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The question “Why does she not just leave?” is often asked by people trying to understand domestic abuse. Although such a question may be asked innocently, it is loaded with connotations of blaming the victim and individualising the societal problem of domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse ImageThe violence against women sector in Scotland has long tried to enhance public understanding of the complex reasons why a victim may stay in an abusive relationship; fear, trauma bonding, worries about the children, threats of false allegations, increased risk of escalation of violence, shame, isolation, low self-esteem, the list could go on and on.  One of the main reasons however is this: economics. How can a victim leave if she does not have the money or the resources to do so?

Last week New Zealand passed historic legislation to assist victims overcome the financial hurdle to leaving their abusive partners. Under the new legislation, victims of domestic abuse have been granted 10 days paid leave to allow them to leave their partners, find new homes and protect themselves and their children.

This new legislation has been hailed a “huge win” and is no doubt a massive step in assisting the recovery of victims of such crimes. This type of legislation is important as it marks a shift from considering domestic abuse as a private issue, towards a holistic response, one which acknowledges that wider society should play their role in assisting victims, standing strong against abuse, and acknowledging the multi-faceted and intersectional needs of victims. As MP Jan Logie, the politician who proposed the legislation, said “we all have a role in helping victims…. We all have a stake in this and it is not OK”.

So what does this mean for Scotland? Alarmingly statistics show that one in five women in Scotland will experience domestic abuse in their life time. Although the Scottish Government is committed to tackling violence against women and girls and had provided over £45million in funding since 2012, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in overcoming the economic barriers women face when leaving. Many work places ignore the issue and do not have Domestic Abuse policies in place. The STUC have confronted this issue, and have created a draft Domestic Abuse policy which includes “paid leave to attend appointments e.g. for legal, housing, medical or childcare issues for professional counselling – the employer should also cover the cost where there is a legal route to do so” and “salary advances to be available in extreme situations, for example if it may help a women flee a violent situation”. Although this is really progressive stuff, employers will no doubt dig their heels in when coughing up the cash. As always, some employers will always put profit before people.

So far, New Zealand, parts of Canada and the Philippines have all introduced legislation entitling workers to paid leave for people experiencing domestic abuse. I sincerely hope that similar legislation is considered domestically, to force employers into acknowledging that they, like everyone else, has a role in helping victims and standing strong against gender based violence.

Blog by Alice Bowman

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