Govt ‘not dealing with violence against women’

The government’s efforts to tackle violence against women are too piecemeal and inadequately funded, a damning new report has said.

An independent assessment by the End Violence Against Women campaign gave the government an overall mark of just two out of ten for the way it tackled the problem.

Half of women will suffer some kind of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking in their lifetime, the campaign claims. In addition, two women a week are killed by their partner, and a quarter of all pregnant women are subject to domestic abuse.

Today’s report says support services for victims are “seriously underfunded” and there is a “postcode lottery” for women needing help. In 1984, there were 68 women-only rape crisis centres or helplines in England and Wales – today there are just 32.

It also says the government’s efforts are too focused on reacting to violence against women, instead of preventing it. It calls for better education on the problem, noting the Department for Education and Skills scored just one out of ten.

Another problem is the emphasis on dealing with domestic violence, rather than the overall issue of violence against women. This includes forced marriage, honour killings, rape and sexual assault, trafficking, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment.

The campaign calls for a more integrated approach to a problem that costs about £23 billion a year in England and Wales, including about £1.4 billion spent in the NHS alone on dealing with the physical and mental scars of violence against women.

It calls on the Department for Communities and Local Government to lead a strategy taking into account gender equality measures, legal support, research, education and training for police and other staff.

Today’s report also demands action to address the lack of convictions for rape – while 33 per cent of all reported rapes resulted in a conviction in 1977, in 2004 this figure had fallen to just 5.3 per cent.

“Some major moves to tackle violence against women – such as reform of the sex offences law and funding the poppy project for trafficked women – have been key government achievements,” said campaign chairwoman professor Liz Kelly.

“But fundamentally the approach remains one of mopping up the problem once it has occurred, rather than working to ensure that women no longer experience violence. How many more women need to die before we see a more strategic approach?”

However, women’s minister Meg Munn said: “The methodology of this report fails to acknowledge the real progress we have made during the past year as a direct result of government departments working together.

“A mark of two out of ten for communities and local government is by no means a realistic reflection of the comprehensive programme of work being carried out by this department.

“This includes building or refurbishing 427 refuges for women, introducing a new performance target for local authorities on domestic violence and working with local authorities to set up a further 165 sanctuary schemes in the coming year to enable victims of domestic violence to stay in their own homes.”