Tackling violence against women and girls strategy launched

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Home Secretary Priti Patel has today published the government’s new strategy to ensure women and girls are safe everywhere – at home, online and on the streets.

The strategy sets out a clear ambition to increase support for victims and survivors, increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice and to reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls in the long-term.

The actions and commitments announced today mark the start of a radical programme of change in the whole system’s response to these crimes. They will further support the action already being taken to improve the criminal justice response to rape, toughen sentences and protection for victims through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, as well as the recruitment of 20,000 more police officers to make our streets safer.

Following the tragic case of Sarah Everard in March and the subsequent public conversation on the safety of women and girls, the Home Secretary reopened the government’s call for evidence on tackling crimes that disproportionately affect women. The Home Office received an unprecedented 160,000 further responses over two weeks, taking the total to over 180,000 responses which have helped shape the new strategy.

The government will continue to listen to the brave voices of victims, survivors and the public to hear their views and opinions on tackling these crimes, including through the creation a new online tool ‘StreetSafe’.

This platform will build on the Safer Streets Fund and provide women and girls with a way to anonymously and quickly pinpoint areas where they have felt unsafe and say why – be it from a lack of lighting or CCTV or because of the people around them – via a simple online platform. This information will further build local intelligence and be used by Police and Crime Commissioners to work with local authorities and other stakeholders to improve community safety and take more strategic action, including designing out crime. If a crime is being committed people should dial 101 or 999.

While the strategy is focusing on long term change, the government is also taking immediate steps to improve safety for women and girls, focusing on practical action to bolster physical safety in public spaces. This includes:

  • a new national policing lead on violence against women and girls who will report into the Home Secretary-chaired National Policing Board – they will also be the point of contact for every police force to ensure best practice is shared and that progress on improving the response to these crimes is being monitored
  • a review of options to limit use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment in higher education
  • a £5 Million ‘Safety of Women at Night’ Fund, in addition to the £25 million Safer Streets Fund Round 3, that focuses on the prevention of violence against women and girls in public spaces at night, including in the night-time economy – this could include targeting parks and alleyways, and routes from bars, restaurants and nightclubs as we see a return to the night-time economy
  • criminalising virginity testing, which some women and girls are being forced to undergo, to send a clear message that this practice is wholly unacceptable in our society
  • appointing 2 new Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions, to drive forward positive change and tackle the problems faced by female passengers on public transport
  • this follows on from further measures taken this year, including investing an additional £25 million into the Safer Streets Fund focused on increasing the safety of public spaces for all, with a particular focus on areas of concern for women and girls

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

The safety of women and girls across the country, wherever they are, is an absolute priority for me.

It is unacceptable that women and girls are still subject to harassment, abuse, and violence, and I do not accept that violence against women and girls is inevitable.

I am determined to give the police the powers they need to crack down on perpetrators and carry out their duties to protect the public whilst providing victims with the care and support they deserve.

This strategy, shaped by the responses of those who bravely came forward and shared their stories and experiences, will deliver real and lasting change.

Victim support

The strategy will increase support for victims and survivors, ensuring they have access to services appropriate to their needs. These include the following commitments:

  • an additional £1.5 million per annum in vital specialist support services for those from minority groups and to increase our funding for helplines, such as the Revenge Porn Helpline
  • the Ministry of Justice will commission a 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline
  • the Department for Education will develop additional support to help teachers deliver the relationships, sex and health education curriculum effectively and confidently and revise existing guidance
  • the Department for Transport has today announced that Urban Transport Group Chair and Interim West Midlands Combine Authority CEO Laura Shoaf and Transport for West Midlands Interim Managing Director Anne Shaw will be VAWG Transport Champions, working closely with campaign groups, industry and government to identify areas for improvement across the UK’s transport network

Prevention

To prevent these crimes from happening in the first place:

  • the Department for Education will work with the Office for Students to tackle sexual harassment and abuse in higher education (including universities) and will review options to limit use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment in higher education
  • the Department for Transport will tomorrow launch its call for evidence on street design tomorrow, to seek views on how the government’s manual for streets guidance can be updated to help ensure streets are planned with women’s safety at the forefront of any considerations
  • the Home Office will invest in understanding ‘what works’ to prevent violence against women and girls – this will enable us to identify the highest quality, evidence-informed prevention projects. The department will provide £1.5 million in funding for intervention programmes and £1.5 million for evidence building. This will result in high quality, evidence-informed prevention projects, for example which aim to educate and inform children and young people about violence against women and girls, healthy relationships and the consequences of abuse

Pursuing perpetrators

To pursue perpetrators and ensure they are facing the full force of the law:

  • the Home Office will appoint an independent reviewer to undertake a review of the management of registered sex offenders by the police and will provide new investment for the National Crime Agency to develop innovative data capability to identify new methods of identifying serial sex offenders
  • the Home Office will launch a multi-million communications campaign with a focus on targeting perpetrators and harmful misogynistic attitudes, educating young people about healthy relationships and ensuring victims can access support

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said:

I am proud that the United Kingdom is leading the way in combatting violence against women and girls.

We know, however, there is more to do, which is why we have developed positive and ambitious actions that will make a real difference in tackling violence against women and girls.

I would like to thank everyone who came forward and responded to our call for evidence, and organisations that work to tackle these crimes for their continued engagement with the ground-breaking strategy.

The call for evidence acknowledged that sexual harassment in public places is all too common. It is not acceptable that women and girls do not feel safe on our streets as a result of this behaviour. Yet we know that, while there is not a specific offence of street harassment, there are a number of offences in place which do capture the behaviour raised in the call for evidence, depending on the specific circumstances (including offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Public Order Act 1986 and the Sexual Offences Act 2003).

However, the government is committed to ensuring not only that the laws are there, but that they work in practice. For example, we know from the call for evidence that women and girls may not report some forms of public sexual harassment because they do not think that it is criminal behaviour, nor that it will be taken seriously by the police. Our priority must be to ensure that victims know they can report these crimes, and have confidence in the process for doing so.

It is important that the police enforce the law properly and give women the confidence that if they report an incident, it will be dealt with. We are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment could address those. This is a complex area, and it is important that we take the time to ensure that any potential legislation is proportionate and reasonably defined.

Independent Advisor for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls, Nimco Ali said:

Crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls, many of which are disguised under the labels of tradition and cultural practise, such as FGM and virginity testing, have no place in our society.

To address these crimes and tackle violence against women and girls across the board, government and society must look at the whole system.

The strategy aims to do just that, taking action through legislation and education, and I hope will be the foundation on which we can build a safer world for women and girls.

Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said:

No woman should ever be made to feel unsafe on public transport which is why we’ll be working with operators across all modes to address the problems vulnerable passengers face.

I’m delighted that Laura Shoaf and Anne Shaw will be our new VAWG Transport Champions. They bring a wealth of expertise and experience to the role and I look forward to working with them as we help deliver real change on the ground.

Our new call for evidence will also help give us the information we need to help ensure streets are designed so that everyone, especially women, can feel safe and confident using them.

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said:

It is vital that girls and young women feel protected and confident, both inside and outside of school or college.

We are strengthening support for schools and colleges to help them recognise and respond to sexual abuse and recently set up the Report Abuse in Education NSPCC helpline so there is a dedicated route to raise concerns. We will also be working alongside the Children’s Commissioner to tackle online abuse and with the Office for Students to ensure all students feel safe and able to report incidents of sexual harassment and violence.

Natasha Rattu, Executive Director of Karma Nirvana said:

Karma Nirvana are pleased to see the inclusion of tackling virginity testing in the government’s violence against women and girls strategy. We recognise virginity testing to be a form of violence against women and girls, which is in itself, both cause and consequence of gender inequality. This is the first VAWG strategy to acknowledge this harmful practice and we look forward to working closely with the government in this important progressive step.

Sophie Mortimer, Revenge Porn Helpline Manager, SWGfL said:

We welcome the new violence against women and girls strategy and the abuse it addresses. The abuse that women and girls face online is significant. Since it opened in 2015, women account for nearly three quarters of victims reaching out to our Revenge Porn Helpline; a vital service that has now managed over 11,000 cases and removed over 200,000 intimate images. Every day we see the distress and impact that this form of abuse has as 4% of those whom we support express suicidal ideation. The Covid19 pandemic has merely magnified this issue as we’ve received more than a doubling of cases; a rate that shows no sign of slowing.

This strategy will be followed by a dedicated and complementary domestic abuse strategy later this year. The domestic abuse strategy will also be informed by the call for evidence and share the same strategic objectives as this strategy.

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