Refuge responds to the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill
In response to the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO said:
“The Online Safety Bill offers a welcome opportunity to improve the safety of women and girls online and introduce much needed legislation in a currently underregulated landscape. Whilst this report from the Joint Committee scrutinising the draft Bill shows initial promise, recognising the huge prevalence of online violence against women and girls (VAWG) and domestic abuse perpetuated online, Refuge is disappointed our call for VAWG to be at the centre of the Bill hasn’t fully been reflected. Refuge urges the government to prioritise and explicitly include VAWG on the face of the Bill when it brings the legislation before parliament next year, to compel platforms to protect women and girls.
Refuge have campaigned alongside others across the women’s sector for this Bill to be transformative in addressing online VAWG and echo the committee’s findings that ‘self-regulation of online services has failed’. Our recently published Unsocial Spaces report shows the need for online regulation and how women are continually failed by the lack of existing protections on social media.
Refuge research shows that more than one in three UK women (36%) have experienced online abuse on social media or another online platform, equivalent to 11 million women across the UK. One in six of these women experienced this abuse from a partner or ex-partner, equivalent to almost 2 million women in the UK. Online abuse is twice as common amongst young women with almost 2 in 3 experiencing some form of online abuse so we know this is a growing problem and one which needs swift and robust action to address.
Whilst we are pleased that this report has reflected our research, we can only conclude that the report does not go far enough. Refuge urges the government to go further to protect women and girls when making changes to the Bill, including introducing a requirement for a code of practice on VAWG to directly tackle this issue with rigour.
Refuge is pleased to see one of our recommendations – the introduction of an appeals process for users – included in this report, and we hope that the proposed online safety ombudsman will provide survivors with further options for support when they have exhausted platform reporting processes. We also support the Law Commission’s recommendations to reform the law governing harmful online communications by criminalising cyberflashing and introducing a new harm-based offence.
This report does make steps in the right direction in highlighting some of the many issues women experience online, but we hope the government will be bold and centre VAWG in the Bill to ensure women and girls do not get left unprotected amidst the rise of misogyny online. Refuge stands ready to work with the government to ensure this Bill protects women and girls from online harm and abuse.”
For more information or to arrange an interview contact the press office on email email@example.com
Refuge supports thousands of women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For support with tech abuse visit refugetechsafety.org