Some of the key issues
Violence against Women and Girls
Women have a right to live free from violence and the fear of it, and to be treated fairly by our criminal justice system. But women in the UK still face persistent levels of violence. At least 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and between 1 in 8 and 1 in 10 women experience it annually. Less than half of all incidents are reported to the police, but they still receive one domestic violence call every minute in the UK.
Violence against women (VAW) is one of the most persistent forms of gender inequality in our society and while successive governments failed to take sufficient action, it continues to the next generation: 42% of young people say they know girls whose boyfriends have pressured them into sex.
Violence, including sexual violence against women and girls, is still not being treated with the same professionalism as other crimes. Support for women who experience violence very much depends on a woman’s postcode, and is failing to respond to the diverse needs of women. Even before the current austerity measures that have seen funding for violence against women’s services cut, over 1 in 4 local authorities in Britain had no specialised violence against women support services at all.
This in a context where it is estimated that VAW costs not only lives, but around £40 Billion each year.
VAW is a violation of women’s fundamental human rights. The UK Human Rights Act means the government has a duty to protect women and children from violence.
Women in Prisons
Women are more likely than men to go to prison for non-violent offences. Most are serving short sentences which have a devastating effect on their lives, and the lives of their children. Women in prison are five times more likely to have a mental health concerns than women in the general population and 42% of young female offenders have experienced domestic violence.
Research from the New Economics Foundation in 2008 found that for every £1 invested in alternatives to prison for women, £14 worth of social value is generated over a 10 year period for women and their children as well as for victims and society at large.
Women’s Representation in the Justice System
Higher positions within the justice system remain dominated by men – women are still under-represented at senior levels in the judiciary, the police and as prison governors. Our report, Sex and Power 2013: Who Runs Britain found that only 15.6% of High Court Judges are women, and there is just one female Supreme Court Justice.
A greater representation of women, particularly in high level positions, is crucial to create a criminal justice system which is reflective of our diverse society and that responds to specific needs and experiences of women.
What could make a difference?
Violence against women and girls
- The Cross-Government Strategy on Violence Against Women and Girls must be implemented with real commitment from all Government departments and adequate resources.
- Ensuring legal aid reforms don’t limit on the ability of women to access civil protection.
- Specific training aimed at front line staff within the police and the CPS to change attitudes towards rape, and improve initial responses to women and early evidence collection must be rolled out across the country.
- Joint targets for the Crown Prosecution Service and the police should be developed to incentivise them to work together and develop a national strategy towards rape and other serious sexual violence offences.
- A Government commitment to long term funding for violence against women and girls service provision, including a national network of rape crisis centers that is ring fenced in Local authority or Police and Crime Commissioners budgets.
- Ensure the criminal justice system provides women-specific responses to women offending that are not so reliant on prison.
- Ensure that increased reporting of violence is matched by increased resources for support and advocacy.
Helping female offenders
- Implement the recommendations of the Corston Report into women offenders, particularly in relation to community alternatives to custody, the mental health needs of female offenders, women with caring responsibilities and the relationship between female offending and histories of violence and abuse.
- A consistent approach to the needs of female suspects in police custody.
- Long term funding for a national network of women-only support services for women on community sentences and women in and leaving prison.
- Gender-proof all youth violence policy and strategy by encouraging all agencies involved in addressing youth violence to take a gendered approach to understanding needs.
- Review safeguarding procedures in the light of the risks faced by girls who disclose gang related sexual violence.
- Develop a separate and coherent policy for reducing the numbers of foreign national women in prisons.
Creating a representative justice system
- A greater representation of women, particularly in high level positions is crucial to create a criminal justice system which is representative of our diverse society; responsive to the needs of women; and reflective of unique perspectives to issues.
- Methods for promotion and locations for prerequisite training should take into account caring commitments of staff as well as any disadvantage for part-time or flexible workers in assessment methods chosen.
- Use of the genuine occupational qualifications exception in relation to recruitment, training, promotion or transfer under section 7(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act to increase the number of female staff where they are required to undertake particular functions (such as searching within female prisons).
- Promotion of part-time and flexible working and job-sharing options and positive action measures.
- Provision of appropriate avenues for reporting and responding to sex and race discrimination and harassment in the workplace as well as support mechanisms for women who have experienced discriminatory treatment and/or harassment.