The UK is facing a reckoning on gender-based violence. Boris Johnson’s government has ruined its response. The Police are refusing even to register the violence cases and are paralyzed to pursue them. Now the women and girls living in the UK feel unsafe as there is no support from the Police for them. The government directs the Police to keep deaf ears to these lamentations of women.
How worst is the Epidemic of violence against women in the UK?
Women and girls are being subjected to an epidemic of violence that requires a “radical and bold” shift in how authorities in England and Wales tackle crimes that disproportionately affect female victims, a police watchdog has warned. In an interim report, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) calls for councils, schools, health and social care bodies to address the problem, as the police “cannot solve this alone”.
In March, the inspectorate was asked to inspect the effectiveness of police engagement with women and girls. Some recent cases involving violence against women and girls have raised the profile of such offending, including the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard.
A police community support officer in Kent was allegedly killed while out walking her dog; and the murders of the sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in a park in northwest London in June 2020.
According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), between April 2020 and March 2021, 177 women were murdered in England and Wales, compared to 416 men. This means 30% of those killed were women. Of these women, 109 were killed by a man and ten by a female suspect. In 58 cases, there was no known suspect. This means that – where the suspect was known – 92% of women were killed by men in the year ending March 2021. The exact number of women – 177 – was killed between April 2019 and March 2020, compared with 495 men. In Scotland, between 2019-20 and 2020-21, the number of murdered women dropped from 19 to 10, while the number of men killed increased from 47 to 48. In the past year, 17% of all murder victims in Scotland were female. Police records in Scotland do not break down the gender of murder suspects year on year. However, records from the past decade show that there have been 134 cases in which a male suspect killed a female victim. In cases where a suspect was identified, 89% of all female murder victims in Scotland since 2010-11 were killed by a man.
Why do the sexual assaults against women go unreported in the UK?
The most recent data from the ONS shows that 60% of the women killed in England or Wales knew their suspected killer, compared to 44% of male victims. Around a third of the suspects were current or former partners. This is the most common relationship between victim and attacker where one exists. Their partner or ex-partner in Scotland killed over two-fifths of female victims. In England and Wales, 40,572 women were victims of sexual assault in the year ending September 2021, an increase of 13% from the previous year (35,029 offences). This is the highest number of sexual offences ever recorded within 12 months.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, there was a decrease in recorded rape and sexual assault cases against women. This is likely because of lockdown restrictions imposed during the Covid pandemic. Police statistics do not report the gender of the attacker in sexual assault offences. In September 2021, 41,332 women were victims of rape, also the highest annual figure recorded to date. This is an increase of 10% from the previous year (37,502 offences).
The ONS said “notable increases” in the number of reported sexual crimes after Sarah Everard’s disappearance. In the last year, 2,298 rape or attempted rape cases were recorded by the Police in Scotland.
Despite the record increase in the number of offences being reported, the End Violence Against Women Coalition believes the actual total is much higher: “We know that these figures are still just the tip of the iceberg,” says director Andrea Simon. “Many women do not feel able to report [sexual assault] to police, ranging from societal cultures of victim-blaming to myths and stereotypes that impact how survivors are treated.”
How does the Police of Boris Johnson’s government react to this barbaric violence?
In November 2017, Dorset Police launched a missing person investigation to find Gaia. But by then, they had already let her down. In 2015, when she was just 17, Gaia said that she had been raped and wanted to report it to the Police. Gaia did everything she could to bring the man who abused her to justice and prevent other women and girls from being victimized by him. But despite her bravery, the Police decided not to pursue the case. The “alleged perpetrator”, Connor Hayes, was already a known sex offender when Gaia accused him of rape. Dorset police were already aware of his other, primarily underage, victims. But they still decided to drop Gaia’s case. Hayes was eventually convicted for other offences, but he only served a year in prison before he was released to re-offend.
The Police’s failure to prosecute Gaia’s case was crucial in her health challenges, disappearance, and death. The rape crisis centre, National Health Service NHS and social services also failed to support Gaia and help her cope with this injustice. And, not much has changed in the four years since we lost Gaia things have got much worse. Today, women and girls in the UK have even less reason to believe the Police would take the necessary steps to ensure women’s safety and hold those who harm to account.
Sarah Everard’s rape and murder by a police officer in London, followed by scenes of extreme police brutality directed at women at her vigil in Clapham, was a gruesome reminder of what most British women already knew: the Police do not protect them. Sarah’s murder turned the national spotlight on police misogyny and violence in London and other urban centres, but this is not solely an “urban” problem. Police forces are working against women and girls in every corner of the UK. In June 2021, BBC research found that UK police forces had received more than 800 domestic abuse allegations against officers and staff over the previous five years. Just 43 cases – about 5% of the total – were prosecuted. Victims said they did not think the Police properly investigated their complaints. Much of the horror around the Sarah Everard case was because her killer Wayne Couzens was a serving Metropolitan police officer who kidnapped her through a fake arrest. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2021.
The British Police and justice system have arguably never been on the side of sexual assault survivors. In recent years, however, due to a toxic combination of austerity and rising misogyny, they have completely turned against them; they have elevated disbelieving survivors from an art to an actual policy. Now Boris Johnson’s government has announced additional funding for street lighting and CCTV and a pilot scheme to place plainclothes officers in bars and clubs, but these things were already in play for years. Mr Boris Johnson should see other ways to tackle these assaults against women and girls by prioritizing this issue without ruining it.