Yesterday it was announced that Keir Starmer’s plan to improve prosecutions for domestic abuse was working. Prosecutions have increased to 91,000 per year, so that the conviction rate once the offender lands in court is 73%, as opposed to 61% in 2007-8. The Guardian reported that, on the same measure, rape convictions have also improved. Once a case is in the courtroom, the conviction rate is 62.5%, up from 58% in 2007-8. However, the conviction rate for rape from reporting to being found guilty still stays very low, at 6%. And let’s not even get onto sentencing.
Of course, in many ways this is cause for celebration. It shows that the very valuable work being done by Starmer and his team in increasing prosecutions is paying off. Women (and I am going to talk about women victims/survivors and men perpetrators in this post, as that is the majority of cases, this isn’t to silence male victims and survivors) who are reporting domestic abuse are being listened to, and supported, as they press charges. Specialists are in place to ensure that mistakes aren’t made, and that women who falsely withdraw allegations aren’t criminalised. As Starmer says, over the past four years efforts have been made to improve understanding and care, so that women coming forward to report violence are listened to and treated professionally.
And the work of women’s groups is paying off to. For decades we have been working to raise awareness of violence against women, so that when cases are heard in court, women are believed. The work of feminists is succeeding in changing hearts and minds (to some degree – still a long way to go!) when it comes to issues around VAWG. We're getting better at finding guilty men guilty. Women’s groups also deserve praise for creating the support networks that give women the safe space and help they need with coming forward to the police, with reporting the violence committed against them.
In fact, one of the things that makes the devastating cuts to these services even more terrifying is that they may well lead to these successes being reversed. As refuges close, as support services lose their contracts to private companies in it for the money, will the gains we have seen made by Starmer in the last few years start to reverse?
So, as I say, it’s good news that prosecution rates have gone up.
But when we look closer at the numbers, we see that we still have a long way to go.
According to the British Crime Survey (quoted in Guardian), 1.2 million women suffer domestic abuse every year. 91,000 prosecutions therefore make up less than 10% of incidents. When we consider the repeat offending rate of domestic abusers, it's even less. Fewer than 1 in 4 people (men and women) who suffer abuse from their partner report it to the police, and on average, when it comes to physical violence a woman is assaulted 35 times before she goes to the police. In terms of rape and sexual assault, 300,000 women are sexually assaulted every year and around 60,000 are raped (some estimates put this closer to 100,000). 1 in 10 of these incidents are reported, and, as we mentioned, the conviction rate from reporting to guilty stays low at 6%.
Meanwhile, a letter sent to me from Theresa May last June assures me that £28 million has been allocated until 2015 to deal with domestic abuse. A second letter last month from David Cameron’s office confirmed that 87 independent sexual violence advisors have been funded until 2015.
If we round down to 1 million women suffering domestic abuse each year, that’s £7 per woman between 2011-2015. If we accept the 60,000 figure for rape, that’s one ISVA per 690 women.
Another set of numbers caught my attention last week too, with a report that the overall homicide rate decreased last year to 550. I was interested to see how this fitted into the domestic abuse murder rate, which tends to move between 90-104 every year. Luckily for me, and my terrible maths ability, Ally Fogg has written an excellent blog post putting domestic abuse murders in the context of the overall homicide rate.
In it he explains how a confusion in media reporting of the drop in homicides has arisen between the drop in murders by “friends and acquaintances” with domestic abuse murders. As he explains, they’re not the same. I won’t rehash his argument here so please read the post.
Last year, 91 women were murdered by their partners or ex partners. In April this year, NIA reported that 33 women had been murdered in 111 days – an average of one woman every 3.3 days. Yesterday that number had risen to 68, a woman every 3.01 days. This means that if the trend continues, the number of domestic abuse murders will likely be higher than the 91 of last year.
So, going back to the initial numbers in the article. As I say, it’s fantastic news that prosecutions of violence against women and girls have increased. But whilst 1.2 million women suffer domestic abuse each year in the UK, whilst 300,000 are sexually assaulted, whilst 60,000 women are raped and whilst 1 woman is murdered every 3 days – well, prosecution numbers are just one slice of the issue.
The real celebration will be when no more women are subjected to gender-based violence. Alongside the improvements in the criminal justice system, we need to see action in preventing violence against women and girls in the first place. We need to see mandatory sex education for young people around consent and respect. We need to tackle this rape culture that rewards men who harm, and that silences women. And we need to see more, sustained funding for the support sector, so that if a woman is trying to leave a violent relationship, she can go to a safe and secure space. We need an end to these cuts.
91,000 prosecutions aren’t enough when more than 1 million women are abused every year. Both of those numbers are too high for the world we want – the world where violence against women and girls is no more.