Local Government Association (LGA) response to the Government’s consultation on the development of the next Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, 26 March 2021

2.1 The Local Government Association welcomes the opportunity to provide a response to the Government’s consultation on the Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy 2021 to 2024. The following submission outlines our key points on behalf of our membership, although local authorities will also look to respond directly to this consultation.

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About the Local Government Association

​​​​​​1.1 The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We work with councils to support, promote and improve local government.

1.2 We are a politically-led, cross party organisation which works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. We aim to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils so they are able to deliver local solutions to national problems.

Local Government Association response

2.1 The Local Government Association welcomes the opportunity to provide a response to the Government’s consultation on the Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy 2021 to 2024. The following submission outlines our key points on behalf of our membership, although local authorities will also look to respond directly to this consultation.

​​​​​​​2.2 The LGA previously responded to the Government’s consultation on 19 February 2021, prior to the terrible news about Sarah Everard and the introduction of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Since then, there has been an overwhelming public response, which has prompted many women and girls to reflect on their own personal experiences of VAWG and raise awareness of this important issue. As the consultation has been re-opened, we would like to take the opportunity to emphasise some additional points about public safety and tackling VAWG issues, which we would like to see addressed. We are mindful that there is an ongoing investigation into Sarah Everard’s case, so we will not remark further on this. We send our condolences to her family.  (The sections highlighted in red are new additions to our previous submission.)

​​​​​​​2.3 Councils are determined to help tackle Violence against Women and Girls, working alongside the police and criminal justice services, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), health and education services, the voluntary and community sector and wider support services, to help ensure women and girls are protected from all forms of abuse. 

2.4 It is right the Government’s strategy (2021 – 2024) should focus on all forms of violence against women and girls, including rape and sexual violence, domestic abuse, forced marriage, so called ‘honour-based’ abuse, female genital mutilation (and other culturally specific forms of abuse), stalking, sharing of personal intimate images without consent and online harassment, which have devastating consequences.

2.5 We welcome the new strategy’s ambition to drive forward improvements in the effort to target perpetrators; to respond to the changing nature of these crimes; and, to place victims and survivors at the heart of the approach. It is particularly important that this call for evidence and the Government’s strategy captures the lived experience of those affected by VAWG, to help improve the response to these crimes.

2.6 Violence against women and girls can affect any person regardless of background, ethnicity, religion, age or gender. Some women and girls will also face additional barriers to support, and we hope this Strategy will also consider the systemic barriers facing Black and minoritised women, migrant women, Deaf and disabled women and LGBTQ+ survivors. Disadvantaged and vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected.

​​​​​​​2.7 There should also be a firewall to separate immigration enforcement from services supporting survivors of gender-based violence and abuse. All women, including migrant women and women with no recourse to public funds, should be able to safely and confidently access domestic abuse support services.

2.8 In line with this Strategy, it is helpful the Government has published a Male Victims’ Position Statement to help clarify and strengthen the response to male victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence, stalking and so-called ‘honour’ based abuse. We would support the development of an updated Male Victims Position Statement, in line with the updated VAWG Strategy.

2.9 The Government has said there will be a complementary Domestic Abuse Strategy published in 2021, alongside the separate legislation on domestic abuse currently progressing through Parliament. While we believe there is a case for having a single VAWG strategy incorporating domestic abuse, the key point is that there must be a co-ordinated whole-systems approach to tackling violence against women and girls embedded across all Government departments and relevant agencies. It would therefore be helpful for all accompanying guidance and strategies to work towards a consistent understanding of violence against women and girls and the agreed steps towards tackling this crime, and important to state that other Government Strategies should align with and complement the VAWG Strategy.

2.10 The forthcoming Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill should be seen as an opportunity to improve the response to VAWG. In particular, this legislation should seek to address public sexual harassment which unfortunately many women and girls have and continue to experience.  We would welcome anything that can be done to encourage more reporting of this type of harmful behaviour, with a view to raising awareness and preventing it from occurring in the future. 

2.11 Action should be taken to improve the number of people prosecuted and convicted for rape and sexual assault cases, fast-tracking these cases through the courts, alongside improved support for survivors.

2.12 The length of sentencing should also be reviewed. In addition, the Government’s end-to-end rape review must tackle head-on the systemic issues preventing women reporting violence and abuse.

2.13 There has been some discussion about whether councils should use their tools and powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to address VAWG issues, particularly harassment or assault that occurs in a public place. We do not think this is the right approach, nor the appropriate use of these powers. Harassment and assault are crimes and the police are best placed to use the appropriate laws to address these issues. It is not helpful to compare VAWG issues with anti-social behaviour. Whilst being a victim of either VAWG or ASB is taken very seriously by councils and the police, the use of fixed penalty notices in the instances of harassment or assault would not be appropriate. Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) identify certain types of behaviour that should not take place in a set locality, for example the high street. We should be sending the message that public harassment or assault should never occur, irrespective of the locality it occurs in. By using a PSPO, it suggests this harmful behaviour might be acceptable outside of a set locality, which is not right.

2.14 There should also be a focus on community level initiatives and communications campaigns that seeks to raise awareness about violence against women and girls and the available support, to ensure those who are seeking help know where to access it. These campaigns should also prompt perpetrators to recognise their own abusive behaviour and seek help to stop it or prevent it escalating. There needs to be a wider societal cultural shift towards preventing abusive and violent behaviour, so that it is ‘everybody’s business’ and not simply a criminal justice response.

2.15 Ultimately, to tackle violence against women and girls, there must be greater investment in early intervention and prevention schemes the helps stop violence from occurring in the first place. Raising awareness in schools is crucial to ensuring that children and young people understand what a healthy relationship is. Youth services are also important to supporting this work. We would welcome a focus on teenage relationships and additional research into some of the emerging forms of online abuse, such as revenge porn or abuse via dating apps.

3. Education is key. National personal, social, health and economic, and relationships and sex education curricula in schools should include actively tackling harmful gender stereotypes (for men and women), including the impact of media online. All young people should learn about domestic and gender-based violence, hate crime and their right to report and right to justice.  Informal group settings, such as youth services, Scout groups or sports clubs could also be good opportunities to share learning and raise awareness of this important issue.

3.1 Currently, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of perpetrator programmes for many violence against women and girls crimes. Further investment and understanding of effective perpetrator interventions is required. There needs to be an integrated approach to identifying and responding perpetrators, to help change their behaviour and address the risks posed by them. This is why we have supported the Call to Action for a strategic approach to perpetrators as part of the VAWG Strategy.

4. Some consideration should also be given to accommodation options for perpetrators. This is an important aspect of helping domestic abuse victims to remain in their own home (if it is safe to do so) and ensuring the perpetrator leaves. This will require a cross-Government approach and we look forward to working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office on this important issue. 

4.1 We have called for learning from Domestic Homicide Reviews to be shared at a national level and the LGA has supported amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill that would give the Domestic Abuse Commissioner greater oversight of this. In particular, we would welcome any update to the Home Office’s key findings published in 2016, which identifies common themes and trends in domestic homicide and recommends how local areas can use this information to prevent domestic abuse. Some consideration should also be given to the resources available for conducting Domestic Homicide Reviews, as we understand the costs of conducting these reviews often fall disproportionately on some partners in the community safety partnership, with little to no contribution from other partners.

4.2 Overall, long-term, sustainable Government funding is needed to help councils and their partners deliver a comprehensive approach to addressing VAWG, which helps to enable planning and the delivery of appropriate and accessible provision. In particular, long-term and sustainable funding for specialist services that can help domestic abuse survivors is vital.

4.3 We are also calling for Government funding for the National Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Centre, which delivers vital work in supporting and protecting victims of FGM in the UK. There needs to be multi-year funding which provides sufficient funding for VAWG services, made available to local commissioners to allow for long-term strategic planning. Whilst it is helpful to receive funding towards these services, one-off grants and short-term funding pots do not provide local commissioners with the ability to plan long-term or provide consistent, comprehensive services.

4.4 We recognise this is the first phase in the Government’s consultation process and welcome the opportunity to feed into future discussions on this important issue. We would also welcome involvement in any discussions which focus on a refreshed National Statement of Expectations, as local authorities are central to these commissioning decisions.

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