Myths & facts

What is violence against women?

Violence against women is defined by the United Nations as ‘any act of gender-based violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately’.

Violence can take many forms, including

  • domestic violence
  • rape and sexual violence
  • forced marriage and ‘honour’-based violence
  • trafficking and sexual exploitation
  • stalking
  • sexual harassment
  • sexual abuse of girls
  • female genital mutilation

Every year, around three million women in GB experience some kind of violence and many more have suffered violence in the past. The vast majority of the perpetrators of this violence are men. Women need the support of specialised services to help them seek safety, justice and the means to repair the damage that violence causes and move on with their lives.

Myth: Violence against women is rare

Fact: Violence against women is much more common than people think.

Around half of women in England and Wales experience domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking in their lifetime and many experience some form of sexual harassment Due to shame, fear and underreporting, for many forms of violence against women there are no accurate figures, but the Forced Marriage Unit deals with about 300 cases each year – most victims are women – and it is estimated that around 66,000 women in the UK have undergone female genital mutilation.

In total around 3 million women experience an incident of violence each year. Many more have been a victim in the past. The perpetrators are, in the vast majority of cases, male, and known to their female victims. They are often family members, current and ex partners, friends and colleagues.

Myth: Violence against women is just the same as violence against men

Fact: Many men experience violence too, mostly from other men.

However, the prevalence, impact, and consequence of violence against men is very different than violence against women. It tends to be one off incidents, rather than a recurrent pattern of behaviour which is both a cause and a consequence of inequality, as violence against women is. The violence that women experience is most commonly committed by known men – partners, family members, friends, work colleagues. In addition, sexual harassment in public is widespread and contributes to women’s fear of crime and whether they feel safe in public spaces at night. Women are twice as likely as men to be worried about violent crime.

While it is still an issue that the EHRC takes seriously and recognises that male victims need support services too, the impact is different requires a different response from public bodies.

Myth: the Gender Equality Duty outlaws single sex services

Fact: Under the Gender Equality Duty, local authorities and other relevant public bodies will need to examine to what extent their services meet the needs of women and men, and pay due regard to those needs.

Because men and women have very different experiences of domestic violence and sexual assault, public bodies may need to pay particular attention to the needs of women and men who have suffered gender-based violence, and ensure that their policies reflect those different needs. This could mean that the importance of programmes to support victims of rape and domestic violence is be better recognised. This may mean that the seriousness of these crimes is better reflected in funding and priority setting. For example, funding could be increased for Sexual Assault Referral Centres or shelters for victims of domestic violence.

Single-sex services are lawful where there is a clear need to preserve decency or privacy, such as a women’s refuge. However, this is a complex area of law with a number of exemptions. More detail is available in chapter 6 of the Code of Practice on the GED. The introduction of the GED does not change the legal exemptions in the sex discrimination act.

The duty does not mean that single sex services should be cut, or have funding withdrawn, or that any new services should not be funded. Neither does it mean that services should necessarily be provided on the same scale for both men and women. For example, because women make up the majority of victims of domestic violence and rape it will not be appropriate for a local council to fund or provide refuge services on an equal basis for men and for women.