13:40, September 13 200 0 theguardian.com

2019-09-13 13:40:08
The Guardian view on the rise in domestic killings: figures to shock politicians to act

It has been a terrible week for everyone in the UK who is concerned about shockingly high levels of violence against women. First, the prorogation of parliament meant that a long-awaited domestic abuse bill, placing new statutory duties on councils among other measures, fell. Then Theresa May made the appalling decision to knight the former cricketer Geoffrey Boycott in her resignation honours list. Mr Boycott was once convicted of assaulting a girlfriend, Margaret Moore, by repeatedly punching her. Mrs May, who when she was home secretary won a reputation as someone who took domestic violence seriously, has now sent a signal that hitting women is no bar to the nation’s greatest prizes.

On Thursday, figures from the Crown Prosecution Service revealed that the number of rape prosecutions in England and Wales has fallen by 32% in a year to its lowest level in a decade, despite the number of reports of rape doubling over six years to almost 60,000. Then on Friday came the news that domestic killings of adults in the UK last year reached a five-year high of 173, an increase of 32 on the previous year, with around three-quarters of the victims women.

Such a barrage of headlines can only leave campaigners on these issues downhearted, even if the latest figures do not indicate a trend. It is an indictment of the current government that all the efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence, improve the work done by police and courts, and reduce the bias and stigma that have long characterised official and unofficial attitudes, have not led to progress. But unless we are prepared, as a society, to give up on these victims, there is really no option for all those with an interest in the field – be they campaigners, criminal justice professionals or politicians – but to redouble their efforts at protection and advocacy and increase pressure on ministers.

Labour’s Jess Phillips is among senior MPs who are already working to push violence against women and girls up the agenda. Each year she reads aloud a list of names of those killed by men (a voluntary-sector initiative known as the femicide census) in the House of Commons. Boris Johnson has promised a new domestic abuse bill, but a different government could strengthen it by adding protections for migrant women, and overhauling local-authority outsourcing to avoid the current pattern of deskilling to cut costs. The victims commissioner for England and Wales, Vera Baird, is pushing for stronger representation of victims’ groups on an official “end-to-end review” of the way rape cases are handled. Attention is expected to focus on the rules surrounding the disclosure of evidence, including mobile phone and medical records. Some campaigners want the review to consider alternatives to jury trials for rape cases.

Further light should be shed on what has gone wrong with regard to rape by a legal challenge brought by women’s groups, which alleges a change of policy by prosecutors aimed at avoiding “weak” cases. While this is denied by the CPS, it is not hard to see why years of adverse publicity attached to low conviction rates could have created a disincentive to pursuing what are perceived as difficult cases.

In parallel with official reforms and investigations, broader questions about cultural factors influencing behaviour will continue to be asked. Gender stereotypes, unequal pay and the sexualisation of women and girls are all seen by feminists as being among underlying causes of the persistent inequality that finds its most shocking expression in these latest figures showing the extent of the physical violence suffered by women.