Rape Crisis South London, Imkaan and EVAW welcome London Assembly Police and Crime committee report calling on Mayor to step up work to tackle violence against women and girls. Responding to the police and crime committee’s report on how London tackles violence against women and girls (VAWG) we welcome recommendations to:
- Protect and build on London’s network of specialist support services
- Increase the number of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) in London
- Work with the Metropolitan Police to ensure adequate training for police on violence against women and girls
- Increase funding for specialist services for victims of so called ‘honour based’ violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage
In its report on progress in London the police and crime committee asks why, when we are seeing an increase in the numbers of women and girls coming forward to report violent crimes, there isn’t a corresponding increase in successful convictions.
Yvonne Traynor, Chief Executive of Rape Crisis South London who provides specialist services for women across South London said:
“While more women are reporting sexual violence and rape, we are not seeing an increase in the numbers of convictions. This is because women need specialist support while going through the criminal justice system. The committee has called on the Mayor to use his commissioning powers to ensure every woman has an ISVA and we welcome this as we know that they’re vital. But women also need the wrap around care specialist women’s services offer. We have a worrying lack of services for women in London – we’re not able to meet demand now, and without more secure funding we will struggle to support women in the future.
“Recommendations to increase understanding within the police are vital. Every first responder should have specialist training, and support should be available to women throughout.”
The committee makes nine recommendations for the Mayor’s new policing and crime plan to tackle VAWG including investing in Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) to support women, protecting specialist services and improving the response from across the public sector including the police, health services and housing providers.
It is good that the committee recognises the multiple challenges facing the independent women’s voluntary sector in this report. The shortage of affordable housing is an issue facing all Londoners for example, but it is having an acute impact on specialist women’s refuge services who are not able to move women into suitable accommodation when they’re ready to leave the refuge.
Marai Larasi, Executive Director of Imkaan gave evidence of the impact of this blocking up of the system – two in three women are turned away from London’s refuges – twice the national average.
The committee called for better support for women experiencing all forms of violence. Looking at issues such as FGM, forced marriage and so called ‘honour based’ violence, it reminds us that the Mayor committed to “eliminating these unacceptable practices”. But again we should remember that women need specialist services which meet their specific needs.
Marai Larasi continues:
“There are still very few specialist, dedicated services which are focused on meeting the needs of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women and girls experiencing violence. Where you do have local services, they are often struggling to stay open in the face of cuts to local budgets. There can also be a lack of understanding of why such services are needed in the first place. Imkaan is particularly concerned about an increasing tendency to assume that the only forms of violence that BME women and girls experience are FGM, forced marriage and ‘honour’-based violence. While these are critical issues it important to remember that BME girls, women and children also need specialist support around issues such as domestic and sexual violence.
“Although the ‘harmful practices’ pilots at local level have been useful, there are real gaps. We need to see better training to ensure all agencies are equipped to respond appropriately, this should include the police, teachers and health professionals to help them understand these issues, identify them when they happen and intervene to help women and girls.”
This report comes as the Mayor is revising the Police and Crime plan. This plan sets the strategy for Metropolitain Police and is therefore vital in ensuring senior commitment to tackling violence against women and girls.
Sarah Green, Co-Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said:
“It is good to see the committee recognise that that the criminal justice system cannot be the whole answer to violence against women, and that solutions have to be joined up with sustainable specialist services. We will be holding the Mayor to his commitment to tackle this in London, and look forward to contributing to the new police and crime plan, and the broader renewed strategy on violence against women and girls.
“London has been a leader in this area, and is a benchmark for other regions. That is why it’s vital we protect the services which make this work possible, and continue to explore how we can improve outcomes for women and girls”