Campaigners have responded to the government’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy, which is due to be shared by Priti Patel later today.
This year, the outcry over the cases of Sarah Everard and sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry pressured the government to take action in the fight to end violence against women in the UK. A woman is killed every three days at the hands of a man and 97% of us have been sexually harassed in public – real change needs to happen. That’s why Stylist launched A Fearless Future, an initiative calling for a culture-shifting public awareness that gets to the root of the problem.
The Home Office has now committed to launching a multi-million pound communications campaign “with a focus on targeting perpetrators and harmful misogynistic attitudes”, a central demand of our initiative. And today (21 July), Home Secretary Priti Patel will set out the violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy with her plans for keeping women and girls safe.
Patel will announce that a top police officer will be appointed in a new role to tackle violence against women and girls in England and Wales. She said the new policing lead would “drive change” to end “abhorrent abuse and violence” against women and girls.
The proposals also included a commitment to appoint two VAWG Transport Champions, which Patel says will “tackle the problems faced by female passengers on public transport”.
Further plans include a commission of a 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline, the criminalisation of so-called virginity testing and work between the Department for Education and the Office for Students to tackle sexual harassment and abuse in higher education. A £5m ‘safety of women at night’ fund will concentrate on “innovative” projects, such as the widely criticised pilot to put undercover policemen in bars and nightclubs.
Patel has pledged to consider the case for street harassment to become a specific crime. However, instead of creating a street harassment law (called for by campaigners and the government’s own adviser), Patel is “looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law”.
In a statement shared with Stylist, Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK, has responded to the news, saying: “We are very disappointed that the government’s violence against women and girls strategy does not include new legislation to tackle public sexual harassment. Without a new law, millions of girls will be left unprotected.
“However, the government has recognised that this is an urgent issue that needs more attention. We urge the government to quickly deliver its promise to review gaps in the legislation – and then it must commit to a new public sexual harassment law.”
She adds: “Girls as young as 10 are being harassed, followed and touched. It is extraordinary that if a girl is going to school on the train and a man leans against her; presses his body against her, invades her space and whispers obscene comments in her ear, she is not protected by existing laws.
“We need a new, comprehensive public sexual harassment law to make this behaviour a crime and send a clear message that it is not tolerated in our society. No girl should walk home in fear for her safety.”
Shadow home office minister Jess Phillips has accused the government of “dragging their feet” on the matter: “The services and support required to end violence against women and girls cannot run on warm words alone,” she said.
“How are we in a situation where we have better protections for statues than for women? Labour has set out a wealth of proposals to tackle violence against women and girls but the Tories are dragging their feet. The government should step up to the plate and take action rather than more warm words.”
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins is due to make a statement on the strategy on Wednesday evening in the House of Commons.