Why does violence against women so often go unpunished? – BBC Newsnight

[Music] one woman's death has sparked national soul-searching bearing slogans of support women across the country have taken to the streets and social media to share their own experiences of harassment and violence stories are being followed assaulted and catcalled have poured out [Music] walking is one of the few activities to have been allowed during lockdown and for sarah everard the streets were not a safe public space for some the pandemic has exposed gender inequality part of it is connected with the lockdown actually and the fact that um we know domestic violence has gone up massively under lockdown we have seen more femicide in the last few months than we've seen on average previously and and i think women's position in society has been demoted as a result of the lockdown as well and you know more women are impacted by job losses and i suspect that is part of the picture homicide in this country is mercifully rare and you're actually twice as likely to be murdered if you're a man but there are other forms of violence in which the victims are overwhelmingly female harassment domestic abuse sexual assault including rape but most rape is not solved the majority of rapes are not reported to the police and when they are only a small number are prosecuted in 2019 to 20 more than 55 000 reports of rape were recorded by the police of those just over 2 100 were prosecuted that's around 3 today as london saw further protests and vigils three of the country's most senior justices dismissed a legal challenge against the crown prosecution service by women's groups over its policy on prosecuting serious sexual offences end violence against women said to move away from a merits based approach to one where prosecutors considered what may happen based on past experience of similar cases was unlawful and accounted for the drop that challenge was brought because there has been a really alarming fall in the number of cases of rape prosecuted this is really reflective of general trends across the criminal justice system particularly around sexual offending as has been falls in in all sexual offences essentially what we were saying was that the cps had introduced something called a merits based approach to decision making uh and that the aim of that was really to get away from predictive approach where you you make decisions according to what you think the jury will decide the risk of doing that obviously is that myths and stereotypes which are very very common around sexual violence are likely to be influential rape is part of a spectrum of violence against women as well as rape other forms of violence might include aggressive touching forced viewing of pornography taking and circulating sexual photographs and verbal sexual harassment there are no official statistics on sexual harassment but recent data from a yougov survey of over a thousand women show that 71 percent of women of all ages have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space this includes public transport hospitality venues and online yet over 95 did not report their experience people don't just wake up one day and murder somebody they are taught from an early age that there is a power difference between men and women and that it is okay to use a certain language certain behavior and they progress from catcalling and groping through so if you imagine if that's what you're going to do in public what are you going to do in relationships sort of how do you treat women but to root that out we need a judicial system and a police force that understands all of that and can support survivors when they come forward because too often when women report sort of the and i'm going to use inverted commas the minor things uh like street harassment they're dismissed as women take to the streets in the thousands they are hoping that the government takes note that women walking alone should not feel unsafe deb cohen with our first report tonight well tonight the government moved to provide reassurance to women and girls with a series of measures including doubling the size of the safest streets fund increasing better lighting and cctv we did ask the government to come on they declined joining us now is the doughty street chambers barrister harriet johnson the ceo of sister space nicosia fulani and the uk's government's domestic abuse commissioner nicole jacobs uh as we look for solutions to what we're seeing and i wonder harriet if i can start with you um as a barrister who listens and sees women um coming to her with accounts i'm assuming of shocking crimes i mean do you always feel it's worth them prosecuting what do you tell them well i always feel it's worth prosecuting i can't say sincerely that i think it's always worth women reporting you've just said that only three percent of reported rapes result in a prosecution and i have to say that i and others in my profession i'm seeing a growing body of evidence that police are institutionally misogynist i see rape victims blamed belittled ridiculed and ignored by police officers who were supposed to be supporting them and against that background i find it difficult sincerely in all good conscience to encourage women who've been victims of serious violence to then go to the police and potentially risk being traumatized again the numbers speak for themselves i'm sure the police would um would would question whether that was what was behind it but but just explain what you're seeing in terms of of the response that they're getting then well i've seen i've seen two key problems one is a problem in training and qualification of officers so i've seen officers misreading forensic reports that crucially could have supported a woman's account and provided independent evidence that her account was true which is so crucial in cases like this where very often particularly in terms of sexual violence it's a case of one person's word against another which can make it difficult to prosecute but absolutely does not make it impossible to prosecute but in those cases that independent supporting evidence is really vital and untrained poorly qualified police officers are missing it the second is i see police officers who simply just don't believe women until the person they say has raped them does it again and suddenly their evidence is not only credible but it's vital and those same police officers who told them before that they wouldn't believed are then knocking on their door years later saying we need you to come back and present your evidence again the statistics suggest this is getting worse that the prosecution rates have fallen in five years how would you explain that i mean are we actually regressing it's difficult to say it really is i think um certainly some of the problems that i've outlined with the way that these cases are investigated is a problem it might be a statistical anomaly where because more people are reporting them we're seeing um perhaps greater scrutiny applied than ought to be by an under resourced police force um it might also be a broader societal problem because it's it's important amongst all of this to remember that this this isn't just a problem of policing it's everything from parenting to education to culture to a society that tells men that crying isn't manly but violence is the best prosecution in the world in that society won't succeed if you end up by chance with the jury of 12 people who on some level think that a woman was asking for it negotia can i bring you in uh on that slightly depressing note and i guess we're we're looking for solutions in all this um tell us what sister space does and whether you feel that you're tackling the same questions or the same issues uh as as harriet just laid out for us okay well sister space is a a charity for african and caribbean heritage women and girls affected by domestic and sexual abuse and i've heard some things tonight that concern me because missing from the misogyny is racism which plays a massive part i mean i went to the vigil on saturday with my daughter and some of the sister space colleagues and when we got there just like any other woman mother human being we were really concerned when we heard that sarah went missing we all felt it we all wanted her to return home safely we thought we were going to a vigil that was about all women collectively and we found that that isn't the case i mean we're looking at valerie ford nicole smallman b by henry those are the women who were murdered two of those women only last year had their pictures taken when they were deceased by a police officer where was the outcry where was the outrage yes i mean there were so many things wrong with saturday yes we saw the attacks the police were outrageous they were just aggressive they were grouping up in groups of about 12 and 15 and planning their attack going in dragging the women out now this isn't something i heard or i read i saw it but what i also saw is that it seems that black women who go through domestic abuse or who are missing or are murdered we don't get the same response we don't get the outcry we don't get the the concern we didn't see the public coming out for us and that that was an eye opener for many of us and when we talk about statistics whose statistics who's because nobody's not coming to ask us anything when they make their decisions domestic abuse bill nobody consults us i think they consult baim whatever that is nobody's talking to us so if you're not talking to us how can this be about us right i should say we will be speaking we'll be hearing from police representation a little bit later um in the program just to try and understand uh some of the issues you raised but let me turn to nicole as a newly appointed commissioner who's coming just at this very febrile moment nicole i i wonder if you think that the government has been surprised by the the scale and the strength of the outpouring here um first i just want to underscore what nagozi said i think one of the things as commissioner i've been trying to get at all year is disaggregated data for domestic abuse in other words trying to figure out who um in which groups in which age groups what type of um people from various communities how confident they feel coming to the police and it's something that's very hard to get to and i think it underscores the fact that we really need to look at these intersections between race um and violence against women and girls and i do think that's a really important point to make um i think this year the government has really understood um how particularly lockdown impacts domestic abuse or how much harder it would be if you were subject to domestic abuse to have that combine combined with lockdown so i think there's a heightened awareness in the public in the media and throughout government and there is a lot to do um i just want to go back to a couple of things harriet said because i think your your segment is very much about what can we do and there you know to unpick some of those problems which are tremendous and i don't want to um under uh underplay the the huge amounts of confidence that need to be built back into the criminal justice response to things like rape um sexual violence of any kind and domestic abuse because we we do see really poor performance but we do see some of the the indications of where we need to go in her in her comments in terms of training leadership priority resource and support more um funding for places like sister space because a lot of times you know it's the support that one is given before you even consider approaching the police or reporting crimes and that sits in the domestic abuse services the sexual violence services in the community who've been overwhelmed this year frankly by the demand for their services do you think we'll get i mean i think one thing you you've talked about is specialist courts just talk about that as a solution and whether it's feasible and affordable given the year that we're heading into now well i think it has to be um you know i i've come from um a charity that ran specialist courts or still does um in in westminster and i've seen the difference in how you can configure a multi-agency partnership so that it considers it doesn't bias the court but it's able to present information to the court clearly and it considers the experience of the victim who is the witness in the case and it requires a multi-agency partnership and accountability and equality of partners and it really does um it does produce better outcomes and this is the kind of thing um that i i would like to see us build on there are solutions within government but often what we um what i've seen government do in the last year is first of all it doesn't look at things through that gendered lens through many many different types of programs safer streets um on all sorts of kind of quote unquote serious violent crime um uh innovations and and programs within government so we need to do that and we need to look at the areas of best practice that are working and invest in the leadership and the resource and really drive those and expect those in all areas it is simply that and it would it would be cost effective because you have you know you cut down on delays um you cut down on attrition and the criminal justice system works as it should so we need to see that in the re that approach in the rape review let me go back to negotia if i can um the same question in a way that i began with harriet would you be encouraging women to go forward do you believe in in the system itself do you believe that it can be a solution to um that the violence that you've described and the situation that the women who come to you find themselves in in order for the system to assist us they would first have to see us and then they would have to listen to us and because we're not invited to the table to even speak then i have no confidence that i can send somebody of african heritage to the police to the court system to any of the mainstream services and receive equal help i mean that's just not going to happen and what we're not going to do at sister space is pull the wool over um the women's eyes we're not going to do that we think what needs to happen is training and this training has to be delivered by us because nobody know knows more about us than us and again this pain thing where anybody who isn't white middle class can speak for black women and for every other group that's a problem fame is a discriminatory term that needs to be abandoned and until we are invited to the table as equals because when i look i don't see anybody that looks like me speaks like me or knows anything about my background therefore why would i have confidence in a system even the violence against women and girls the vlog system yeah there's racism well so harriet if i go back to where we started is it the lack of representation within the police forces themselves i mean whether it's about ethnicity or whether i mean when you describe misogyny i would have assumed that there are there are women working in these departments um who are dealing with the victims of sexual violence isn't that happening there are women um dealing with victims of sexual violence and i'm sorry to say that in some of the cases i described to you earlier the people who were in one case mocking uh an account given by a rape victim was a woman i think um ngozi is absolutely right we see still reflected in the police what we see in society which is this notion of the right type of victim she's white she's middle class she behaves in a socially acceptable way she doesn't walk by herself on the street at night and unless a rape victim or any woman who's a victim of any kind of violence fits into that category as things stand in my experience the chances are she won't get the justice that she deserves from the police at the moment

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