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Women suffer 80% of sexual assaults and rarely report it, UK data shows

by Lin Taylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 18 March 2021 15:33 GMT

A woman casts a shadow as she walks along an alleyway in central London, Britain October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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As Britain moves to make misogyny a hate crime, official data shows women make up 80% of sexual assault victims

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, March 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women make up 80% of sexual assault victims over the age of 16, official data showed on Thursday, as Britain moves towards classifying misogyny as a hate crime in the wake of protests over the murder of Londoner Sarah Everard.

The latest statistics showed little progress in tackling sexual assault, with 773,000 people - 1.8% of adults in England and Wales - experiencing rape, assault by penetration, indecent exposure or unwanted sexual touching in the year to March 2020.

"The number of offences recorded by the police remains well below the number of victims estimated by the survey," said the Office for National Statistics (ONS), with fewer than one in six victims of rape or assault by penetration reporting the crime.

"Under-reporting to the police is particularly acute for sexual offences," it added - an issue that has been raised in recent days by campaigners calling for greater action to tackle male violence against women.

A serving police officer has been charged with the kidnap and murder of 33-year-old Everard, who was abducted as she walked home, and is set to go on trial in October.

The police have also come under fire for dragging women away in handcuffs while dispersing a vigil on Saturday for Everard, which they said breached COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Women's rights campaigners want misogyny to be made a hate crime to help detect and prevent violence against women, and end a culture in which abuse is tolerated, excused and repeated.

An amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was debated on Wednesday in Britain's upper parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords, would require police in England and Wales to record crimes motivated by hatred of someone's sex or gender.

Home Office Minister Susan Williams told parliament that she opposed the amendment as the necessary powers were already in place to require the police to provide such data but said she would ask the police to collect it "on an experimental basis".

"We will ask police forces to identify and record any crimes of violence ... including stalking and harassment, as well as sexual offences where the victim perceives it to have been motivated by a hostility based on their sex," she said.

About a quarter of 43 police constabularies in England and Wales have already made misogyny a hate crime, trialled the policy or are considering implementing it.

Similar protections already exist for race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity and can lead to harsher penalties for those convicted.

"The government has listened to this cross-party and grassroots campaign to make misogyny a hate crime and is now taking the first steps towards making it happen," said lawmaker Stella Creasy, who has campaigned for the reform.

"Recording where crimes are motivated by hatred of women will help us better understand the scale of the problem," she said in a statement.

Related stories:

UK lawmakers mull making misogyny a hate crime amid anger over murder

Why a murder has sparked such anger in Britain over violence against women

Undercover police in bars scorned as 'laughable' plan to keep UK women safe

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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