The twilight zone of domestic and sexual violence
It is a common perception that during large sporting events incidences of domestic and sexual violence increase. As reported by the BBC, figures from English police forces showed an increase in domestic violence reports during the 2010 World Cup.
To address this in relation to the Olympic games, a temporary centre run by Newham Council and domestic abuse charities, with support by police, will offer legal help and advocacy for a period of two months.
The centre can be found near the Olympic Park in east London at Stratford Advice Arcade, 107-109 The Grove.
When I read about such initiatives, I feel like applauding that there is still a caring and compassionate community beneath Cameron’s dog eat dog society, but at the same time, I feel that I have stepped into a twilight zone.
I define a twilight zone as a space between reality and fantasy where the incongruity of how we live snaps into focus.
When it comes to violence against women, this incongruity is writ large.
On the one hand we have the reality with figures on domestic and sexual assault in the UK showing that:
- One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime.
- One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.
- On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.
- Around 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and 80,000 women are raped each year.
Then on the other hand we have the fantasy – the complete denial of the reality of a culture that routinely allows and accepts sexual and domestic violence in our society by not taking the violence seriously enough to secure convictions.
Refuge, a UK domestic violence charity, responding to a recent Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) report that showed domestic violence convictions had increased, commented:
“We are concerned that ….. there are an estimated 1.2 million women who experience domestic violence each year in the UK.
“In London alone, there were almost 52,000 domestic violence offences recorded in one year, so the 66,860 successfully prosecuted nationally, barely scratches the surface.”
Further, Refuge states that a huge majority of women do not report domestic abuse due to fear of the consequences from violent partners.
Another reason for non-reporting is the fear of not being taken seriously by the police, particularly when reporting rape.
This is evidenced by the recent case of the London Met Sapphire Unit, which is under investigation after several detectives refused to carry out investigations into reports received by women who had been assaulted. This led to a London black-cab driver remaining free to assault women over a period of several years.
So, despite the reality of the need for a safe space for women during the Olympic Games, reports of domestic violence and sexual assault typically either do not get made, or do not make it beyond the initial report to the police station.
What this shows is that violence against women is seen as so unimportant that even if women find the courage to report an assault, they are then expected to face the consequences of a retaliatory attack by their partner/attacker, or that their case has little chance of resulting in a successful prosecution.
We have to ask ourselves why this is? Just what is it about our male-dominated culture that downplays violence against women in this way? And what do we need to do to change it?
Meanwhile, our support is with those women who find the need to visit a domestic abuse shelter during the Games.