3. Make the country safer for women and girls

A woman’s right to live safely and free from violence is a fundamental human right. However, this has been threatened by violence and abuse towards women perpetrated by police officers and the rise of the misogyny, both online and amongst young people.

The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police Service Officer and the crimes by serial rapist police officer, David Carrick, alongside mounting cases of police-perpetrated violence against women and girls, have highlighted the deep-rooted issue of institutional sexism and misogyny in the police and have resulted in a decline of trust and confidence in policing amongst women and girls. 39% of women say that they have either not much or no trust in the police to handle the issue of VAWG1.

In addition, women and girls have experienced an explosion in the rise of online misogyny and misogynistic influencers on social media platforms, whilst perpetrators of VAWG are increasingly using technology to carry out abuse. Refuge’s research found that 1 in 3 UK women (36%) has experienced online abuse or harassment on social media or another online platform2.

Within schools, Relationships and Sex Education (RES) continues to be undervalued and lacks adequate investment, resulting in inconsistent and often poor-quality education. Education has a transformative role to play in tackling the root causes of VAWG, addressing new and emerging forms of domestic abuse that disproportionately impact young people, such as online harms and tech abuse, and ultimately, helping to prevent domestic abuse in the long-term.

We are calling on political parties to:

Root out police abusers and make policing safer for women and girls by:

  • Introducing a presumption in favour of suspending police officers and staff with allegations of domestic abuse and VAWG, whilst under investigation.
  • Tightening vetting processes by reducing the time between initial vetting and revetting, with consequences on police forces for non-compliance.

Take decisive action to ensure the safety of women and girls online by:

  • Improving the response to technology-facilitated abuse by allocating sufficient resources, training and technology to the police to promptly investigate online offences. Training on tech-facilitated abuse should be mandated and led by the expertise of the specialist VAWG sector and rolled out to the wider criminal justice system.
  • Legislating to ensure technology is safe by design and to address the threat that artificial intelligence poses to survivors. Upgrading VAWG Guidance in Online Safety Act to VAWG Code of Practice if uptake proves low/compliance is poor.
  • Adequately funding specialist violence against women and girls’ services which provide support to victims of tech abuse and other forms of online VAWG. This could be achieved via a ‘Tech Tax’, ringfencing 10% of tax income from big tech companies to fund specialist VAWG sector efforts to effectively address online VAWG, or ringfencing fines collected by Ofcom as online safety regulator.
  • Conduct a review of current legislation relevant to tech abuse to consider how the criminal justice system handles tech abuse cases, with a cross-government ministerial group convened to take forward actions.

Refuge, in collaboration with a panel of domestic abuse survivors, is calling for work to prevent domestic abuse by improving Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for all children and young people, including early years, by:

  • Implementing the national rollout of the Whole School Approach to VAWG3 to embed RSE into the curriculum, physical environment, and safeguarding policies of all schools. This should emphasise the need for an intersectional, inclusive, and trauma-informed approach, that centres the voices and needs of children and young people and embeds education on VAWG and gender roles into diverse subject areas within the curriculum.
  • Providing adequate funding, investment in training, resources, and dedicated capacity for delivering RSE and embedding a Whole School Approach to tackling VAWG nationally.
  • Involving the specialist VAWG sector in developing revised statutory guidance and curriculum materials to improve the quality and consistency of education on domestic abuse, including topics such as consent and technology-facilitated abuse.

 


  1. Refuge releases new data revealing low rates of women’s confidence in the police to handle VAWG crimes.
  2. Refuge (2021), Unsocial Spaces.
  3. Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Coalition, 2023, It’s #AboutTime – A Whole School
    Approach to Ending Violence Against Women and Girls.