The number of women being murdered is at its highest level for more than a decade. Something has to change

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Heloise Wood
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Female homicide rises

New figures from the Office of National Statistics have shown that the number of female murder victims has risen by 10% to the highest level since 2006, with leading charities urging the government to pass long-awaited legislation. 

Domestic abuse can be a hard crime to quantify, given that it mostly takes place behind closed doors. But we can get an indication of how prevalent the problem is from statistics, including the fact that in 2019 more than 4,000 women sought help from Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims. 

And now we have a new statistic which, depressing as it is, could help shed even more light on the problem. The Office for National Statistics has just released data which shows that the number of female homicide victims increased from 220 to 241 in the 12 months to March 2019, an increase of 10%. It’s the second consecutive annual increase, and the highest number for more than a decade, despite the overall number of homicides falling by 5% overall.

The government’s statistics also showed that women were more likely to be killed by a partner or ex-partner with 38% of cases (80 homicides), while men were more likely to be killed by a friend or acquaintance (27%, 105 homicides). Almost half – 99 victims, around 48% – of adult female homicide victims were killed in a domestic homicide, a rise of 12 homicides compared with the previous year.

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The statistics show why it’s more important than ever to pass the long-awaited domestic abuse bill, viewed by many as a landmark opportunity to transform support for victims. The bill includes the first definition of domestic abuse, a proposal to appoint a dedicated commissioner, and a measure to prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts.

Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed the bill would be introduced last September (his predecessor Theresa May had also said she would put the bill on the agenda) but it was dropped the following month when parliament was suspended because of Brexit. Christine Jardine, the MP for Edinburgh West and the Liberal Democrat women and justice spokesperson, told Stylist last year she was “appalled” that the bill had been dropped.

According to Women’s Aid, an estimated 21,084 referrals to all refuges in England were declined in 2017/18, averaging over 400 referrals declined each week. An investigation by The Guardian revealed that local authority spending on refuges for victims fell from £31m in 2010 to £23m in 2017.

Adina Claire, acting co-chief executive of Women’s Aid, said of the ONS statistics: “We are deeply concerned, but sadly unsurprised, that the number of women killed by men has reached a 14 year high. 

“As our latest annual audit revealed, nearly two-thirds of refuge referrals are declined, and many life-saving domestic abuse services across the country are running an area of work with no dedicated funding whatsoever. The stark reality is that, in the absence of sustainable government funding, domestic abuse services are having to turn women and children away. These women and children are then met with the impossible choice of returning to their abuser or facing homelessness.

“The domestic abuse sector remains woefully underfunded. Our research shows that just £393 million per year would deliver the services women and children need. Without this urgently needed funding, we fear the number of women killed by men will remain high or even increase.”

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Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said the figures show the bill must be reintroduced: “These statistics show that violence against women and girls continues to be a scourge on society. 

“The government has a real opportunity to address gender-based violence by ensuring that the domestic abuse bill comes back to parliament as soon as possible. We hope that the government will act quickly to ensure the bill is strengthened, and has a smooth passage into law. We are eagerly awaiting the new statutory duty to fund refuges, which must be backed up with enough funding to ensure that every woman has somewhere safe to go if they need it. 

“No woman fleeing domestic abuse should be turned away from safety. The bill has the ability to transform the response to domestic abuse – and that chance must not be lost. Women’s lives depend on it.”

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