Responding to the publication today (6 March) of the Government’s “refreshed” Violence Against Women & Girls Strategy and Action Plan, which includes a complete review of the way the criminal justice system responds to rape, End Violence Against Women Coalition Co-Director Rachel Krys said:
“We are pleased to see that there will be a review of the criminal justice system’s response to rape and sexual offences. Despite a huge increase in the numbers of women reporting rape to the police over the last five years, there has been an alarming recent collapse in the rate of cases being charged.
“Women who report rape can be made to feel it is they who are under investigation and on trial and we need to turn this around. A close examination of every stage of the process is a good place to start. We are keen to work with the Criminal Justice Board as it oversees this review and help ensure that it ultimately increases women’s access to justice.
Regarding the broader ‘VAWG Strategy refresh’, Rachel Krys continued:
“The Government’s longstanding commitment to this cross-departmental strategy is to be commended. We appreciate that it’s based on the evidence of the connection between gender based violence and women’s inequality, and its efforts to ensure there is attention to the different forms of abuse.
“We welcome the commitments in this ‘refresh’ to building quality work with perpetrators of abuse rather than accepting the inevitability of reoffending, and the recognition that health settings are critical places where women may disclose abuse and therefore need to step up on ensuring there’s a good response. We urge health leaders to reach out and work with the specialist women’s support sector to help with this work.
“We are pleased to see new commitments to tackling the emerging forms of online abuse, including ‘cyber flashing’, and urge the Government to push the internet companies hard on their responsibility in this area. We welcome the research on pornography which is known to have a strong influence on young people’s perception of equality and consent. And, we welcome the attention to sexual harassment and developing data and better responses from the workplace to the community.
“EVAW and our members are very disappointed that the VAWG Strategy refresh doesn’t address the urgent situation of migrant women who are facing VAWG. Women and their families, when subject to immigration control, are not entitled to emergency support and may even encounter public services including the police treating them as immigration offenders rather than victims of crime. Women’s organisations have repeatedly highlighted these issues to the Government and a substantial response is overdue.
“We also remain very concerned at the way VAWG victim support services are funded. The refresh includes a continued commitment to the National Statement of Expectations which permits very localised decision-making about the support for precious, community-based women’s support services. While it is a nice theoretical model, our experience is that it can lead to no accountability for the failure to support victims. Rape Crisis Centres, who are experiencing demand for counselling support that they cannot meet, are commonly not funded from these key statutory commissioners. BME women’s organisations, who have deep knowledge and experience of the additional barriers to reporting and help-seeking facing BME women, and which always have the highest levels of self-referrals, have been de-funded and marginalised by this system. It has also led to inadequate funding for interventions on forced marriage and so-called ‘honour-based’ violence. We urge a rethink.
“Given the impact that violence against women and girls has in every community, the vision and long-term commitment in this refreshed strategy is on the right track. We look forward to further development of the whole government response and hope women’s organisations will be involved at every stage.”