New rules to punish those who carry out “coercive and controlling behaviour” towards their partners was “unlikely” to help women report abuse straight away, a minister has said.
Crime prevention minister Lynne Featherstone conceded that the government did not have a “magic wand” to solve the issues surrounding domestic violence, but said it would work towards helping more women come forward to talk about their abuse.
The new measures announced last month by home secretary Theresa May protect domestic violence victims from sustained patterns of psychological abuse and carry a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine.
Featherstone, who is also the ministerial champion for ending violence against women and girls overseas, returned from a trip to India and Burma last week to see how both countries are tackling the issue of violence against women.
Speaking to Eastern Eye, the minister admitted that it was “unlikely” vulnerable Asian women would come forward to report “coercive and controlling behaviour” straight away.
“I think at this moment in time it is unlikely, but we work towards making it likely,” she said.
“The Home Office is quite clear. Anyone who reports domestic violence, the victim is to be believed, the crime is to be reported and investigated, and people, prosecuted and punished.”
Women’s groups have told EE how many Asian women find it difficult to report abuse because of the shame that they would bring to the family.
Mandy Sanghera, human rights activist and government advisor on vulnerable adults and forced marriages, said: “Women who come here from abroad don’t know the system and sometimes they are scared to report it because they don’t speak English.
“Sometimes they are very financially dependant on their partner. It’s about educating women and letting them know their rights.”
Featherstone revealed how the Home secretary commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to do an examination of all 43 police forces in how they deal with honour-based violence in Spring this year.
She said: “At this point in time we will wait for the honour-based report from the HMIC inspection of police forces and we’ll see how best to approach the issue of reporting abuse.”
Featherstone added the government was funding “community champions” to work all around the country to raise awareness of the issue and the help available to victims.
“This is one of the great challenges because some of the communities are very closed off. It’s no use me walking in there and saying: ‘This is against the law and it’s a bad thing’,” she said.
“As we modernise, communities have responsibilities themselves to come forward. The government can’t go behind every door; community elders, faith leaders, everyone has the duty to move forward this agenda.”
The minister, who first visited India in 2011, said she was pleased to see how seriously the country is taking violence against women. During her three-day trip last week, she spoke to Indian ministers, women’s groups and the Dalit community, a socially excluded group of people.
She said: “Indian prime minister Narendra Modi made a very important Independence Day speech last year which highlighted the plight of women.
“I think leadership is one of the great issues in terms of tackling this agenda.
“Quite frankly when you have the top person in the country saying this, it becomes important.
“What we look for now is if that will be delivered as promised. The proof will be in the pudding.”