These last few weeks as we tussle to the end of the Domestic Abuse Bill, I have been communicating with lots of the families of women and children who did not survive long enough to see changes to law. Pretty much every day at the moment I speak to the sister, father, daughter or mother of a woman taken by the disease of violence against women and girls. To each of them, their case is deeply personal and individual. To me, the conversations all share similarities about how the system failed to save their loved one.
This week I linked up with Nick, who is the proud and loving father of Hollie Gazzard. Hollie was murdered by Asher Maslin in the hairdressing salon in which she worked. Hollie had reported him to police on several occasions, but there was no proactive investigation, risk assessment or risk management, despite Maslin being arrested 23 times for a variety of offences including domestic abuse. Police were aware of three incidents involving Hollie and Maslin before she was killed and a review following his sentencing to life imprisonment found he had been involved in 24 separate violent incidents involving Hollie, two more previous girlfriends, his mother and other people.
As I sign off emails or put down the phone after long chats with the likes of Nick and other families like his, my heart feels so heavy. There is a weight of responsibility on all of us with power to try to make this better. The only people responsible for such terrible actions are of course the perpetrators. But as parliamentarians, lawmakers and policy devisors, it is our job to do all we humanly can, to move every muscle, to make sure we have systems and processes in place that protect victims from such crimes. Once again this week, I thought, “if only we could have done more”.
Tomorrow, MPs will have the chance to vote on an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill that I believe would save lives. The amendment, which will be returning to the Commons for another vote after being rejected by ministers last Thursday, will require serial domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators to be registered on a database; they’ll be placed on the existing violent and sexual offenders register and monitored in the same way that serious sex offenders are.
At the moment, there are dangerous criminals on our streets and in our homes, who are repeating the same acts of violence and abuse over and over again, moving from victim to victim. They subject one person to coercive and controlling behaviour, abuse and violence, stealing their time and their love. Then, when they are done, these predators brush themselves down, go out on the prowl, find a new victim, and do the same again. Rinse and repeat. And, far too often, no one joins the dots until it’s too late.
There are devastating accounts of women seriously hurt or killed by perpetrators who have a history of abuse and violence. We must take stronger action against criminals who repeat offend against person after person with seeming impunity. I believe and hope that such a register that monitors and supervises would do just that. I know for certain that carrying on the way we have been doing isn’t good enough.
And that’s the crux of it. For so long, we have focused on what women should be doing to keep themselves safe – wear flat shoes, don’t walk alone, be on the phone, cross the road, stay in the lights, leave the home, don’t leave your home, the list goes on and on. The focus is always on the woman’s behaviour and actions. We place the responsibility on the shoulders of women to protect themselves. It’s a crushing weight that no one can actually carry. Because no matter how hard we try, no matter if, like Hollie, we do everything right and we call the police or we tell the authorities, it keeps happening. A woman is murdered every three days by a partner, ex-partner or family member. It’s time to turn the spotlight on perpetrators of domestic abuse, to identify them and their behaviours, and to monitor and supervise effectively.
Sometimes a problem feels so big, complicated and exhausting, it’s hard to know what to do. I’ve felt like that a few times over the last few weeks, as we have thought, and fought, relentlessly to try and make women and girls safer. I think everyone has felt overwhelmed at times, both inside and outside of parliament. But tomorrow, us parliamentarians have the chance to vote for an amendment that could really help in the fight to end violence against women and girls. So I am urging all MPs to vote for a register for repeat offenders of domestic abusers and stalkers. I urge them to do it for the future victims of serial offenders. There are women and girls out there that we can still protect.
If we don’t try and do something different, it will only be a matter of weeks before a case comes along just like Hollie’s, where the system fails to prevent harm. I promise that in each and every case I will stand in the House of Commons and make a point of order about how we in Westminster could have helped. This week the chance is in our hands, let’s do all we can to try.