Violence against women and girls: Protecting women’s human rights and holding the state to account

Report by Nogah Ofer

With Pragna Patel, Sarah Green, Rachel Krys & Radhika Handa

There has never been a more critical time to examine the role of the British State - the police and other parts of law enforcement - and its response to violence against women and girls (VAWG). Is it reasonable to expect the State to adequately protect all women and girls from all forms of gender-based violence? If so, how is that protection to be achieved and what is the role of human rights law in achieving it?

This report has been commissioned by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) and Southall Black Sisters (SBS) to highlight the role of human rights in tackling the day to day operational police failures that women and girls continue to experience when reporting gender-based violence. In the Uk there is a law and Government policy which should protect women and girls but too often these are not implemented, for example when the police fail to take a rape report seriously and do not investigate, leaving the victim and other women at risk. And while we have seen improvements in policing, austerity and other policy measures have widened the gap between aspiration and reality. There are signs that the gains that have been made are being reversed.

  • In 2016 there were 1.2 million female victims of domestic violence1;
  • The number of women killed by a current or ex-partner and other closerelatives remains stubbornly high at two every week2;
  • The continued under-reporting of violence against women means that only 15% of serious sexual offences and 21% of partner abuse incidents are reported to the police3;
  • Under-reporting amongst women in the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and more marginalised communities remains a serious problem. BME women suffer disproportionately from violence, and face multiple barriers to reporting (including heightened forms of shame, stigma, cultural and religious constraints, racism, immigration insecurities and lack of awareness of their rights).
  • More than 100,000 women and girls in the UK are at risk of and living with the consequences of female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so called ‘honour-based’ violence;
  • Inquiries into child sexual abuse repeatedly reveal failures at every level of the State to prevent or protect girls from abuse;
  • Girls in schools in the UK are experiencing high levels of sexual violence and harassment, as alarmingly evidenced by Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee4;
  • Hard won specialist services are closing in the wake of radical changes to commissioning and funding; women and girls are falling through the safety gaps, being turned away from refuges, waiting ever longer for Rape Crisis support. Some of the services which might once have provided support no longer exist or are under threat of closure;
  • Legal aid has shrunk and abused women are often unable to obtain legal advice and representation which has meant that some women find themselves face to face with their perpetrators in courts.It is in this context of continued high levels of violence against women and girls, persistently low levels of conviction and uncertainty about support and advocacy, that women and girls rely on the criminal justice system. It is critical that when they do engage with the criminal process, it operates properly and does not let them down. They need to feel confident that their reports will be taken seriously and that they will be properly protected.

    Full report here