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 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
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
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:
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:
Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said:
Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said:
Natasha Rattu, Executive Director of Karma Nirvana said:
Sophie Mortimer, Revenge Porn Helpline Manager, SWGfL said:
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.