Pushing forward to end violence against women

By Gill Walton, General Secretary, RCM on 25 November 2022 Maternity Services Midwifery Workforce MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Domestic Abuse Health and social care Government Human Rights Immigrant Women Maternal Mental health Perinatal Mental Health Caring For You campaign Cavell Nurses' Trust Child abuse Antenatal / Prenatal Bullying and Harassment

For International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November – and the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence to follow – we are raising awareness and pushing forward to end domestic abuse and coercive control. It is important for us – all of us – to join together and highlight abuses against women and girls, challenge the culture and call for better services to support victims of abuse.

In England and Wales, the number of recorded domestic abuse crimes reported to the police increased by 6% in the year ending March 2021. Over 82% of callers to the national domestic abuse helpline experienced psychological and emotional abuse and 74.4% experienced controlling behaviour. On average, women experience 35 counts of violence before they leave their situation. Coercive control is a much blurrier picture of manipulation and control and can have a dangerous impact on the wellbeing of women and families.

The majority of midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) are women and are themselves represented in the 1 in 4 statistics of domestic abuse in the UK. This is why during these 16 Days, we will be launching the updated i-learn module on domestic abuse, sharing resources on identifying coercive control and we will provide resources to help midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) who experience abuse as well as helping them to support the women in their care.

The RCM continues to campaign and lobby in partnership with other women’s organisations in the UK for the necessary policy changes to end violence against women and girls. For example, we have supported stronger laws as evidenced in the 2021 Domestic Abuse Act, which created a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes coercive control. We have also called for better responses and a coordinated approach from the police, justice, and the health sector, including funding for the provision of domestic abuse services for victims.

Acknowledging that there is stigma and shame associated with domestic abuse and violence, I urge midwives and MSWs not to be ashamed, afraid or deterred from seeking help if you recognise yourself as a victim of any form of abuse. We have resources on the Caring for You hub including contacts of organisations that support women, as well as organisations that focus on Black and Asian women and families experience.

We also encourage members to apply for the Cavell Nurses’ Trust Benevolent Fund, which is a financial support safety net for any midwives or MSWs needing financial aid to get out of potentially dangerous situations.

Pregnant women are often at a heightened risk of abuse. In maternity, we are well-placed to identify, support, and refer pregnant women in our care to appropriate services. Our action does not stop with listening and supporting victims, or documenting the abuse, but encouraging women to report the abuse with expert support is also crucial.

We know not all victims want to report abuse to the police. But we must document the abuse within an agreed framework and ensure that the relevant agencies are aware and support is available.

We have come a long way with changes in legislation but there is certainly further to go to challenge the wider culture that allows abuse of women to happen. Our action in the workplace to offer support, our action to take support that is offered to us – it is our advocacy for better services for victims and our call for the rights of ALL women that can make a difference to a woman’s survival.