JULIE ELLIOTT: Decade of service cuts have left women with lack of trust

My thoughts this week have been with the family and friends of Sarah Everard, whose disappearance, kidnap and death has undoubtedly shaken many of us.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 12:00 am
Whilst the culture around how women are treated in society needs to change, so too does the justice system. We need proper investment in services for women, or these numbers will only get worse – and women deserve much better.

Sarah was simply walking home – she was doing what so many of us do every day, walking near to where she lives. Yet she never got home.

The safety and security of women as they go about their daily lives is central to a functioning society, yet a decade of cuts to the police service, to Domestic Abuse services, to legal aid and to services for victims of violence means that victims are not properly supported or protected.

At the same time, prosecutions for rape are at their lowest since these stats were first recorded in 2014.

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According to the ONS, only a third of rapes are reported to the police, and then only less than 4% of those recorded actually result in a prosecution, and half that again ends in a conviction.

Furthermore, according to a YouGov poll, seven out of every ten women have experienced some form of harassment in public, rising to nine out of every 10 young women.

It is also estimated that in 2019, 1.6 million women in England and Wales were victims of domestic abuse, with an increase of instances since lockdown began in March last year.

The levels of violence against women and girls, combined with a decade of cuts to vital services, has left women with a lack of trust in a system that does not support them.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is currently going through Parliament, passing its second reading on Tuesday, could have been an opportunity to put this right.

It was an opportunity to make sure that violence against women and girls was at the centre of the Government’s actions in regard to the justice system – but in fact, it is barely mentioned.

The crown court backlog now exceeds 56,000 cases, and rape and serious sexual violence victims often have to wait years for cases to get to trial.

Then, even when the cases get to trial, 98.5% of rapes don’t lead to a prosecution.

Whilst the culture around how women are treated in society needs to change, so too does the justice system.

We need proper investment in services for women, or these numbers will only get worse – and women deserve much better.