New violence against women stats should to be a wake up call to the government

"We need to see secure funding for services that provide women with a safety net"
"We need to see secure funding for services that provide women with a safety net"

This week's violent crime statistics revealed the extent of male violence against women and girls in the 12 months leading up to March 2017.

Headline figures include that one in five women and girls have experienced some form of sexual assault since the age of 16, meaning that women are five times more likely to experience sexual assault than men. The survey's definition of sexual assault includes unwanted touching, indecent exposure, assault by penetration, and rape. In the past year, 510,000 women and girls experienced sexual assault.

The survey also revealed that 1.2 million women had experienced some form of domestic abuse in the 12 months leading up to March 2017. This compared to 713,000 men. More than half of all female homicide victims were killed by a former or current partner (83). And 4.3 million women have experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16.

It is shocking that 20% of the UK's adult female population endure sexual assault throughout their lives. Or that over a million women are living with domestic abuse every year. The vast majority of these crimes go unreported. According to the figures, more than 80% of victims do not take these incidents to the police.


The violent crime figures need to be a wake-up call to the government. They need to be taken as proof that more must be done to tackle the epidemic of male violence against women and girls.

Since 2010, the government has repeatedly pledged its commitment to supporting survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse, including making great strides in tackling female genital mutilation. The result has been more laws — including Claire's Law which means people can check if their partner has a history of violence, and the criminalisation of forced marriage and coercive control. Then there's Theresa May's much-trailed and controversial domestic violence bill.

But all too often we hear nice words from the government at the same time as their actions slash the safety net for women affected by gender-based violence.

Since 2010, one in six domestic abuse refuges have closed due to lack of funding. Others have been forced to reduce their services. This crisis in refuge provision means that over just one day in 2017, Women's Aid reported that refuges were forced to turn away 94 women and 90 children fleeing domestic abuse.

Changes to the ways domestic abuse refuges access funding will only serve to worsen this crisis. The government plans to remove refuges from the welfare system and leave it up to local authorities to fund them. A survey conducted by Women's Aid found that if this policy goes ahead, 39% of responding refuges would be forced to close down for good, while 13% would have no choice but to reduce bed spaces. The result would mean an estimated 2,058 women and 2,202 children being unable to access life-saving services.

At the same time, there's been a lack of funding for services helping women deal with rape and sexual violence. Late last year a government grant for £600,000 was awarded to four charities tackling sexual abuse. It’s a good gesture, but with 20% of women and girls experiencing this crime, it needs to go much further. Rape crisis services currently have a funding gap of around £10m.

The shockingly high numbers of gender-based violence crimes comes at a time when funding cuts to the police, as raised by Jeremy Corbyn in PMQs this week, is making it harder for forces to deal effectively with sexual and domestic violence. The prime minister has cut 21,000 police officers, and police budgets have been cut by £500m in real terms since 2015. This is on top of a real terms cut of £2.3bn between 2010-2015.

While it's great the government took steps to criminalise coercive control in support of survivors of domestic abuse, the cuts mean forces are not equipped to enforce the law. Just eight out of 43 forces in England and Wales have provided training on coercive control, accounting in part for the low number of prosecutions since the offence was introduced in 2016. In plain terms, cuts to the police are frustrating well-meaning attempts to tackle gender-based violence.

In the past four months, there's rarely been a day when sexual violence hasn't been in the news. Since the Weinstein revelations and the subsequent #MeToo campaign, the scale of sexual violence and abuse committed by men against women in every sector of society has become impossible to ignore.

We've heard stories of women experiencing harassment and assault in every industry, in every education setting, in their homes and on the streets. Indeed, yesterday it was reported that one in five people working in parliament had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment. We have the data proving how much women endure sexual assault, domestic abuse, indecent exposure and rape. We have the data and stories on how women don't feel confident to report these crimes, and so never see justice. 

Now we need to see the government turn those stories and that data into action. We need to see secure funding for services that provide women with a safety net. We need to see secure funding so that the police can pursue violent perpetrators and ensure every woman has justice. We need to see funding so that at every stage, women are supported and feel empowered to report male violence and get the help they need.

This week we celebrated 100 years of partial female suffrage in the UK. It's time for the government to heed those brave women's motto. When it comes to ending gender-based violence, we need deeds — not words.

Sian Norris is a writer and feminist activist. She is currently writer-in-residence at Spike Island. Follow her on Twitter here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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