Q&A with Mayor Joanne on Liverpool’s first VAWG strategy

Mayor Joanne Anderson has launched a three-year strategy to tackle violence against women and girls.

Following its publication, Mayor Joanne took part in a question and answer session with law student Ruby Wallis, who wants to become a criminal and family law barrister, including acting for people who have suffered violence.

Ruby: I have just spoken about why I’m so passionate about what you’re doing to tackle violence against women and girls. I’d love to know why this is so important to you personally?

Joanne: My mum used to work for the Citizens Advice Bureau and used to give my bedroom up for families who were fleeing abuse. Therefore, from a young age, I saw the impact that violence against women has on victims, families and communities. My mum was always really disappointed that she couldn’t do more to stop women from going back to an abusive situation. This was in the 70’s and was obviously a different time; less women had jobs and were unable to support themselves in order to leave their partner permanently – but that experience showed me that the issue is really complicated.

Usually, it as simple as just removing a person temporarily from a situation, more often than not they love that person, they may have a family with the person or there is some element of dependency there. It is really difficult. Through my work with the Crown Prosecution Service, I learnt things about the community organisations involved in this sector. This included ways of stopping people returning to the perpetrator or actually having the awareness and confidence to get out of a difficult situation.

Ruby: I know that a big part of creating this strategy was the consultation process. Why was it so important to you to listen and collaborate with so many different groups?

Joanne: That has always been my approach in my working history before becoming mayor. I think that sometimes statutory agencies get stuck in a certain way of doing things and they forget about the other voices that are in the sector. I believe everything should start with a conversation and that’s how this strategy started.

I think that is also why this has become a longer project because we realised from the consultation that the job was bigger than we initially anticipated – everyone wanted to be a part of it. Because of this, it developed from just being a city council strategy to being a strategy for the entire city. It’s no longer mine, the organisations and agencies that are involved now have ownership of it, which is great.

Ruby: I know that you have experience working in the CPS, and from what I’ve seen the mechanics of the criminal justice system provide very little support for victims. What would you like to see change?

Joanne: Well, I have seen the system work better when it has had better resources.
For example, when I worked there, we had independent domestic abuse advisors who supported women, as well as voluntary sector services. We found that women are much more likely to stay in the criminal justice process if they have the support of other organisations. We also learned that with those support mechanisms in place, people were prosecuted more.

But I will say that even then there were issues. The CPS, for example, use barristers’ chambers sometimes and I remember an incident where a barrister called a girl who was under 16 ‘promiscuous’ when she had been abused by an older man. Of course, we were furious and challenged it, but it shows that even with support and training in place, things like that still happen.

That being said, resources are incredibly important. I have seen the system work better for victims and survivors and had more effective rates for prosecution for rape, sexual abuse sexual violence and domestic abuse with more funding – so resources are an important part of the process.

Ruby: As a woman, I have personally experienced so much guilt in terms of challenging language and behaviours that are inappropriate or misogynistic. So, something that really stood out to me about this strategy is its ambition to promote a safe space for women and girls to challenge these behaviours. How important do you think it is for us to call out this behaviour when we see it?

Joanne: Incredibly important. We want to make everywhere a safe space to call out this type of behaviour. A project that has really stood out and that I would love to see reflected in our city is the work a friend of mine does in festivals on behalf of the UN. They create a safe spaces within festivals where men and women can go and talk about the experiences they have and access advice and support as well as opening up dialogue about how they can be allies.

Everyone should feel okay with calling out language and behaviour if it’s unacceptable and I want any given space within Liverpool to be able to facilitate that.

Ruby: I know that you engaged with students during your consultation. I would like Liverpool to be a safe space for women my age – what do you hope this strategy means for young women like me?

Joanne: Exactly that, a safe space. I would love women to feel safe in Liverpool because feeling safe should be a given right. A great example is the work we are doing with Safer Streets, which we have recently secured funding from the home office for. Because of that, we now have a greater police presence on transport links during the night, especially on routes used by students. I don’t think people understand sometimes what it can feel like to be a woman travelling by yourself and to feel vulnerable and unsafe. We also want there to be an awareness that is not just on the women who have to deal with it, men need to feel able to call other men out and that it’s tackled by the whole community, not just women.

Ruby: For my final question, let’s fast forward 3 years to the end of this strategy. What it is the main thing you hope will change for victims and survivors of gender-based violence within the city?

Joanne: I hope that we have lobbied government for more effective resources so that our specialist agencies can really do their job. We need resources to create safe spaces, to help victims turn their lives around and to tackle perpetrators in the right way. The ultimate aim, of course, is to eliminate the root of these issues altogether and to bring around change for thousands of women and girls across our city.

Liverpool Waterfront