"Over the last fortnight, vital issues have around women's safety and gender-based violence have come to the forefront, highlighting the urgent need for difficult questions to be asked within government regarding its strategy moving forward.

"Suzy Lamplugh Trust has been working since Suzy's disappearance 35 years ago to reduce the risk of violence and aggression in society through campaigning, education and support. While we have seen progress in some areas, including our campaigns calling for Protection from Harassment Act and stalking legislation, this is the tip of the iceberg. What is urgently needed is a deep-rooted systemic shift in reducing the prevalence of violence against women and girls in society.

"For years, women have chosen the better lit street and held their phone on the way home, things we should not have to do in order to try and stay safe and as we have seen in the devastating event of the past week, this violence against women continues.

"We know, for example, that crimes including sexual violence, domestic abuse, stalking, and harassment are far too often given grossly inadequate sentences and far more needs to be done to recognise and prioritise the risk posed by perpetrators of such crimes and the devastation caused to victims as a result. The numbers of perpetrators convicted for these offences is also unacceptably low. Stalking for example is hugely under reported, under prosecuted and has even lower conviction rates. In 2019/20 the Police and Crime Recorded Outcomes Table reveals that only 3,067 cases were charged with stalking offences (let alone prosecuted or then convicted) compared with data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which estimates that as many as 1.5 million people in England and Wales were stalked in the same period of the same year. An urgent review of the implementation of existing legislation is therefore needed to address the alarming attrition rates for the conviction of crimes that target women.

"A wider review of existing legislation is also needed to establish gaps in addressing public sexual harassment. We know that many unwanted sexual behaviours are not currently criminalised (cat calling, explicit comments and so on) and that existing Acts do not always capture these specific crimes. For example, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 requires a course of conduct so would not capture single incidents of abuse, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 contains a number of higher-level offences but not all unwanted sexual behaviours, and the Public Order Act 1986 does not capture the gendered context of the targeting of women.

"There is an urgent need therefore to review the need for specific legislation to criminalise public sexual harassment. Research by Plan International UK and Our Streets now found that 72% of girls who have experienced harassment said knowing it was a criminal offence would make them more likely to report it to the police; currently 76% have not reported it to the police leaving the full scale of this issue unclear.

"We know from our work on campaigning for legislation to improve safety checks on taxi and private hire vehicle drivers that the government has delayed on many important issues relating to women's safety. Having committed to legislation to that effect, they have reneged on that commitment and only intend to maintain statutory guidance which our research shows is inadequately and inconsistently applied across licensing authorities. We know the majority of victims of driver related crimes are women and this signifies an urgent need to prioritise these issues relating to women in public spaces including transport. 

"In order to achieve the deep-rooted systemic shift needed to reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls in society, a clear legislative framework which particularly protects women in public spaces is needed. This would offer not only legal protection, but sends a clear message that we are willing to challenge the norms which contribute to a culture enabling these crimes."

 

Suky Bhaker, CEO