Survivors of domestic abuse 'still face barriers to voting in 2018'

By agency reporter
February 8, 2018

To coincide with the centenary of the first British women securing the right to vote, Women’s Aid has revived the Right to Vote campaign, which was founded by survivor and campaigner Mehala Osborne, to highlight that in 2018, some women’s voices are still not being heard. It is using this momentous anniversary to call on the government to make the right to vote in safety a reality for all survivors of domestic abuse for life.

From its work with survivors, Women’s Aid found that women who had been the victim of domestic abuse have been silenced for far too long because it was too dangerous for them to sign up to an electoral register, which would reveal their location, and too difficult for them to register anonymously.

As a result of the Right to Vote campaign, the government has committed to expanding the evidence requirements to ensure that refuge managers and health professionals can support anonymous voter registration. But campaigners are now calling on the government to make anonymous registration valid indefinitely, reflecting the ongoing risk that domestic abuse can pose to survivors long after a relationship has ended.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said, “While 2018 is a time for us to celebrate the long hard battle our sisters fought to secure suffrage, what we must remember on the anniversary of the first British women securing the right to vote is that 100 years on, some women continue to be silenced and barred from exercising their right to vote.

“For far too long, survivors of domestic abuse have been silenced because it was too dangerous for them to sign up to an electoral register, which would reveal their location, and too difficult for them to register anonymously. For them anonymity is a matter of life or death; with the very real threat of being hunted down by their perpetrator.

“Survivors continue to be at risk for many years to come. Often women are on the run from domestic abuse for the rest of their lives. That’s why we are calling on the government to use the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to pass legislative changes to make survivors’ Anonymous Voter Registration valid indefinitely so that survivors can vote in safety for life. We urge the government to mark this centenary by sending out a clear message to all survivors of domestic abuse: that their voices matter, and their right to vote will never be taken away.”

A survivor of domestic abuse, who was adversely affected by not being able to vote in safety, said, “I chose not to register on the electoral roll when I left my abuser as I’d moved to a safe house close to the area where I’d escaped from. I didn’t want him to find me, I even removed the house numbers from the front door in case he came looking. I was unaware at the time that not registering would adversely affect my credit rating for a prolonged time and, of course, I forfeited my right to vote.

“The Right to Vote campaign is essential in allowing women to be at liberty to vote and rebuild their lives while remaining safe. It’s pre-historic to think that women fought so hard for women’s right to vote 100 years ago and yet some continue to live in fear of the abuser after they’ve left because they can’t be protected on the electoral roll. It is unjust. All survivors of domestic abuse must be protected while they rebuild their lives without fear.”

Sue, Refuge Domestic Abuse Advocate at Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid Refuge, said, “Women fleeing domestic abuse have a long struggle to find themselves again as they attempt to rebuild their self-esteem. Anonymous voter registration is key to this process, re-establishing their voice within society and gaining back control of who they are and how they feel.”

With the help of Women’s Aid’s supporters, the Right to Vote campaign brought the issue of Anonymous Voter Registration onto the political agenda; securing a major win that is the first step to making it easier for survivors of domestic abuse to register to vote without revealing their location.

Following a consultation, the government announced that it will make it easier to register to vote anonymously by expanding the people who can authorise an application to include: refuge managers and healthcare professionals as well as lowering the rank of police officer who can support an application to an inspector. The government also committed to expanding the type of documentation required to include Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPO) and Female Genital Mutilation protection (FGM) Orders. However, the campaign to ensure all survivors can exercise their right to vote in safety still continues.

Survivors of domestic abuse continue to be at risk long after they leave refuge, with some women being tracked down by perpetrators for years and sometimes even decades after they escaped the abuse. On average, two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a partner or ex-partner. The ongoing and lifelong risks to survivors of domestic abuse are therefore very real and well-founded.

Women's Aid calls on the government to go further in making survivors’ right to vote in safety a reality, by making legislative changes through the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to make Anonymous Voter Registration valid for the rest of survivors’ lives.

* Women's Aid



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