Liz Barter: Ambassador for Isolation and Disadvantage
International Women’s Day 2022
Thinking about International Women’s day alongside isolation and disadvantage in Buckinghamshire, I reflected on some of the women I had worked with in substance misuse and homelessness services over the years. Women in these services are often framed as “the most chaotic” and “higher risk” than the men. Over the years I formed a view that this is a stereotype with two roots, neither of them are about women being innately unstable. The first, and most obvious one, is that women who are offending and using drugs and so on are breach societal expectations for everyone, and on top of that, those that relate specifically to women. We know, for example, that women are less likely to get to court for minor offences but once they get in front of a judge, their sentences are longer (1). The second, is the way services are configured – women have many more barriers to asking for, or being levered into treatment, and will understandably avoid rough sleeping in favour of other options that are traumatic and lethal in different ways. The women you do meet in services, therefore, are often the hardest to work with as they have the most complex presentations; sexual exploitation, rough sleeping, loss of multiple children, physical and mental health crises and so on.
I put out some feelers to current and former colleagues to see if anyone on their current caseloads might be willing to speak to me on this, and was put in touch with Jemma*. Bucks is geographically large, but the network of services is small, and relatively close-knit, so to truly anonymise her words – by removing anything that could identify her – diluted her story to the extent that even she probably wouldn’t have recognised it.
Life for some in Buckinghamshire
So, for international women’s day, I am going to resort to some bullet points of key stats, and just ask that anyone reading this takes a few extra moments to really envisage an individual human being; a woman, life long resident of Buckinghamshire, and reality of what it takes to keep going.
As a boring, grumpy, second-wave feminist, I don’t like celebrating women’s resilience in the face of suffering or citing victim statistics out of context – because for me, those things are two sides of the same coin, but Jemma’s tenacity, strength and survival instincts are truly amazing. She likes Bucks, although she dislikes her home town of High Wycombe. She sees herself by the sea one day, with her dog, and hopes to have some contact with her children once they are grown up. She’s wonderful, and she will get there.
Child sexual exploitation
Between 2014-2015 Thames Valley Police (TVP) had an indication that 87 children and young people were potentially the victims of CSE in Buckinghamshire within this timeframe. The youngest child was 10, 8% were males, and the peak ages were 14 – 16. The majority of these children were girls.(2)
Public Health England data shows that there were 675 admissions to hospital via A&E for self-harm injuries among residents of Buckinghamshire in 2019-20. It meant a rate of 180 admissions following self-harm per 100,000 women, and 81 per 100,000 men.(3)
In Bucks, 101 women and 104 of their children entered refuge accommodation between 2015 & 2016. 187 women and 203 children were turned away due to lack of provision. (4)
- Domestic-Abuse-Strategy-2018-FINAL.pdf (buckinghamshirepartnership.gov.uk)