Violence against women and girls – UK Government assessment
Despite several recent reforms to strengthen the policy and legal framework, violence against women and girls remains widespread, and some groups are disproportionately affected. Evidence indicates that rates of domestic abuse increased during the pandemic. Survivors struggle to access justice and specialist support. Domestic abuse and sexual offences remain under-reported and the number of prosecutions and convictions have fallen sharply over the last three years.
- Figures released in March 2019 showed that 1.6 million women in England and Wales had experienced domestic abuse in the preceding year – a similar prevalence level to the previous year – and 561,000 women and girls between 16-59 had experienced sexual assault or rape.
- The coronavirus pandemic has seen an increase in domestic abuse, with reports from helplines suggesting an increase in call volumes of nearly 50% and an estimated doubling in the number of deaths related to domestic violence during the first three weeks of the UK-wide lockdown in March 2020.
- Some groups and people with certain protected characteristics are disproportionately likely to be subjected to violence against women and girls. These include women and girls who are disabled, from ethnic minorities, have drug or alcohol dependency, or are facing homelessness. For example, recent data showed that disabled women were more than twice as likely as non-disabled women to be victim-survivors of rape.
- There are serious concerns about insufficient funding for violence against women and girls services, particularly specialist provision for ethnic minority women, disabled women, LGBT survivors, and individuals with complex needs.
- The Domestic Abuse Bill includes welcome proposals to strengthen protections for domestic abuse victims and survivors but does not include measures to improve the provision of community-based specialist support services for survivors, and does not ensure support for survivors with insecure immigration status.
- Recent Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures show dramatic falls in prosecutions for rape and domestic abuse – the data shows that police referrals and charges have also decreased.
- There are concerns that victim-survivors of violence against women and girls face barriers at every stage of the criminal justice system, including extensive delays, poor victim communication from both the police and CPS (which can particularly impact disabled victim-survivors), and lack of protective measures when giving evidence in court.
- Evidence shows that both domestic abuse and sexual violence are under-reported: fewer than one in five victim-survivors reports their rape to the police while official estimates suggest that around 4 in 5 victim-survivors of domestic abuse did not report the abuse to the police.
- The UK Government has still not agreed to follow the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (the ‘Istanbul Convention’), despite signing it in 2012, although it has stated an intention to do so.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on violence against women and girls.