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Dispatches: UK – Promises Won’t End Violence Against Women

Over roughly the last year, more than 107,000 violent crimes against women – like rape and domestic abuse – were prosecuted in the United Kingdom.

This figure may seem high, but it’s far fewer than the actual number of such crimes.  

The Crown Prosecution Service has been under media scrutiny for low levels of prosecutions and convictions for violence against women, so it’s good that it’s bringing a record number of perpetrators to court. The government has taken other steps, such as annual action plans focusing on prevention, services, and justice for survivors.

Women protest at a gathering of the 'One Billion Rising' campaign in central London February 14, 2013. One Billion Rising is a global campaign to call for an end to violence against women and girls.  © 2015 Reuters

But critical gaps remain in the way the UK is tackling violence against women and girls. Over one million women experience domestic abuse in the UK every year. Policy shifts threaten specialist services for survivors, and women from ethnic and religious minorities may be inordinately affected, as Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, noted.

Then there’s the government’s failure to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a ground-breaking European treaty to protect women from violence, which came into force one year ago. Eighteen other European countries have already ratified.  

Though Prime Minister Cameron said ratification would follow the UK’s criminalization of forced marriage, it did not. A recent parliamentary report found that the UK can ratify with minimal legislative changes, and noted that delays threaten its “international reputation as a world leader in combating violence against women and girls.” But in an April letter outlining the Conservative Party’s priorities on the issue, Cameron failed to mention the convention.

It’s a far cry from 2012 when, in a joint statement with then-Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Cameron hailed the convention as “vital” and “not just a piece of paper.”

Ratification would legally bind the UK to the highest standards for prevention, protection, and accountability. That includes meeting practical needs like adequate shelter spaces for survivors and their children. It also ensures protection regardless of victims’ ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or immigration status, and prosecution regardless of where the crime occurs. Cameron pledged that the convention would ensure that British perpetrators abroad would be brought to justice, saying: “Our message must be loud and clear: there must be nowhere to hide.”

So the prime minister and his new government should stop hiding from past promises. The UK should ratify the Istanbul Convention, and soon. The lives of many women and girls are at stake.

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