In the wake of Sarah Everard’s death, ending violence against women must become a priority

Over the past two weeks, the death of Londoner Sarah Everard has sparked an outpouring of grief and anger over the issue of violence by men against women, and frustration at the lack of progress by the state to ensure the safety of women both on the streets and in their homes.

Statistics not only prove that violence against women occurs with alarming regularity, but that the criminal justice system has been seriously ineffective at protecting and defending victims. According to research on sexual violence conducted by the Ministry of Justice, the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office, approximately 85,000 women a year are raped, with only 5.7% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction for the perpetrator. In 2019-2020, the number of completed rape prosecutions reached a record low, with 2,102 prosecutions reported by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Although it is far more common for women to be sexually abused and assaulted, femicide is also a real and significant problem. The Femicide Census, which was founded eight years ago to provide comprehensive data and information on men’s fatal violence against women, reveals that over a 10-year period between 2009-2018, a woman was murdered every three days. It is a statistic which has remained unchanged over the past 10 years.

As the Femicide Census note in their groundbreaking report, “patterns of male violence are persistent and enduring”. Yet evidence of this systemic problem has been repeatedly minimised and overlooked. Writing in The Guardian, Clarrie O’Callaghan and Karen Ingala Smith explain that femicide is currently unnamed in legislation, which negatively impacts our ability to look for a solution. “In reports on government strategy on violence against women and girls for 2010-2015 and 2016-2020, homicide was barely addressed and femicide was not named,” they write. “In 2016, the killing of women and girls is confined to 2 lines, again only focusing on domestic homicide, ignoring the 35% of women, like Sarah, killed by men outside the family.”

The Femicide Census also highlights the fact that violence against women cuts across all spheres of society, irrespective of age, ethnicity, disability or other background. Even so, government legislation fails to ensure inclusive protection for all women and girls. “If services are not alert to the reality that violence against women occurs across all backgrounds, then they are less likely to identify those at risk,” the census points out. This is especially pressing given that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated a lack of access to services for Black and minoritised women.  

In the wake of recent events, it is clear that meaningful, structural change is needed to tackle violence against women. It cannot be the case that the endemic culture of harassment, abuse and violence against women in the UK only becomes a priority after mainstream coverage of a woman’s tragic disappearance and death. We need action: forward legislation, thorough reviews and on-the-ground policies that directly address issues of VAW, as well as greater and sustained support for victims of sexual assault and harassment.

At the same time, the violence against women and girl’s movement needs to evolve. As EVAW’s board note in an open letter addressed to the white women in the VAWG movement, white women need to recognise that racism is a form of violence against women, and do the work to challenge it by “centring anti-racist principles and actioning anti-racist practices.” You can find out more information about the anti-racism VAWG group and commit to the anti-racism charter here.

Image: Getty/Dan Kitwood