An Epidemic of Violence Against Women in the UK

Recent emerging data highlights that since the outbreak of Covid-19, violence against women and girls, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, has intensified in several countries. Proposed new legislation in England and Wales on domestic violence and abuse—the “Domestic Abuse Bill”—is underpinned by changes to criminal law, specifically the introduction of coercive and controlling behaviour as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015. The new bill commits the British government to four main objectives with, it is claimed, prevention and protection at its heart; but statistics and feedback do not indicate this.

Approximately 85,000 women are raped and over 400,000 are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year. Sexual violence is even more prevalent for younger women as one in three teenage girls has experienced some form of sexual violence from a partner. Coercive control or pressure is used much more frequently by partners than physical force, as 16% of girls have been raped using pressure and coercion and 6% have been raped using physical force.

Young women and girls affected by gangs experience high levels of sexual violence including sexual exploitation, sexual assault, individual rape and multiple perpetrator rape. In 2013, the police recorded at least 1,052 reports of sexual violence in schools, of which 134 were reported as rape. 31% of young women aged 18-24 report having experienced sexual abuse in childhood; 90% are abused by someone they know and 66% are abused by other children or young people under 18. In 2012-2013, 22,654 sexual offences against under-18s were reported to police in England and Wales with four out of five cases involving girls.

Most women in the UK do not have access to a Rape Crisis Centre. Among shocking statistics highlighted in the report are the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates of 1.6 million women experiencing domestic abuse in the 12 months to March 2020, as well as the 153,136 rape and other sexual offences recorded by police, in which the victim was female in 84% of cases.

Solution to the problem of violence against women in the UK

The UK government is seeking to change the law on violence against women, first by emphasising on changing the wording of the law and focusing on nonphysical forms of abuse in the proposed new legislation. This is important as it helps to recognise coercive and controlling behaviour. The removal of “violence” as a key rubric suggests a “watering down” or obfuscation of the serious and gendered nature of DVA. This appears to be evident not only in the removal of “violence” from the title of the bill, but also in the British government’s refusal to synergise the proposed new legislation with its Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.

In recent years, the government has focused on developing Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs). SARCs were set up to improve evidence gathering to assist police investigations, and to provide support and medical care for people who have recently been raped or sexually assaulted. London has three SARCs known as Havens. The Havens provide high-quality victim care and clinical services for those who have suffered recent rape and serious sexual assault. However, it is crucial to note that they do not offer the same service as Rape Crisis Centres (RCCs) – which focus on long-term counselling. The work of the SARCs and RCCs should be viewed as complementary. RCCs are independent and run by voluntary and community sector organisations; they work with female service users who often choose not to report to the police, or who have unresolved issues from historic sexual assaults or childhood sexual abuse.

RCCs support some of the most vulnerable victims, including those struggling with mental health issues and self-harm. While they primarily support women and girls directly affected, they also support family members, partners and other supporters. The SARCs offer crisis intervention with respect to recent sexual assault and work with both female and male service users, though the majority of service users are female.

A phone service to help protect women travelling alone has been described as a “plaster” by critics who say the solution to male violence is not further surveillance of women. The proposed service will allow people to use an app or dial or text 888 to trigger GPS tracking. It will give an expected journey time, with automatic alerts sent to emergency contacts such as friends and family if the person fails to reach home by the given time.

Feedback on the Rules

Among the inspectorate’s recommendations was a call for an “immediate and unequivocal commitment” that the response to violence against women and girls is an “absolute priority” for government, policing, the criminal justice system and public sector partnerships – backed up by funding. Within this, HMICFRS recommends that the Home Office and other government departments should consider proposing a statutory duty on partner agencies to collectively take action to prevent harm caused by violence against women and girls.

The police should make the pursuit of adult perpetrators of violence against women and girls, and the disruption of such offences, a national priority, say inspectors, and structures and funding should be put in place to make sure victims receive tailored and consistent support. Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, Zoë Billingham, said: “We are living during a national epidemic of violence against women and girls.

The prevalence and range of offending and harm is stark and shocking. We are clear that the police have made great progress over the last decade against a backdrop of greater demand, and we want forces to maintain this momentum and build on these improvements. But there is still evidence of inconsistent support for victims and low prosecution rates. Offending against women and girls is deep-rooted and pervasive in our society. Urgent action is needed to uproot and address this and police cannot solve this alone. There must be a seamless approach to preventing and tackling violence against women and girls across the whole system, including education, local authorities, health, social care and those from across the criminal justice system – with all agencies working together.”

Only 5.7% of reported rape cases end in a conviction for the perpetrator. The British government failed to take into account the needs of the victims of domestic violence when imposing their lockdown measures and did not adequately foresee the rise in domestic violence incidents. At least 26 women and girls (with the youngest aged just 2 years old) have been killed in suspected domestic homicides during this period. Sixteen were murdered within the first month, which is three times more than the number of women killed under similar circumstances in the same period in 2019.


The new legislation in the United Kingdom promises a raft of provisions, including improved protection and support for victims, greater focus on bringing perpetrators to justice, and raising awareness about the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families. Changing the wording of the law has done little to address the problem of violence against women in the UK. Even centres built since Johnson took office to help victims have not changed crime rates. Violence escalated during the pandemic and new laws failed to help. There are no strict rules for these crimes; sometimes victims have serious difficulty proving such a crime and there are no laws to expedite a solution. There is also no coordination between relevant organisations.

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