What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial. Domestic violence is overwhelmingly experienced by women and perpetrated by men.
How are the cuts affecting specialist domestic violence services and victims/survivors?
Domestic violence support services and refuges are continuing to face on-going cuts or threats of closure, as local authorities are failing to prioritise specialist services while attempting to mitigate budget cuts enforced by central government. Contracts for funding are being tendered, meaning that specialist voluntary services are forced to bid for the same funding as public and private sector services, despite scarcely having the time or staff available to do so. Funding contracts are only awarded on a short-term basis, leaving services under regular threat of imminent funding loss and closure.
Austerity is also making it harder for women to find safety from domestic violence in other ways. Cuts to benefits are making women poorer which makes it harder for them to leave abusive partners. A lack of social housing means that women often literally have nowhere to go. Policies such as the benefit cap and cuts to benefits such as tax credits are disproportionately affecting single parents – such as mothers who have fled domestic violence. European Economic Area (EEA) migrants have encountered heavy restrictions on their entitlement to housing benefit and Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA), making it harder for them to access refuge spaces or to live safely and independently. Cuts to legal aid have meant that survivors who are unable to provide the high level of evidence of the abuse required in order to be eligible for legal aid may have to directly face their abusers in court because they are unable to afford legal representation.
All of these issues have created harmful barriers for women who wish to escape abuse, with destitution and homelessness increasingly seeming like the most realistic alternative to staying in an abusive relationship. These policies have unequivocally increased the risk faced by victims of domestic violence.
Why do we need specialist domestic violence services?
2 women a week are murdered by a current or ex partner in England and Wales. Domestic violence is complex and can potentially be fatal. We need specialist services with specially trained workers to support survivors, especially survivors who are at high risk of significant harm from the person who is abusing them. Some local authorities are trying to replace specialist services with cheaper, generic services – for example providing generic supported housing rather than a specialist refuge for women experiencing domestic violence who need safe accomodation. This completely misunderstands how complex and dangerous domestic violence can be – women leaving abusive relationships are not just homeless, but have a range of support needs that can only be met by specially trained workers.
Different women have different needs, and specialist services such as those for black and ethnic minority women, LGBTQ+ people and women with disabilities are essential to meet these needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and smaller organisations with specialist expertise in supporting specific groups of women are vital. However, as local authorities try save money, these services are often being subsumed into larger generic support contracts or disappearing altogether.
What can the government do?
The government must ringfence budgets for specialist domestic violence services at a national level to ensure secure, long term funding for all services in the UK. They must stop the cuts in money given by central to local government which are forcing local authorities to cut essential services. They must stop cuts to essential services like social housing, benefits and legal aid, which are making it even harder for survivors to leave abusive relationships. They must give all women equal access to safe accomodation by changing immigration rules that currently leave migrant women without access to these life saving services.
What can the local authorities do?
Local authorities must recognise that specialist domestic violence services are essential services that must be protected. They must stop making cuts to these services, and stop placing cost before quality and expertise in commissioning processes. They must fully meet the demands of their communities by recognising that different women have different needs and need specialist services to meet these needs.
How do Sisters Uncut organise?
Sisters Uncut is a feminist direct-action collective. This means we do not share one “type” of feminism, but are united by a desire to campaign for better domestic violence services. Collectives have no leaders and no hierarchy. Our decisions are made by a process called consensus decision making, which requires every member of the group have an equal say and tries to make sure everyone is happy with the actions the group takes. For more information on consensus, see here: www.seedsforchange.org.uk/shortconsensus
Sisters Uncut meets weekly on Thursday evenings in North, South and East London. All women (trans, intersex and cis), all those who experience oppression as women (including non-binary and gender non-conforming people) and all those who identify as women for the purpose of political organising are welcome. We encourage other women to set up autonomous Sisters Uncut collectives in their local areas – email us if this is something you’re interested in.
What is your gender inclusion policy and what does it mean?
Our meetings should be inclusive and supportive spaces for all women (trans, intersex and cis), all those who experience oppression as women (including non-binary and gender non-conforming people) and all those who identify as women for the purpose of political organising. Self-definition is at the sole-discretion of that sister. If you have any queries regarding our gender inclusion policy, please don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Why can’t men come to meetings?
We believe that women must be at the forefront of the movement for women’s rights and therefore we need safe, collective spaces where we can organise, share our experiences, learn from each other and support one another. We want to ensure our meetings are safe and welcoming for survivors of domestic violence, and for that reason we ask men not to attend.
How can men support Sisters Uncut?
We welcome support from male allies. When we stage a protest, we ask that men stay at home so that we can maintain a safer space. Men can support us by promoting our activity on media and social media. They can also help by facilitating their sisters attendance at our meetings and actions, for example by providing childcare or covering a colleague’s shift at work.
What is direct action?
Direct action is a campaigning tool we can use to reveal a problem, shed light on an alternative, or demonstrate a solution to tackling a social issue. It can take many forms, from blocking a busy road and staging a ‘die in’, to occupying a runway to stop planes taking off. It can be as big as hanging a banner off parliament or as small as interrupting a man sexually harassing a women on public transport. Whatever form it takes, its purpose is to be disruptive.
Direct action can be a really powerful way to affect change. Even if you don’t see the exact result you want immediately, over time it can contribute to changing the conversation. For example, when UK Uncut started occupying Vodafone stores in 2010, it wasn’t known what effect this would have. These days cracking down on tax avoidance as an alternative to austerity is a well-known argument, and an issue commonly raised in parliament.
I’ve never taken direct action before, how can I get involved?
You don’t need any experience of direct action to join Sisters Uncut – we’ll help you! If you want to start your own regional collective and need advice or support, email us and we’ll send you more information about organising and taking part in direct action. Just get in touch!
Why has my comment on Facebook been removed?
Sisters Uncut aims to create a respectful, compassionate and kind space where people feel able to express their views without fear of reprisal or humiliation. This policy extends to our Facebook page. When you post, please be mindful that many of Sisters Uncut are survivors of domestic violence. We may remove comments that threaten the safety of this space, or are simply not constructive or kind.