Violence against women and girls – UK Government assessment
There have been important recent reforms to strengthen the policy and legal framework, and it will take time for their impact to be realised. However, violence against women and girls remains widespread, and some groups are disproportionately affected. Reports of domestic abuse increased during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Victims struggle to access justice and specialist support. Domestic abuse and sexual offences remain under-reported, the number of prosecutions has fallen in recent years, and official inspections recommend that system-wide change is needed.
- For the year ending March 2020, figures showed that 1.6 million women in England and Wales had experienced domestic abuse in the preceding year. In this period, 92% of defendants in domestic abuse-related prosecutions were men while 77% of victims were women. 618,000 women and girls aged 16–74 had experienced sexual assault, including rape.
- A 2021 review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges by Oftsed found that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse is widespread and normalised, so often goes unreported.
- The pandemic has seen an increase in reports of domestic abuse and an increase in demand for domestic abuse victim services.
- Some groups and people with certain protected characteristics are disproportionately likely to be subjected to violence against women and girls, including disabled and ethnic minority women and girls.
- Evidence shows that domestic abuse and sexual violence are under-reported. Fewer than one in six victims reports rape to the police while official estimates suggest that around four in five victims of domestic abuse do not report it.
- A 2020 joint official investigation found that victims of crime with insecure or uncertain immigration status, including victims of domestic abuse, are fearful that their information will be shared with the Home Office if they report crimes to the police. There are also concerns that broad requests from police for consent to extract data from victims’ mobile phones deter rape victims from seeking justice.
- Crown Prosecution Service figures show continued falls in prosecutions for domestic abuse and rape.
- A cross-government review in 2021 found ‘victims of rape are being failed’ by the justice system, with concerns including extensive delays (exacerbated by the pandemic), stereotypes about victim credibility, poor victim support and communication, and lack of specialist resources. An official inspection found that fundamental system-wide change is needed.
- The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 introduced positive reforms, such as including children in the definition of victims, better procedural protections for survivors in the family and civil courts, and a duty on local authorities in England to provide accommodation-based domestic abuse services. However, the new duty does not cover community-based services or the support needs of victims with insecure immigration status.
- There are concerns about insufficient funding for violence against women and girls services, particularly specialist provision for ethnic minority women, disabled women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survivors, and individuals with complex needs.
- The ‘Tackling violence against women and girls strategy’ for England and Wales promises a whole-system response and aims to increase support for victims, increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice, and reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls with a focus on prevention, including through education and public awareness.
- The UK Government has still not ratified the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, despite signing it in 2012.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on violence against women and girls.