“As a survivor myself and the co-chair of the cross-party group on domestic abuse, I will continue to speak out and I will never stop until we have a society in which survivors are supported and listened to.”
By Apsana Begum MP
Last month with great sadness in East London local women and supporters came together to express our collective pain at the recent murder of Suma Begum whose husband is accused of stuffing her body into a suitcase and dumping it in a river.
It is around a year ago when we held a similar vigil in memory of Yasmin Begum, whose ex-husband has recently been found guilty of her brutal murder.
Together, we mourned, we expressed our pain, outrage and solidarity, and then we vowed to organise and mobilise. We will always remember Suma and Yasmin.
Domestic abuse is a pervasive human rights violation. Despite steps forward and the widely welcomed Domestic Abuse Act, the truth is that it is extremely difficult for survivors to speak out.
I know this from first-hand experience – the stigma, the structural and systemic bias against us, the use of the courts and the law to threaten and silence us.
I also know that domestic abuse can have a severe and lasting impact on mental health, and that survivors often find it difficult to access the support they need.
Evidence shows that Black, minoritised ethnic and migrant survivors are disproportionately victims of violence against women and girls, yet also experience poorer outcomes in access to justice and support.
It is also commonly assumed that a woman should just leave and then all her problems will be over. But for many this is far from the reality. It goes on and on and on – and the wall of institutional gaslighting is chilling.
That is why I am working calling for a duty of care to be placed on employers and political parties to ensure that survivors of domestic abuse are not exposed to further harassment.
This must recognise that post-separation control and harassment is a form of domestic abuse itself and can occur long after a relationship or marriage has ended, with different tactics of abuse used.
Indeed, Yasmin Begum’s ex-husband brutally murdered her after their separation.
In fact, a comprehensive approach is needed – i.e., support and consideration at every stage of the criminal justice system, and crucially beyond it.
It’s not only about refuges but also counselling, confidential helplines offering emotional and practical support, advocacy services, resettlement advice and services for children. So, let’s be very clear: funding gaps for domestic abuse survivors costs lives.
Violence against women, including trans women, continues to blight our society – as people die, and are dying, every day, while support services continue to be cut and we are put at risk by the very people who are meant to protect us.
Funding is urgently needed so that more lives can be saved, and more survivors are able rebuild their lives and start again.
There are also significant gaps in statutory support for victims of domestic abuse with No Recourse to Public Funds – a cruel status that needs to be scrapped immediately.
A complete firewall has long been needed between the police and immigration enforcement, ending the sharing of data which left those with insecure immigration status unable to seek justice, and at risk of further victimisation.
Global emergencies and conflict have further intensified violence against women and girls and exacerbated the drivers and risk factors. At the same time, there has been a rise in anti-rights movements and anti-feminist groups, driving an expansion of regressive laws and policies.
Assaults on civil liberties explicitly targets those of us most at risk: migrants, Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women, and GRT communities. But the history of standing up against violence against women has always had pioneering activism, fighting for social change, at its heart.
The movement has been driven by the bravery of so many who spoke out and organised despite the challenges against them.
And it is this that keeps me going.
Of those who are experiencing domestic abuse, I say to you today: you are not alone. The most important thing to do is to make sure you are safe. Ask for help.
There is no excuse for abuse. There can be a better future for you.
As a survivor myself and the co-chair of the cross-party group on domestic abuse, I will continue to speak out and whatever the future may hold, I will never stop until we have a society in which survivors are supported and listened to.
- Apsana Begum is the MP for Poplar and Limehouse and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow Apsana on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- If you support Labour Outlook’s work amplifying the voices of left movements and struggles in the UK and internationally, please consider becoming a supporter on Patreon.