowing us to sleep at night knowing we’ve “done the right thing”. We say to one another that we couldn’t do anything else: imagine having a ‘soul-destroying’ job! Now in the face of losing the work we love, will we argue for the right of everyone to do meaningful work?

Those anti-violence services that survive or are created in this cataclysmic upheaval face a disturbing ‘race neutral’ and ‘gender neutral’ future in which existing specialist services with decades of experience are ‘streamlined’ i.e. closed, in the name of ‘efficiency’. We are facing the end of specialist “Black and Minority Ethnic” services and specialist women’s services, a future in which provision “by Black women for Black women” and “by women for women” are anachronisms, because “we’re all in this together”: race and gender oppression are made invisible. How do we resist this ‘shock doctrine‘ for the voluntary sector as these ideological reforms are rushed through while we are all reeling in crisis?

We must remember that the terrifying absence of resources that threatens us is precisely what women with ‘no recourse to public funds‘ have faced, even under New Labour. Where women are trapped between the violence of their partner and the violence of destitution; a trap set up by the violence of a state that will not assist. If we are going to rescue ourselves from this situation, we must not leave behind women with no recourse, or anyone else.

As survivors and supporters we know the need to look for the crux of power in each situation. We are all too familiar with abusers’ use of an ultimate threat to hold over their victim: If you leave you’ll lose your home / No one else would want you / I could kill you… We have to assess whether there is any truth in the threat, and if so what we stand to risk in our effort to be free.

What is the ultimate, most terrifying, threat that the state holds over us? No more funding. So we must reckon with this possibility and face it head on. How can we support the people around us who are experiencing domestic and sexual violence, potentially in the absence of funding? We have done it before: Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis were started by women who reached out to support one another. Before there were refuges, women offered each other their spare rooms. Faced with a decimation of services, do we need to begin this grassroots work once more? Is this idea shocking, frightening? As workers (many of us survivors ourselves) how have we come to be afraid of survivors in crisis? Can we really do nothing without a Risk Assessment? What do our communities actually need, in order to stop abuse?

How can we ensure that the most marginalised people experiencing violence are supported and protected? This wasn’t happening before the cuts, and there are no longer any ‘additional pockets of funding’ to pay for us to do this supposedly ‘extra’ work. Existing services have a legacy of excluding people of colour, migrants, trans people, disabled people, sex workers, lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, people using drugs and alcohol and people with mental health issues. Excluding vulnerable people from the support they need is a violent act; how will we ensure that everyone who goes through domestic violence and sexual violence is supported?

Faced with the razing of existing services, how can we ensure that our decades of specialist experience is not lost, that it is improved upon? How can we share our experience, knowledge and resources most effectively in order to do this?

How can we do meaningful preventative work with young people? How can we face the challenge of working with perpetrators in real and effective ways? How can we face the challenge of working with male survivors – another traditionally excluded group? How can we do this work while not colluding with perpetrators of domestic abuse who claim to be victims?

How can we support and protect trafficked women and resist the government’s racist and sexist immigration policies?

How do we change our abusive culture?

Who is talking about all of this? Where are you all?

In solidarity,

Ashleigh.

I will gladly publish responses to this piece at https://cutsareviolence.wordpress.com

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2 Responses to Open letter

  1. asshh says:

    Women’s Aid now has an anti-cuts Facebook group:
    http://www.facebook.com/update_security_info.php?wizard=1#!/pages/Safeguarding-Survivors-Services/183511221680648?v=info , and people there are busy compiling info about cuts, threatened cuts and debating issues like the good and bad things about large amalgamated services vs small specialist ones. This will probably be much more thorough than my ‘news’ page, so I might take that down.

  2. Sian de Freyssinet says:

    I was recently offered a job as a floating support worker to female survivors of domestic abuse in Greenwich who were part of the Sanctuary Scheme.
    I was given verbal confirmation that, providing my new employer got my references, I would start the job in February as the local Refuge and Victim Support team were desperate for me to start. I therefore (somewhat stupidly & trustfully) left my job as a senior support worker & domestic/sexual abuse co-ordinator at a high needs young persons supported housing project in order to take a bit of a holiday before starting the new job with Refuge.
    I was told the week that I cam back from holiday that although Refuge had received my references and everything was in order, the job was no longer available due to local government funding cuts.
    I’m now unemployed and claiming the very benefits the government wants to get everyone off. Also, due to the cuts, there are no jobs going working with young people and/or domestic abuse survivors!! Well done government!
    Apart from my own selfish concerns (how am I going to pay my rent/bills etc) I’m so worried about the women and children that are no longer going to get a full time support worker dedicated to helping them through.
    I’m guessing Refuge have a bank of workers who they can/are using as cover, but then how many other clients do they have on their books already? I’m thinking it’s way more than it’s possible to provide a really good service to.
    Then you’ve also got to think about the workers themselves. It must be awful to have so many people you’re supporting, knowing that there was job opening that could have relieved some of the pressure (emotional and physical) and now you just have to continue to grind yourself into the ground, burn out and provide, what you know isn’t your best service.
    It just makes me sick thinking about it all!
    I read this today http://bit.ly/er07Gy and it this section particularly made me grimace:
    “A Conservative government will increase the number of health visitors, who give valued support to women who have just given birth. They also aim to tackle violence and to raise women’s aspirations at home and abroad. They want to support women in every role that they play and they also offer help for vulnerable women, support for working women and choice for families. Using women as recipients of aid would be an important step in improving development and ensuring equality. A commitment to primary education for all would also help lower birth rates and promote female choice over marriage. There was a policy paper entitled “Ending Violence Against Women in 2008” which outlines the measures that a Conservative Government would introduce and affirm their commitment to ensure a cross-government approach to tackling violence which placed prevention.”
    Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/08/conervative-policy-women

    Yours in raging sisterhood

    Siân de Freyssinet
    SE15

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