Following the national outpouring of grief and anger following the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, the government has reopened its consultation which looks at how to deal with systemic violence against women and girls. The consultation ends on Friday.
This week, we have a historic opportunity to do something about entrenched patriarchal violence and improve the lives of ALL women, girls and people who are impacted by it. Join Refinery29 and Level Up, a feminist organisation based in the UK that works to interrupt all forms of gender injustice, in calling on the government to update its violence against women and girls strategy by submitting your response to the consultation.
Level Up has created a tool which simplifies the government form and makes sure it is survivor-centred. Why have they done this? Almost all the government survey questions are focused on reporting crime to the police, or making criminal sentences longer. But if we are serious about ending violence against women, we need to provide survivors with specialist support, safe housing and therapy – and we need to tackle the root causes of violence through education on consent and healthy relationships in schools.
So, by clicking on this link, you'll find a simplified version of the government consultation – it features the questions that allow input on what more can be done, beyond the police and criminal justice system. All of your answers will be fed back directly to the government. There is guidance in green to help you but use your own words – and if you're a survivor, feel free to speak from your heart.
Sarah’s story, like that of every woman behind those statistics, is one of entrenched structural misogyny, sexism and patriarchal violence. The man accused of killing her is a serving police officer. This fact has exposed an uncomfortable truth: the institutions that supposedly protect women are, sometimes, perpetrating the very violence they’re supposed to prevent. We already knew this: in 2019, the body of 12-year-old refugee Shukri Abdi was found in a river in Greater Manchester. We still don't know what happened to her. In June 2020, the bodies of two sisters – Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry – were discovered in a park in Wembley, west London. They had been murdered. Two male police officers were then suspended after they took selfies next to their bodies. A year earlier, the journalist Alexandra Heal revealed that police forces across the country are failing women who report that they are in domestic abuse situations in which the perpetrator is a police officer.
Yet the government’s response to the murder of Sarah Everard has been to give the police more power. At a peaceful vigil held in her honour, officers brutally manhandled and arrested mourning women. What followed this was an attempt to rush through parliament the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which seeks to make this type of protest illegal. The government also decided to take the misguided step of announcing that plain-clothes police officers would be sent into pubs and clubs to 'protect' women.
Something is wrong in this country. Very wrong. We need to talk about prevention, community support, justice and solidarity if we want to support women and girls who experience violence. But in doing so, we must have truly intersectional and inclusive conversations about the safety of women and girls. As Audre Lorde wrote: "I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." This affects all of us.
The problem is that violence against women is normal. It is part of the fabric of our society. Until we live in a world where rape statistics, domestic abuse refuges, 'anti-rape tech' and campaigns calling for better support for the victims of stalking no longer exist, it will remain so.
What is missing in the government’s response is obvious: measures to tackle misogyny at its root, and support for women and girls – the survivors of it. By this we mean ALL people who are at the sharpest end of gender-based violence, including Black and brown women, women with disabilities, transwomen and non-binary people who find themselves on the sharp end of these forces too.
We – Level Up, Refinery29 and a collective of campaigners and expert organisations working in the violence against women and girls sector – are asking you to submit your response to the consultation to call for:
SUPPORT: Survivors need specialist support services and therapy, provided by people who understand their specific needs. For example, services for Black women that are led by Black women. It is the government’s job to give enough money to these services so they can keep supporting anyone who needs them.
SAFETY: Survivors reliant on the visa system need to be supported, not deported. For migrant women, this means access to benefits, safe refuges that won’t turn them over to the home office and immigration advocacy to help them stay in the country.
EDUCATION: Violence is learned. To start tackling the root of violence against women, education on healthy relationships and consent (which includes all sexualities and gender identities) should be mandatory in all schools.
The consultation form will only take you five minutes to fill out and anyone can respond – you can do it here.
It’s urgent and necessary that the government sees that support for these progressive approaches to violence against women and girls – which are backed by experts who have spent decades supporting survivors – are coming from all parts of society, from all of us.
Baljit Banga, executive director at Imkaan said: "Ending violence against women and girls is the responsibility of the state as covered in the Istanbul Convention and CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women). The state must provide sustainable ring-fenced funding to specialist women’s organisations, ensure that specialist VAWG (violence against women and girls) services are removed from the public procurement regime, ensure safe access to support for migrant women without the risk of reporting and detention, and address the broken criminal justice system that denies women access to their rights. Increased policing and surveillance is not the answer. All of the above must be done by addressing structural inequalities for Black and minoritised women present in funding, resourcing, policing, safeguarding and all other aspects that define and dictate political, economic and social life."
Level Up co-director Janey Starling said: "Cops and courts don’t give survivors what they need to be safe – which is why Level Up have built a survey tool that tells the government to centre survivors in their ‘ending violence against women’ strategy. Seven in 10 women are afraid to leave an abusive partner because they’re scared they’ll end up homeless. Funding refuges and safe housing, especially within the context of COVID-19, should be central to the government’s strategy to end violence.
"Any meaningful strategy for ending violence against women and girls must also end the state’s own violence against women. As a start, this means closing Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre for women, and reducing the numbers of women in the prison estate."
Level Up co-director Seyi Falodun-Liburd said: "Specialist services ‘by and for’ survivors should be key to the government’s strategy to end violence against women. For example, services for Black women that are led by Black women. Right now, these services are being forced to turn survivors away because they don’t have enough space or staff to meet the demand. It’s vital that these services are securely funded and resourced so that they can continue to deliver lifesaving frontline services and education, and work as a community to develop the interventions necessary to ultimately end violence against all women and girls.
"The Level Up community will be loud in our demands – and if the government truly wants to end violence against women and girls, they will listen to us."
Rosie Lewis, deputy director at The Angelou Centre said: "It's critical for women to actively participate in the national VAWG Strategy Consultation. We need to make sure our collective voices are heard to direct policy and practice that centres the needs of all women survivors, particularly Black, minoritised and marginalised women. We need a strategy that actively funds specialist services to not only address the impact of violence and abuse but to envision the deep-rooted structural change that is needed in society to end violence against women and girls in our lifetime."