Last night, activist group Sisters Uncut took to the BAFTA’s red carpet in protest. As the Time’s Up movement crossed the Atlantic, the opportunity to protest at a globally screened event was ripe and ready. So the group laid themselves on the carpet emblazoned with the slogan “Time’s up, Theresa”. The protest was against a forthcoming domestic violence bill, which will apparently deliver more convictions for violent offenders, but may end up resulting in an increase in the number of survivors of abuse being arrested or detained.
In an Instagram caption the group posted, they wrote, “Theresa May’s upcoming domestic violence and abuse bill is a dangerous distraction. Survivors will be locked up by a harmful criminal justice system, locked out of refuges or locked into violent situations. Survivors are already being arrested when they report abuse, and giving the police more power will increase this. The police and prisons are no solution to domestic violence. Give power back to survivors: fund refuges and specialist domestic violence services.”
Sisters Uncut is a group attempting to combat the austerity measures put in place by the Conservative government that adversely affect survivors of domestic violence. In the past, they’ve chained themselves to the gates of Downing Street, occupied Holloway prison, attended the Suffragette movie premier adorned with posters saying “dead women can’t vote”, blocked Waterloo bridge, and have generally caused mass disruption all in aid of protecting domestic violence services. Between 2010 and 2015, the grant for the department for local communities (the one that funds domestic violence services) has halved, and is planned to be cut by a further 30% by 2020. The decreasing funding to support services means that councils are having to make cuts, and the first people to be affected are often women and children, particularly vulnerable women, who also happen to predominantly be women of color, and immigrants.
2 in 3 survivors are now being turned away from refuges because they simply don’t have the capacity to care for these vulnerable people. In a world where men are increasingly asking women “why don’t you leave? Why didn’t you ask him to stop? Why didn’t you say no?”, Sisters Uncut ask the question: how can they flee when there is nowhere to go?
Austerity puts lives at risk. Not only is there the danger that the abused may be abused further once turned away, there’s also the risk that they will suffer from further trauma and mental distress from such a profoundly uncompassionate system; one that sends survivors of abuse to prison, and lets their abusers walk free.
It seems absurd that in the midst of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements that a government would try to pull such a sly move, especially considering the damage it will do. Time and time again, governments across the world take the approach of criminalising the damned and disadvantaged rather than actually getting to the root of the problem. Sisters Uncut are calling for a radical transformation in the ways we treat victims and survivors of domestic violence, and I stand with them.