An Interview with Katie Ghose, CEO of Women’s Aid

Katie-GhoseWe are very excited to be welcoming Katie Ghose, Women’s Aid CEO as a keynote speaker at Preventing and Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls which will take place in London on 1 February. In this exclusive interview she shares her thoughts on the next steps for combating VAWG.

What do you identify as the key challenges we face in ensuring survivors can access the services they need?

KG: The Government’s new proposal to change the way that refuges are going to be funded through the reforms to supported housing funding has potentially catastrophic consequences for refuges – our recent emergency survey found that 39% of services who responded will close completely and 13% will have to reduce the numbers of bed spaces that they have available, in total this will lead to a loss of 588 spaces which will result in 4,000 more women and children being turned away. Over 125,000 people have signed our petition asking the Government to rethink their plans and come out with a long term and sustainable funding model with us – this was a key recommendation of the Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry in 2017.

Secondly, the Government’s ambitions for the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is to create a step-change in the response to domestic abuse, this will lead to more women coming forward for help. This is extremely positive and what we want to achieve in the long term, but we must ensure that there are the specialist services there to support women coming forward. Our latest survey of member services showed that at the moment about 60% of referrals to refuges are turned away, this means that around 90 children and 94 women are turned away from refuge every day in England.

Training is key – we need to ensure that all statutory agencies, public bodies and professionals coming into contact with domestic abuse have specialist training on domestic abuse and coercive control. We also know that when women experiencing domestic abuse build up the courage to speak about it for the first time, all too often they get an unhelpful response; they may not be believed, they may be made to feel like they provoked the abuse, they might be ignored or brushed off as an uncomfortable subject. We know this needs to change, and we want to make sure that every time a woman speaks up, she is believed, listened to and pointed towards the expert support she needs. That is why we are running Change that Lasts, a new model that we’re piloting with communities and professionals to make sure that wherever and whenever a woman reports abuse she gets the right response the first time.

Women’s Aid has run a number of successful public campaigns, including Football United which challenges behaviour that condones sexism and VAWG. How much do you think attitudes and perceptions still need to change? 

KG: There is still a lot of work to do. Women’s Aid is going to be working more and more on challenging and calling out the sexism and inequality that underpins domestic abuse.

The recent #MeToo campaign and high-profile cases in Westminster and Hollywood have really increased awareness about the epidemic of sexism, sexual harassment and victim blaming that women are experiencing on a daily basis. This drives a culture which allows domestic abuse to continue and makes women feel like they can’t come forward, they won’t be believed and supported. Women’s Aid is here to tell women that we will always believe them, we are listening and we can help.

What impact do you expect the UK leaving the European Union to have on domestic violence and violence against women and girls (VAWG) services?

KG: There will be an impact on funding for research, legislation and policy. We are working with the Fawcett Society on the Face her Future campaign and we need to ensure that protections and rights secured for survivors of domestic abuse through EU legislation are not lost after Brexit and that the UK plays a leading role internationally in transforming approaches to domestic abuse – including learning and sharing what works with other countries.

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How does Women’s Aid work with the police to increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice?

KG: We have done training with the police on coercive and controlling behaviour to increase their knowledge and understanding of what survivors’ experience. We have done extensive work to advise HMICFRS on their inspections of police forces. The findings from these inspections and reports have highlighted weaknesses in the police response to domestic abuse, but year on year inspections have hugely improved the police response.

What will your main priorities as CEO of Women’s Aid be over the next few years?

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KG: Most immediately, to influence the Government to secure a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill that reflects survivors’ needs and a cast-iron guarantee to work with us to find a sustainable solution to refuge funding that ensures every survivor’s safety wherever she lives. Longer term, to work to transform the deep-seated attitudes and change the culture within which violence against women and girls continues. To make domestic abuse everyone’s business, building on police and criminal justice focus to establish it as a housing, health, education and care issue too, so that we can start to prevent abuse rather than helping survivors ‘down the line’. Our new model, called Change that Lasts, is a whole community response to domestic abuse and at an exciting stage, with three elements (Ask Me – empowering citizens to break the silence and raise awareness about domestic abuse; Trusted Professional – empowering professionals to make safe enquiries and provide a proactive, helpful response and Expert Support – creating with our member services a framework for what a gendered, women centred and therapeutic service model looks like in practice). A key aim of Change that Lasts is to provide the right response the first time, which includes expanding our understanding of domestic abuse and feeling confident to challenge it and respond supportively to the needs of women and children. A key priority over the next few years is to gather insights from these initial pilots and ensure its roll out across the country.