East End Life Article - Domestic Violence

Some of you might remember the terrible incident last year, when a woman in Bethnal Green rang the police on a Friday night to say her former husband had come around to her house and threatened to kill her. On the Saturday he returned, and killed her and her child. This week saw the launch of a new Tower Hamlets domestic violence project. The Barika Project provides women and their children who live in Tower Hamlets refuges with support. It helps them escape the violence, and get their lives back on track.

Last year, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic Violence called for more specialist services, other than refuges, that help women and their children to deal with the abuse they have suffered. The Barika Project does just this. It aims to help prevent the breakdown of relationships between women and their children who have experienced domestic violence.

It is easy to see why services such as the Barika Project are essential when you consider that domestic violence accounts for ¼ of all recorded crime. One in four women experience some form of violence from their husband or partner in their lifetime. Every week two women are murdered by their partners of former partners. Most astonishing of all, the average sentence handed out to men who murder their wives is just four years. Many kill their wife and child and are given a sentence of just 18 months or two years. The Government is going to change this.

But these are just statistics. If you are one of those women suffering domestice violence, you'll know that words can't express the horror you have lived through. The impact on children is just as devastating.

Children who have been beaten and abused need our help. They need the knowledge and skills to build future relationships based on respect. Last year’s annual report of The London Domestic Violence Forum recommended support services be made available to children to give them information on their rights, and to give them a foot-hold on the ladder to escape. Through services such as the Barika Project, women and their children are given the help they need to break the cycle of violence. One woman wrote a thank-you letter to Linda at the Barika Project which said: "You helped me escape my silent world of false smiles and evil". More help is needed.

We have to recognise that the event which prompts a woman to contact the police is not necessarily the most serious offence committed by the abuser. This makes prosecution difficult, and discourages women and their children from seeking legal protection. However, other countries have managed to get round this. In Sweden, for example, they look at the whole catalogue of offences, rather than the individual event recorded by the police.

Here in Britain, the Home Office has published a white paper outlining new proposals to help tackle domestic violence. The proposals include working to prevent domestic violence through education, awareness raising and getting information to victims, providing stronger legal protection for victims through extending the use and enforcement of restraining orders, and the provision of £19m of new investment to go towards building and funding more refuges places. The extra funding proposed in the paper would clearly be welcomed by services such as the Barika Project and people recovering in refuges in Tower Hamlets. The Council, as well, has developed a preventative strategy which brings agencies together.

If you would like further details of either the Barika Project or the Government’s white paper on domestic violence, please write to me at:

Oona King MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.