On the 25 November the world will once again mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day. Its origins date back to 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Declaration. Six years later, it formally designated 25 November as the International Day – inviting governments, international organisations and NGOs to organise activities designed to raise public awareness of the problem on that day.
Wearing a white ribbon is a personal pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. Each year, the campaign urges men and boys to wear a white ribbon for one or two weeks starting on November 25. It is an opportunity that increasing numbers of men and boys take up and traditionally male dominated organisations, such as the fire service, are often to be seen sporting ribbons on their uniforms.
To mark it in Northumbria, where I am the elected Police and Crime Commissioner, all police officers will be wearing white ribbons. I know that officers have agreed to do the same in Durham and Cleveland and PCCs and police forces across the country will be raising awareness of this global movement.
And greater awareness is still needed. Figures published this week have helped to shine a light on the real scale of the problem. In the UK – more than 10 per cent of 16-24 year old women experienced domestic abuse last year. In addition, statistics from Eurostat show that more rapes and other violent sexual crimes are recorded by police in England and Wales than anywhere else in the European Union. Whilst the fact that more victims have the confidence to come forward and that there is now better recording by the police is to be welcomed, we cannot close our eyes to the scale of the problem.
There is no doubt in my mind that since 2012, PCCs have led the way to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG). We have prioritised the cause of victims, improving the criminal justice system for some of its most vulnerable users – many of those that would have suffered in silence previously are coming forward and seeking protection and justice.
As part of these reforms, which have already led to better reporting and recording of domestic abuse and violence, PCCs are leading a range of innovative projects across England and Wales supported through the £17 million VAWG Transformation Fund.
My colleague in Cambridgeshire, Jason Ablewhite, is leading a project to provide early intervention, prevention and long-term support for young victims and survivors of violence against women and girls, young people who have witnessed domestic abuse and young perpetrators aged 13-19, or to 24 where they have complex needs.
In Avon & Somerset, Sue Mountstevens is fronting a project to provide specialist support for sexual violence victims with learning disabilities or mental health problems. Work which will design and develop domestic abuse practitioner standards, sexual violence witness advocates, a new response to cyber-stalking and diversion work for victims of VAWG entering the criminal justice system as female offenders.
In my force area of Northumbria we are developing domestic abuse practitioner standards, sexual violence witness advocates, a new response to cyber-stalking and diversion work for victims of VAWG entering the criminal justice system as female offenders.
And in South Wales, under Alun Michael, a significant programme of work is being taken forward to develop a whole system approach to Violence Against Women and Girls, employing a multi-agency approach to address a range of VAWG issues, including a change that lasts framework, ‘ask me’ scheme, trusted professional and perpetrator programmes.
These are just some of programmes being taken forward by PCCs, practical and demonstrable examples of the positive difference being made to tackle violence against women and girls. And as more victims and survivors come forward, we need to ensure we have in place an even more accessible and responsive service, designed so that they get the support they need. In addition PCCs, engaging with partners and their communities will continue to strengthen our work, changing attitudes, improving prevention and, where possible, rehabilitating offenders to make our society an altogether safer place to live.