Every time a high profile case of violence against women and girls (VAWG) emerges, whether rape, child abuse or FGM, well-meaning and determined words are spoken by all the right people about transparency, about lessons learned, offering a glimmer of hope to victims. Yet every time, those who suffer most through such violence are let down by an institution whose values prove to be as ancient as the building in which it is housed.
The idea that David Ruffley MP could be re-selected to stand for election next year, having accepted a caution for assaulting his partner, is hideous and is made even worse by the fact that his assault has only recently been brought to light, four months after taking place. Domestic violence has long been seen as a “private issue” and it appears that Westminster has not shed those outdated beliefs, initially stating that the matter had been dealt with by the police. Sweeping domestic violence under the carpet in this way only serves to belittle and undermine the seriousness of the crime. A crime that, in the UK, leaves two women dead each week.
Gender-based violence of any kind is not an issue to get party political over but the past five years under the Coalition has seen provision of domestic violence services shrink across the country, decimated by cuts; rapists are treated with sympathy by the judiciary; refugees, detained for an indeterminate period, are reportedly sexually assaulted in Yarl’s Wood. This week also saw the Prime Minister and Home Secretary make huge leaps and bounds in legislating to combat FGM and I sincerely applaud them for this. However, these efforts appear token when laid against the devastating cuts to vital services for domestic violence victims and when the governing party boasts a perpetrator of such violence among their ranks. One in three women in the world experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. How can they feel that their suffering is taken seriously when Parliament turns a blind eye to the crimes of one of its own?
David Ruffley has apologised, publicly and in private to his ex-partner, but this attrition can only be taken seriously if matched by an understanding that such behaviour is incompatible with being a MP. I therefore hope that Mr Ruffley faces up to the consequences of his actions and resigns as a MP, however the fact that he chose not to address any question over his role in public life during his apology makes this rather unlikely. The recent leaked comments by the Chairman of Ruffley’s local Conservative Association, saying that the incident was not domestic violence and that reports have been exaggerated by “minority feminist groups”, suggests that he’s not going to be de-selected any time soon either. One can only hope therefore, with a dash of cynicism, that if pressure mounts, Cameron and Gove may be forced to take disciplinary action and suspend him. Cameron is known for his displeasure in being pressured into such action by the press, as his hesitation over Maria Miller and Andrew Mitchell illustrates, though Ruffley may yet prove expendable. His lowly status as a backbencher may be his undoing, as might his previous support for Cameron’s one-time rival David Davis (Cameron’s memory is said to be elephantine on such matters.)
However the issue extends far beyond Mr Ruffley. The government is said to be considering a domestic violence law to allow sentences to take into account separate incidents of threats, violence and coercion as a sustained campaign of terror. As others, such as Caroline Criado-Perez, have argued the current system is a legal blackhole which leaves victims vulnerable and their fears disregarded. This government, and successive governments to come, need consistency on VAWG to address a rampant culture of misogyny. Introducing a domestic violence law and showing zero tolerance on abusive MPs could be a much needed start.
If you would like to sign the petition calling for David Ruffley to resign from Parliament then please click here.