Violence against women is the silent pandemic that has seen a 12% increase in cases since the first lockdown in the UK in March 2020. The new plan proposed by Priti Patel in July of this year promises to protect women against attacks when walking at night as well as public sexual harassment. But according to the Research from the Femicide Census (an organisation that collects information on men's violence against women), the majority of attackers are either family of or partners to the survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, and many of those cases go unreported or unsolved. The link between being forced to live with their abusers and the rise in cases of domestic and sexual abuse is no accident, and while new laws and plans are a step in the right direction, there are things each of us can do too. Here’s what you can do to support survivors of violence.
The most important thing that we can all do to support survivors of violence is to believe them. When a woman publicly comes out to report abuse, especially against a powerful man, they can face incredible backlash and even be sued for libel.
By publicly supporting survivors of violence, we can encourage others to come forward. If you’re not comfortable making public statements about whether you believe a survivor or not, don’t underestimate the power of supportive discourse among friends and family. According to Rape Crisis UK, 20% of women in the UK have experienced some kind of sexual assault, and when we privately question what a woman was wearing, which area she was in, or victim-blame in other ways, it is highly likely that a survivor will hear you and keep silent about their own ordeal. Support all survivors of violence by believing their stories.
In our communities we should learn the signs that someone is being abused and know who to report it to. If someone you know has frequent bruises, seems fearful of their partner, or admits something to you, even about someone else you love or trust, you should help them to escape their situation without putting them in danger. Follow the government guidelines on how to get help or help someone who is in an abusive situation. UN Women has compiled a list of common signs of abuse in relationships, such as a controlling partner, a violent partner, or a partner who doesn't follow the rules of consent.
We should support survivors of sexual violence through the preventative measure of education. Popular culture, especially those naughties romance movies and books, have glamourised the idea of women saying no to sex but secretly wanted to be forced into it, and other similar situations. We need to rethink our cultural discourses around consent. According to research for End Violence UK a third of the respondents don’t think non-consensual sex is rape if no violence is involved, if it happens within a marriage or long-term relationship, or if a woman was flirty on a date. We need to be educating ourselves, our friends and family, and our youth about what consent really means. The grey areas around consent, especially in relationships, keep victims from reporting rape to the police.
There are a lot of good resources online about sex and consent. Consensual sex and healthy relationships that are willing to discuss sex will be beneficial for both men and women in a long run. The patriarchy hurts us all. When women stand up and support women, we can be part of the solution in grass-roots ways that can effect real change.
Gender-based violence is present in many facets of our society, but it doesn’t have to continue to be. Women have the right to feel safe in every situation, and know that both their community and their government will support them for speaking out. Only through a shift in our thinking can we make a difference.
Written by Kendall Behr