ABUSERS MUST BE STOPPED: Two women a week are killed by current or former partners

Pictured: top, Jane Clough, bottom, John and Penny Clough
Pictured: top, Jane Clough, bottom, John and Penny Clough
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Penny and John Clough tried to build a fortress around their daughter to keep her safe from her abusive boyfriend.

READ MORE: Celebrating today's suffragettes
But despite their best efforts and those of the police, Jane was murdered by ambulance technician Jonathan Vass at Blackpool Victoria Hospital in July 2010.

Author Laura Steven

Author Laura Steven

As the nurse and mother of one was going to work Vass, who was 30 at the time, launched a frenzied knife attack on 26-year-old Jane.

Her colleagues at the hospital tried in vain to save her.

Now Vass, who was on bail at the time while awaiting trial over allegations that he had repeatedly raped Jane, is behind bars.

But the horror of what happened to Jane is the driving force behind her parents’ campaign work to protect other victims of domestic violence.

Actress Alyssa Milano, who popularised the hashtag

Actress Alyssa Milano, who popularised the hashtag

The couple, who have been instrumental in changing laws to help protect victims, opened refuge centre Jane’s Place in the summer last year in Burnley. They are patrons of five SafeNet refuges in the North West.

But the safe homes, or fortresses that they support for other domestic violence victims to find refuge in are under threat because of changes to Government funding.

Penny, who is retired from her job as an intensive care nurse at Royal Preston Hospital, said: “This new funding is going to absolutely decimate refuges. Everybody’s so stressed out about it, wondering how long we can continue to deliver services. Fifteen refuges closed last year.

“We cannot understand why funding for refuges isn’t statutory - for all the years we’ve been in the EU we have never ever reached the number of refuge places that they’ve recommended per head of population.

“The funding as it stands gives us 53 per cent of our income - that means we have to get 47 per cent from charities and donors.

“It all goes into a tremendous amount of effort but this ends on March 31 and the new funding kicks in in April.”

Within the first three months of Jane’s Place the Cloughs had 111 referrals to the 15 units that it has for victims of domestic violence with complex needs.

“Until it opened these women couldn’t get refuge in an ordinary refuge - the thought of that going when it’s so hard to get a place even as it is at the minute just absolutely horrifies me.”

While Penny says the UK has come a long way in protecting victims of domestic violence she also says the country has miles to travel yet and in some ways it is going backwards.

She said: “It seems like we’ve got to a peak and we’re regressing and even now some services have been commissioned the quality of service isn’t there.”

Keir Starmer, the shadow cabinet member and former chief prosecutor, has backed the couple in calling for mandatory funding for refuges.

Meanwhile a petition from charity Women’s Aid is being sent to Downing Street and MP for Burnley Julie Cooper has distributed a letter to every MP in Westminster expressing the Cloughs’ concern.

Penny said: “Jane was lucky she had us. Our house became like a fortress.”

Jane had reported Vass to the police in 2009 for the physical and sexual abuse he was subjecting her to, including raping her while she was pregnant.

Vass was charged with nine rapes and assault in November that year but was then released on bail until his trial.

This meant months of agony for Jane, who moved in with her parents in the meantime.

In a diary that she kept at the time she wrote: “I’m worried Jonny’s going to do something stupid. Time’s running out for him.

Penny said: “Jane opened our eyes to the whole schematic of domestic abuse - we thought we knew what it was but there’s so much more.

“She reported him in November 2009 and it took her until March 2010 to go for a walk round the block and she was so relieved to get inside again and lock the door.”

Furious at the judge’s decision to allow Vass out on bail, Penny says she thinks there are some key reforms that need to be made in the justice system.“There’s got to be education for

judges and magistrates to absolutely understand the matters that they are dealing with in court in terms of domestic abuse and stalking and the impact it has on victims when the perpetrators are released.”

But her main focus at this point is to garner support to campaign for funding for refuges to be statutory.

She said: “Its seems OK that Jane was murdered and that it cost £2m for a murder investigation and £40,000 to keep Vass in prison every year but it isn’t OK to have the measures in place to be able to keep safe.”

Becoming a feminist

Young Adult author Laura Steven explains how she became a feminist.

“I’ll admit it: I lived an incredibly sheltered childhood. Feminism was not on my radar as a teen. I went to a school where the class sizes were less than fifteen, and girls were treated equally to boys – even better, in fact, since we generally paid more attention and class and put actual effort into our homework. Sure, we had to wear skirts and tights even in sixth form, but if that was the worst kind of gender inequality I faced, I figured I was doing okay.

This all changed when I graduated with a first class degree in journalism and landed a job at a swanky lifestyle magazine. There I worked for a boss who used to sexually harass his young female employees, groping us at Christmas parties and whispering inappropriate things at the bar. But we were all too scared to speak up, because we couldn’t prove it; because we didn’t think it was worth the hassle; because we felt like we were just lucky to have jobs; because we didn’t want a reputation as the girl who wouldn’t stay in her box.

Around the same time, a male friend of mine decided he was in love with me, and became increasingly aggressive and threatening when I rejected him over and over again. He thought the whole thing was so unjust. He was nice to me, and he liked me, so why couldn’t he get what he wanted? He just couldn’t respect my decision not to have sex with him, and even physically blocked me from leaving our mutual friend’s house when I wouldn’t offer a detailed explanation as to why I didn’t want to bend over.

These experience inspired me to write my debut young adult novel, The Exact Opposite of Okay. It’s about a teenage girl who finds herself at the heart of a national scandal when a photo of her having sex with a politician’s son is leaked online. I really want to inspire young women to speak up and fight back against the never-ending stream of misogyny they have to face on a daily basis. Sometimes this sexism may seem innocuous, but I wanted to highlight how problematic this stuff really is in the bigger picture. It’s not just teenage melodrama. It matters.

How the world treats teenage girls matters.

Despite our transatlantic pals having elected a man who brags about grabbing women, I do genuinely believe we’re living in a time of huge change, with the Silence Breakers being named TIME’s Person of the Year, the #MeToo campaign sweeping across the globe, and Women’s Marches gathering steam everywhere we look. It feels like the inequality tide is finally changing, and I’m so proud to be issuing my own rally call in the form of my book.

Laura will be signing copies of her new book at the Northern Literary Festival on Saturday, March 24. She will be at 53 Degrees in Brook Street, Preston, from 2.30pm.

Me too

Sordid revelations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have lead to an outpouring of support for his victims, and women speaking up about abuse in the workplace.

In 2017 it was revealed that Miramax co-founder Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, had been systematically sexually abusing women over many decades.

Many women came forward to say that he had sexually assaulted them under the pretext of a ‘business meeting’,

Lurid as the scandal was, it quickly became apparent that it was not confined to Weinstein, or even to Hollywood.

Using the hashtag ‘Me Too’ thousands of women across the globe detailed their experiences of harassment, from wolf whistling and cat calling to systemic sexual bullying and rape.

Actress Alyssa Milano, who popularised the hashtag after the Weinstein scandal, says that a priority for #MeToo is changing the laws surrounding sexual harassment and assault, for example instituting protocols that give sufferers in all industries the ability to file complaints without retaliation.

She supports legislation making it difficult for publicly traded companies to hide cover-up money from their stockholders, and would like to make it illegal for employers to require new workers sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of employment.

Recognising abuse

Establishing if a women is suffering from domestic abuse can be tricky.

Dee Conlon, operations manager at Victim Support in Preston said: “Finding a way to contact the victim safely is difficult. The perpetrator may be there and the victim might be finding ways to normalising the abuse.”But if a Victim Support staff member does get through to a victim the questions they might ask to establish if they are suffering from domestic abuse include:

• Does your partner criticise you and make you doubt yourself? Are you starting to believe that you’re unattractive, or lucky to have a partner at all?

• Do you feel anxious and stressed in your partner’s presence? Do you worry about how your partner might react and this makes you change your behaviour (like staying in more) to avoid arguments with them?

• Do you feel intimidated and scared of your partner when they get angry — their behaviour might be unpredictable or aggressive.

• Are you made to feel guilty and not given the freedom to do things you want to do? Does your partner control you by telling you who you can and can’t see, or emotionally blackmail you?

According to the latest ONS report on domestic abuse in England and Wales over three-quarters of female victims of domestic homicide were killed by a male partner or ex-partner (76 per cent, 242 females); of these, 114 were killed by a spouse or civil partner, 47 were killed by their common-law spouse or cohabiting partner, 35 were killed by a boyfriend and 28 were killed by an ex-spouse, ex-common law spouse or ex-cohabiting partner.

Contact Victim Support on 01772 201142, or the National Domestic Violence 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.