Here’s what’s been done to tackle violence against women and girls over the past year – and what still needs to change
On March 3 last year, 33-year-old Sarah Everard was walking home. On her way back to her flat in Brixton Hill, she was stopped by a serving Metropolitan police officer. The officer handcuffed her, kidnapped her, raped her, then murdered her. Her body was found seven days later.
Grief swelled following Everard’s death. On London’s Clapham Common, hundreds laid flowers and attended a vigil to pay their respects to Everard. When officers at the vigil slammed innocent women onto the concrete and flung them into police vans, sadness quickly hardened into anger. The following evening, thousands gathered outside Scotland Yard to protest against police brutality at the vigil. Sisters Uncut brandished signs reading “abolish the police” outside the Old Bailey during Wayne Couzens’ sentencing in September.
In the year since Everard’s death, at least 125 women have been killed, an increase on the previous two years. The true figure is likely much higher as this total excludes trans women, who are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. Although it felt like Everard’s death was a watershed moment, has anything actually changed?
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it. Last week, MPs voted against making misogyny a hate crime (a decision which “delighted” TERFs, who bristled at the fact the proposed legislation would have also protected trans women). Last month, it was announced that the draft Online Safety Bill was still not doing enough to protect women and girls. On top of that, a snapshot report published on Thursday by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) highlighted that additional funding for street lighting and CCTV, as well as increased police presence in communities, has done “nothing to address the root causes of violence against women and girls (VAWG)”.
The report also notes that the latest ONS crime figures for the 12-month period ending in September 2021 show that sexual offences recorded by the police were the highest on record, with a 12 per cent increase from the same period in 2020. Plus, according to The Young Women’s Justice Project report published on Friday, the majority of women and girls in the criminal justice system are survivors of abuse themselves and are in danger of being re-traumatised in prison.
As Andrea Simon, director of EVAW, puts it: “For a moment last year, it felt as if the government was listening and that there was finally an opportunity for meaningful action to end and prevent violence against women and girls – something our movement has been working towards for generations. Instead, we have seen a series of superficial and short-sighted measures narrowly focused on keeping women safe on the streets, when we know there is a real need to tackle the attitudes that drive men’s violence against women.”
“These measures have been rolled out alongside the erosion of women’s rights via the Policing Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill, planned changes to the Human Rights Act, and other harmful pieces of policy and legislation that will further entrench inequality and leave women with little recourse to justice.”
“Wiolence against women and girls is not inevitable. With courage and bold leadership from those in positions of power, we can end it” – Andrea Simon
The news of Cressida Dick’s resignation was widely welcomed – given the long list of scandals that happened under her watch – but again, it’s unclear whether any real change will come from her resignation. As Sisters Uncut said on Twitter: “Cressida Dick is resigning but she is leaving behind an institution that is rotten to the core. It was Bristol police who beat Jasmine. The Met police who beat women at Clapham Common. The issue has always been institutional, not individual.” Ruth Davison, CEO of domestic violence charity Refuge, echoed their sentiments. “One resignation at the top doesn’t mean the police have solved their misogyny problem,” she said. “The police service in this country needs root and branch reform - as Refuge has repeatedly called for.”
Nevertheless, there have been small glimmers of hope. Hackney council have created an interactive map asking women to highlight spots they find unsafe so they can better understand women’s “concerns, perceptions and experiences”. A group of volunteers in Edinburgh have started Strut Safe, a phone line that women can ring while walking home. Sisters Uncut have launched Copwatch groups across the UK, to train people to intervene in police arrests. The government have also told police to make tackling VAWG as much a priority as tackling terrorism following calls the Victims’ Commissioner, Vera Baird.
Notably, on Tuesday March 1, the Home Office launched their ‘Enough’ campaign, which consists of a short film showing people challenging men who harass, abuse or assault women. Research shows that previous media campaigns have been successful in changing public attitudes and behaviours, and this campaign is a welcome move away from suggestions that blame victims (like the Met’s advice that women should “shout or wave down a bus” if they don’t trust a police officer).
The battle for a less violent and patriarchal society is far from over, but it still continues. “The data paints a bleak picture, but we know that violence against women and girls is not inevitable. With courage and bold leadership from those in positions of power, we can end it,” Simon continues. “What we need to see now is properly funded transformational prevention work - this means comprehensive relationships and sex education in schools, an online safety law that protects women and girls from abuse, and multi-year public campaigns to shift the attitudes that trivialise and normalise this abuse. We also call on government to match its rhetoric on ending VAWG with actions that support all women’s rights – including migrant women, and Black and minoritised women.”