Suzy walks into my office. She sits nervously waiting to be seen while steady streams of people pass through my advice surgery. I ask her to fill in her name and address on our data form. It is immediately obvious that Suzy is not from my constituency and I start to explain to her that House of Commons protocols mean that I am not meant to act for other people’s constituents. She has travelled 80 miles to see me and tell me her story of domestic violence because she knows I care and will fight for her. As the Christmas lights twinkle on our office tree adorned with baubles made by local children, how can I turn her away?
Suzy is the third woman this week from miles and miles away from where I live and represent whose case I have intervened in. Every single day I receive emails from all over the United Kingdom full of stories about victims of domestic violence desperately trying to work out how to keep them and their children safe from harm.
Suzy tells me a story I have heard a thousand times. Forced to flee her violent home four years earlier, her and her two children are currently being dragged through the family courts and through children’s social care services all at the request of the man who terrorised them, physically and mentally. I listen to the bureaucracy she has to traverse, the financial hardship she has faced having to move home and fight expensive court battles with no legal aid.
She tells me about her children’s referrals to mental health services and produces the letters from their school teachers, desperate to get extra support for her children – support that never comes. I listen to Suzy, and offer her the shocked noises, exasperation and compassion that she deserves.
I treat her like an individual and give her shocking story the response it needs, seeks and deserves, even though I have heard this story every day for the past eight years from many other women.
As the House of Commons begins to wind down for Christmas on the 16th December, a group of MPs will stay in London longer than they normally would do. This is to demand that the Government ratify the Istanbul Convention.
The convention, which has thus far been weakly adopted but not ratified by the Government, is the most comprehensive legal framework that exists to tackle violence against women and girls. It will set a bar for the UK, which means that minimum standards of service must exist.
These MPs, who would not normally stay behind in Westminster this far into the holidays, will take to their feet and tell the story of the Suzys that they have met. They will show these women that there is no need for people to travel hundreds of miles to come and see me in Birmingham – if the bill passes, these women will know that every UK MP is with them.
If it falls because too few MPs attend or the Government sends one of the helpful fools to talk out the debate, what message will that send to the desperate women and children around the country who so need our support?
On every street all across the United Kingdom, women like Suzy, and terrible situations like hers, exist. You say hello to them on the school run. They are sat next to you at work and you offer them your seat on the bus or the tube because they are pregnant. Suzy is everywhere – but she shouldn’t be, and if we can do something to help these women, we must take urgent action.
The IC Change campaign to ratify the Istanbul convention pleads with the Government to make history by listening to her story.
Jess Phillips is the MP for Birmingham Yardley. IC Change is a grassroots, volunteer led, non-partisan group campaigning for ratification of the Istanbul Convention in the UK. Want to take action? Find out how at http://icchange.co.uk/get-involved/
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