Refuge responds to the publication of the Online Safety Bill
In response to the publication of the Online Safety Bill, Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO, said:
“Refuge has campaigned tirelessly to help shape this Bill which presented a much-needed and overdue opportunity to improve women and girls’ safety online. Sadly, the Bill as it currently stands is a huge missed opportunity and our calls for VAWG (violence against women and girls) to be focussed at the heart of this Bill have not been heard, which is very disappointing.
Our Unsocial Spaces report published last year showed the scale of abuse being committed against women and girls online and how, for too long, online spaces have been unregulated and unsafe for women and girls, with online abuse continuing to go unchecked. This has a huge impact on the everyday lives of women and girls.
Our research has shown that more than one in three UK women (equivalent to 11 million women) have experienced online abuse or harassment on social media or another online platform, rising to a staggering 62% of young women.
As it stands, Refuge has little confidence that this Bill will offer the necessary protections for women and girls; despite our clear calls, with over 5,000 of Refuge supporters calling for VAWG to be specifically referenced and a dedicated VAWG code of practice to be introduced, this is still missing from the face of the bill.
The focus instead is on particular criminal offences, including the non-consensual sharing of intimate images or so called ‘revenge porn’, stalking and harassment. Whilst recognising the need to tackle these issues is welcome –these are already crimes covered in existing legislation, so this Bill has offered little in the way of new protections.
The criminalisation of cyberflashing in this Bill is welcome and we would like to thank the government for recognising this issue which disproportionately affects women and girls and congratulate our colleagues in the sector who campaigned to make this a reality. There is still a way to go and the new law must go further and be based on non-consent, rather than on the intention behind sending these images, which will be much harder to evidence, however this new law goes some way to ensure regulation online is bought up to speed with flashing laws offline and for that it must be commended.
As the only frontline organisation with a specialist tech abuse team, Refuge can offer valuable insights into the online harms experienced by women and girls, and we stand ready to work with the government to ensure this Bill is as bold and robust as it has the potential to be.”
Notes to Editors
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Refuge’s campaign for violence against women and girls (VAWG) to be specifically referenced in the Bill and for a dedicated VAWG code of practice to be introduced can be found here.
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 real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.
Visit Refuge’s Tech Safety Website at www.refugetechsafety.org for information on tech abuse and to find guidance on how to secure your personal and home devices. For real time automated support Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.