In Depth

Government’s ‘violence against women and girls’ strategy explained

A woman is murdered by a man every three days in UK, according to tracking charity

A nationwide vigil highlighting women’s safety issues is being organised following the disappearance of Sarah Everard in south London last week.

After as-yet unidentified human remains were found yesterday in a wood in Kent, the “Reclaim These Streets” organisers said the event was “for Sarah, but also for all women who feel unsafe, who go missing from our streets and who face violence every day”.

The 33-year-old’s disappearance has renewed debate about the endemic abuse as the government prepares its latest “violence against women and girls” strategy. Here is what we know about the plans. 

‘One woman every three days’

The arrest of a serving Metropolitan police officer in connection with Everard’s disappearance prompted thousands of women to share their experiences of harassment and assault, using the hashtag #SarahEverard

Amid the outpouring of testimonies, Sky News political correspondent Kate McCann tweets that “what happened to Sarah Everard has hit home hard for so many women because we make the calculations she did every day too”.

“It is frustrating and tiring and constant. And yet sometimes, despite all those calculations, it still isn’t enough,” she adds. 

The extent and seriousness of the problem is revealed by data from the Femicide Census, a charity that tracks the number of women killed by men in the UK. A total of 1,425 women have been murdered over the past decade - an average of one woman every three days.

The findings of a recent YouGov survey of more than 1,000 women reveals that other forms of abuse are also widespread.

A total of 97% of respondents aged between 18 and 24 have been the victim of sexual harassment, according to the findings of the poll, which was conducted on behalf of United Nations organisation UN Women UK and shared with The Guardian

Four in five women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. 

The survey also exposed what the newspaper describes as “a damning lack of faith in the UK authorities’ desire and ability to deal with sexual harassment”, with 96% of respondents saying they did not report the incidents and 45% saying it would not change anything.

UN Women UK executive director Claire Barnett said the results of the survey revealed “a human rights crisis”, adding: “It’s just not enough for us to keep saying ‘this is too difficult a problem for us to solve’ - it needs addressing now.”

Calls for action have been growing since the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales warned in a report published last summer that rape prosecution rates in the UK have reached a “catastrophic” low.

Vera Baird QC said that the crime had effectively been “decriminalised”, with “just 3% of rape complaints” resulting in criminal charges. Police in England and Wales referred 2,747 rape cases to the Crown Prosecution Service in 2019-20 - the lowest total since the records began in 2014.

Domestic abuse has also increased significantly since lockdown restrictions were imposed in March last year. The Femicide Census found that domestic homicide rates were three times higher than usual during the initial few weeks of the first national lockdown.

What’s the government’s plan?

The government last month finished gathering evidence for its latest Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy, which is due to be released later this year. A total of £100m of funding has been committed to support abuse victims since the programme launched in 2010. 

Government officials are consulting with women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence, as well as members of local government; experts who work with survivors and social care; the education sector; and law enforcement professionals. 

Downing Street has said that under VAWG initiatives, new measures have been introduced to tackle crimes including stalking, rape, so-called “honour violence” and female genital mutilation. 

However, Home Secretary Priti Patel has conceded that more needs to be done - and quickly. In the forward to the latest call for evidence,  she writes that while the “risks of violence against women and girls are still present, the pace of societal and technological change means that new and evolving forms of crime against women and girls are continuously emerging”. 

The updated strategy for 2021 to 2024 will aim to improve understanding of newer forms of violent crimes against women and girls such as cyber flashing and online abuse via dating apps and social media.

A separate domestic abuse strategy will also be launched after the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is expected to become law later this month.

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