Features | By Luke Lambert

Changing the culture around violence against women

The last year will forever live long in our memories as the year of the pandemic, which took many lives and broke many more. It was also a year where the lens focused on racial injustice with the #BlackLivesMatter movement demanding an end to police brutality and violence towards black people in societies across the world.


It was a year that was branded ‘the worst ever’ by many of us – including the media of the world – but how can we learn from the lessons of the past year and ensure that days of the future are better? Especially since this year, we witnessed yet another call for justice, this time for women.

Here are some alarming statistics to consider:


  • In 2020, the number of female homicide victims in England and Wales reached its highest level since 2006 – up 10 per cent on the previous year.
  • In the year ending March 2020, it was estimated that 4.9 million women had been victims of sexual assault in their lives. This included 1.4 million who had been raped, or had faced attempted rape.
  • Sexual assault was most common among younger women, with about 1 in 10 people aged 16 to 24 having been a victim between 2017 and 2020. One in 40 young women say they had been victims of rape in the same time period.
  • Between April and June in 2020, there were 259,324 separate offences of domestic abuse in the UK – 74 per cent of victims were female.
  • 7 in 10 women consider government action to stop sexual harassment, rape and domestic abuse to be inadequate.
  • 9 in 10 women say that imposing tougher sentencing for sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence would be effective in making the country safer for women and girls.

The murder of Sarah Everard in March and subsequent charge of murder against a Metropolitan Police constable resulted in widespread protests across the country. In May, childcare specialist, Chenise Gregory, was stabbed to death in Harrogate and mother-of-two, Maria Jane Rawlings, was found dead – with the cause of death given as neck compression and possible blunt force head trauma.


City academics are working to increase the understanding of the level of violence against women, with various research projects across the last 12 months outlining the size of the challenge.

Brexit and rising violence against women


In October 2020, a paper titled Gender, Violence and Brexit authored by Professor Sylvia Walby OBE, found that Brexit will likely lead to an increase in violence against women.


Professor Walby, Director of City’s Violence and Society Centre, compared the European Union (EU) and UK strategies to gender violence, highlighting that the EU has a ‘softer’ strategy to gender violence than the UK with policies attempting to reduce the social inequalities that can create violence as opposed to increasing security powers and criminal justice practices.


“Brexit is likely to diminish laws and policies that promote gender equality, equality in the economy more generally, and to harden the UK’s violence and security strategy,” says Professor Walby.

“The consequence of these changes is likely to lead to an increase in gendered violence.”

Long-term impact of trafficking must be considered


The Violence and Society Centre additionally found that the total health, social and economic costs associated with the trafficking of women are almost three times greater than that for men.


The October 2020 report estimated that the total costs associated with trafficking of women is €2,765,284,348, almost three times greater than those for men (€935,244,432). It also found that that only three per cent of the total costs is spent on providing specialist support for trafficking victims (€9,614 per victim) and only one per cent is spent on prevention (€2,059 per victim).


Professor Walby argues that trafficking costs must include long-term effects, or they will fail women, criticising the Home Office who has said there is little difference in the cost to society between those trafficked for labour exploitation and those trafficked for sexual exploitation. Prior analysis by the Violence and Society Centre found that costs associated with trafficking for sexual exploitation compared to labour exploitation were almost €135,000 higher per victim. Of those trafficked for sexual exploitation, the majority were women.


“By not including the long-term consequences for mental and physical health, service-related costs are under-recognised by UK policy makers in the Treasury. So too are the health harms specifically related to sexual violence,” says Professor Walby.

A third of women feeling unsafe at night spells progress…


Following the death of Sarah Everard, data shows that 32 per cent of women in the UK feel unsafe or very unsafe when walking alone in their local area at night.


This was in comparison to 13 per cent of men, with these fears being driven up during the pandemic as many exercise in the evening after they have finished working, often from home. Professor Rory Fitzgerald, Director of the European Social Survey (ESS), based at City found how different the experiences of men and women are when walking alone at night. In all 29 countries included in the ESS, men reported feeling safer than women while walking alone in their local area after dark.


The statistics from 2018/19 showed progress since the survey began in 2002/03, when 52 per cent of women in the UK reported feeling unsafe after dark. But women remain between 2.5 and 5.7 times more likely than men to feel unsafe in almost all countries.


The Home Affairs Committee announced an inquiry into violence against women and girls, working alongside the Domestic Abuse Strategy, while Labour has published a green paper into ending gender based violence.


There is a lot of work to do, but the first step towards change is to acknowledge the problem. It starts with each of us. It is our social responsibility to help where we can.