Awareness of domestic abuse is important, but we need to change behaviour

Our CEO, Barbara Natasegara, reflects on how much work we still need to do to reduce the figures of domestic abuse.

Barbara Natasegara MBE – Chief Executive Officer

Barbara Natasegara MBE – Chief Executive Officer

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Welsh Women’s Aid started investigating the numbers of domestic abuse victims in Wales. They estimated that [insert] women were experiencing domestic violence of some form from an intimate partner. 

Today, two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner, and almost one in three has experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. These figures are high, and they don’t appear to be going down. 

But that’s not to say people aren’t aware of the problem. In fact, awareness of domestic abuse in Wales is increasing every year as more and more people pledge to take action against it. The 16 days of activism, symbolised by White Ribbon Day on 25 November, and concluding on 10 December exists exactly for this purpose. 

This year, we marked the 10th anniversary of White Ribbon Day in Wales with a number of events across the city, including a public march and a candlelit vigil outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. High profile figures and Welsh Government ministers came forward to pledge their continued support for the cause and promised to take more action against the perpetrators of domestic violence.

So why are reports of domestic abuse still just as high as they were 25 years ago?

A lot can be said for the impact of nationwide awareness days when it comes to bringing attention to an important cause, but there is clearly a reason why the statistics for domestic abuse in this country haven’t decreased in the last 25 years of campaigning. 

If we are really going to make a difference and protect future victims from domestic abuse, we need to fight the problem at the root and tackle the behaviour before it escalates. 

The introduction of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act in April this year shows that Wales is leading the way in providing preventative and protective measures against abuse. The aim of the Act is to raise the profile of violence against women, and to strategically improve the public sector response to it. While this is a meaningful move, we need to focus on establishing the behaviours that cause people to act this way.

There are many examples of where strong legislation combined with awareness raising has led to real change in behaviour. The 2006 Health Act, for example, targeted directly the behaviour of smokers by making it illegal to smoke inside public places.  Alongside strategic awareness about the health implications of smoking and legislation that made it harder for people to smoke freely, the numbers of smokers in the UK has dropped by --- in the last 10 years.

Another convincing example of where legislation and awareness raising have successfully worked hand-in-hand to change behaviour is with the laws surrounding wearing a seatbelt. Previous attempts to make seatbelts mandatory in all vehicles failed up until 1981 due to a lack of awareness. It was only when campaigners significantly stepped up their efforts to convince the public of the safety implications of not wearing seatbelts that the introduction of the law made a real difference. 

When it comes to domestic abuse here in Wales, we might be on our way to making real change, but until we start targeting the behaviour that causes domestic abuse and violence in the first place, the statistics will remain the same.