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What is violence against women and girls?

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is any form of violence disproportionately perpetrated by men against women and girls. It is deeply linked to women’s inequality and includes sexual violence, domestic abuse, stalking and harassment, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so-called ‘honour-based’ abuse, exploitation and abuse of women and girls in online spaces.

VAWG has a huge impact on us as individuals and as a society – hindering progress towards gender equality. But while it is an almost universal experience for women and girls everywhere, our experiences of VAWG are not the same – they are shaped by our other identities and characteristics. Women who face other forms of inequality as a result of their race or ethnicity, wealth or social class, religion, sexuality, gender identity, disability, mental health or age are more likely to experience violence and less likely to access justice and support.

Violence against women is a violation of
women’s fundamental human rights:

  • The right to life
  • The right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman and degrading way
  • The right to respect for private and family life (including the right to physical and psychological integrity)
  • The right not to be discriminated against

Women’s rights to be free from violence are set out in a number of international legal standards and agreements, as well as national law in the UK:

A different world is possible

  • We know VAWG is not inevitable, and that by tackling the inequality that underpins it, we can create a world in which women and girls do not become victims in the first place. But solving this issue is not the responsibility of women and girls – it is up to all of us.

  • From the government’s role in creating laws and policies, to our institutional practices shaping norms and beliefs and our individual attitudes and behaviours – ending violence against women and girls is everyone’s business.


  • Acts of violence against women and girls are interconnected and part of a spectrum of violence that is underpinned by inequality, male power and control. Each act reinforces that VAWG is a ‘normal’ experience that is tolerated in society.

  • Men and boys can also be victims of some of these forms of abuse, and it is important that this is challenged and support is available. But this does not mean that this violence isn’t gendered.

Sexual violence

Sex without consent is rape. Consent can only be given by someone who has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. For example, a person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs may not be able to consent to sex or sexual activity. The term sexual assault is used to describe many different forms of sexual violence – any sexual act or activity that took place happened without consent. Read more

  • Only 15%

    of serious sexual offences incidents are reported to the police.

    Almost all girls

    have experienced at least one form of abuse in school.

  • Reports doubled

    of children sexually abusing other children from 2017-2019. 9 in 10 of the alleged abusers were boys and 8 in 10 victims were girls.

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is when a partner, ex-partner, family member or carer engages in a controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading or violent behaviour, including sexual violence.

  • Almost one in three women

    aged 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime.

    1.6 million women and girls

    aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in 2020.

  • Only 21%

    of partner abuse incidents are reported to the police.

‘Honour-based’ abuse, forced marriage and FGM

Honour-based abuse consists of practices used predominantly to control the behaviour of women and girls within families or other social groups in order to protect supposed cultural and religious beliefs, values and social norms in the name of ‘honour’.

  • More than 100,000 women and girls in the UK

    are at risk of and living with the consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage and so called ‘honour-based’ abuse.

  • 2,725 honour-based abuse offences

    were recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021 – an increase of 18% on the previous year. Of these offences, 78 were related to FGM and 125 to
    forced marriage.

Trafficking and exploitation

Trafficking is the transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person across national borders or within a country
for the purpose of exploitation. In adult victims, it entails use of force, coercion, abduction, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability or payments.

  • 12,727 potential victims

    were identified, although the true figure is likely to be far higher. While 23% of of potential victims identified were female, exploitation types are gendered as women and girls form the vast majority of victims of sexual exploitation, in 2021

  • Women and girls may also be exploited for

    labour, criminal activity and other forms of exploitation.

Online abuse

Online abuse includes cyberstalking, sexual harassment, grooming for exploitation or abuse, image-based sexual abuse (so called ‘revenge porn’), rape threats, doxxing of women’s personal information, tech abuse in intimate partnerships, and much more.

  • 1 in 5 women

    have experienced online harassment or abuse.

    Women are 27 times

    more likely than men to receive harassment or abuse online.

  • 46% of women and 50% of Black and minoritised women

    experienced gendered online abuse during the pandemic. 1 in 3 women said online abuse worsened during the pandemic

Stalking and sexual harassment

Stalking is a pattern of persistent and unwanted attention that makes you feel pestered, scared, anxious or harassed. It includes persistent unwanted communication, damaging property, repeatedly following or spying on you and threats. Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual behaviour that makes you feel upset, scared, offended or humiliated, or is meant to make you feel that way. It is a type of sexual violence that can take place in person in public or private places, over electronic devices or in online spaces, by a stranger or someone you know.

97% of women aged 18-24

have experienced some form of harassment in public.


Femicide is a term used to describe the murder of women, usually by men. The vast majority of women who are murdered are killed by a current or former partner, or by someone known to them, rather than a stranger.

A woman is killed by a man every
3 days

2 women
every week

are killed by a current or ex-partner and other close relative.

If you have been affected by violence against women and girls
please click here

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