London Mayor unveils refreshed VAWG strategy and announces £18m in new investment to help keep women and girls safe

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A new plan that champions a public health approach to ending violence against women and girls has been unveiled today by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan on a visit to Waltham Forest.

While there the Mayor met a beautician and visited a dry cleaners and library to see first-hand the training and education being delivered to men about VAWG to help them become more active allies.

Cafes, libraries, dry cleaners, pubs, beauticians, gyms and other everyday venues across London are being encouraged to be part of the Mayor’s ‘whole society’ approach to tackling violence against women and girls. The holistic approach will see close to £18m of additional investment from City Hall on specialist services to improve support for victims and survivors, tackle the behaviour of perpetrators and better educate the public on the help they can provide.

The Mayor’s newly refreshed strategy recognises that more robust policing or the threat of the criminal justice system alone cannot prevent violence against women and girls. A more innovative approach is needed – one that seeks to understand the underlying drivers of harassment, abuse or violence against women and girls and brings public sector agencies together with communities to address them.

Sadiq’s new strategy will adopt a public health approach – similar to the one pioneered by the Mayor’s Violence Reduction Unit – to preventing and reducing violence against women and girls. It will:

  • Place a stronger emphasis on partnership working, prevention and education across a wide range of services in London
    Target the behaviour of those who perpetrate abuse and make sure they are the focus for change
  • Invest an additional £17.7m in support services– including a specialised response to support all victims to have equal access to justice and services.
  • Recognise that violence against women and girls often starts with words, and we all have a responsibility to challenge the behaviour that can lead to violence and women feeling unsafe.
  • Take action to rebuild trust and confidence in the police and criminal justice system to ensure victims are supported and empowered to get the justice they deserve

As part of the Mayor’s new plan, local authorities, the NHS, night-time venues, high street shops, Transport for London and the transport industry, universities, the police and the criminal justice system will work more closely with support services tackling VAWG to spot the signs and intervene earlier as part of the Mayor’s whole society approach to effectively tackling violence against women and girls.

High street venues across London, including dry cleaners, beauticians and cafes are being urged to sign up to become information points so that victims of violence or those at risk can be directed to support services safely, quickly and discreetly. Civic settings such as libraries are also being encouraged to become disclosure settings where women and girls can seek specialist help. City Hall will also convene a round table discussion next month with partners to determine how the NHS and wider health sector can better tackle VAWG collectively in the capital.2

Sadiq has today also committed an additional £17.7m on top of a previous £100m to continue the provision of specialist support services across London. This will ensure better help and support for all victims of VAWG including migrant victims and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQ+ and other marginalised groups.

Alongside this, the Mayor’s VRU is investing in a programme to provide intensive training for teachers and staff working with young people in schools through targeted support and mentoring, including guidance on healthy relationships.*

The Mayor has overseen more than £100m in investment in tackling violence against women and girls since he was first elected. This funding is working to save lives, address waiting lists and keep doors open for vital specialist support services for victims. It is also helping to make venues, transport and public spaces in the capital safer for women at night, 1 but it is clear more needs to be done.

Shockingly, a man kills a woman every three days in the UK, with a quarter of women reporting having been a victim of sexual assault, and 71 per cent of all women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space.

The Mayor is adamant that we must not simply respond to male violence against women and girls – we must prevent it. That means focusing on holding the perpetrators of abuse accountable for their actions and for change.

Across London, night-time venues, universities and restaurants are joining the Mayor’s acclaimed ‘have a word’ campaign3 urging men to call out and reject sexism and misogyny, which if left unchecked or unchallenged can lead to abuse and violence towards women and girls. McDonalds, The Roundhouse, Ministry of Sound, the O2, University of Greenwich, and University of London are among leading venues across the capital joining the campaign to push the message that: “Male violence against women and girls starts with words. If you see it happening, have a word with yourself, then your mates” to millions of Londoners after football clubs helped launch the campaign to tackle the appalling attitudes and behaviours that need to change. Partners will help get this message directly to men through messages on mirrors in men’s bathrooms and spaces, encouraging all men to ‘have a word’ with themselves and then their mates.

The ‘have a word’ campaign video has now been viewed more than 14m times, with 65 per cent of the social engagement by men. Since its launch, the campaign has generated global interest and was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Cannes Lion Glass award for change, celebrating culture-shifting creativity. Campaign polling has also shown men who have seen the campaign are more likely to help tackle the issue – 85% of men who have heard of the campaign said they would call out bad behaviour if they saw it.3The campaign complements the campaign running across TfL’s public transport network which aims to send a strong message to offenders that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.

The Mayor is also investing in programmes that are focused on addressing and changing the behaviour of perpetrators of abuse. This includes programmes which deal with the behaviour of those perpetrating domestic abuse, or stalking, as well as launching the first-ever GPS tagging pilot 4 of domestic abuse offenders to quickly identify those who break their license conditions, helping to protect victims and crucially putting the onus on perpetrators to change their behaviour, rather than victims.

The strategy unveiled today also recognises far that too many victims fail to get the justice that they deserve with too many cases falling out of the system before they reach court. The Mayor is clear there must be improvements across all criminal justice services to improve trust and confidence in the policing and prosecution of VAWG. His strategy will therefore see enhanced partnership working with the Met to improve the systems, training of officers – particularly around domestic abuse and rape misconceptions – as well as renewed action to improve the overall culture of policing VAWG to support victims to come forward and ensure they are treated with care respect throughout the criminal justice process in support of better justice outcomes.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said:

“In my manifesto for re-election I pledged to do everything in my power to keep the women and girls in our city safe. I recognised that the approach we had taken on for so long – which focused on support for victims but not the behaviour of offenders – urgently needed to be reviewed.

“That’s why I’m proud to present my refreshed strategy for tackling violence against women and girls which adopts a public health approach to ending the scourge of VAWG on our capital.

“The epidemic of violence is a crisis which should shame us all which is why I’m uniting with partners across London to not only provide support to women and girls but to help educate and inform all Londoners, especially men, about the danger posed by misogynistic attitudes and behaviours.

“As well as record investment in services for victims and survivors, I am also funding initiatives which address the behaviour of those at risk of offending or reoffending to help prevent them turning to violence.

“Change will not happen overnight but I believe that together we can help to stop the men who wish to do women harm and drive forward a lasting change in our society’s culture so that women and girls can finally live their lives free from fear, harassment or abuse.”

Claire Waxman OBE, Victims’ Commissioner for London, said:

“I welcome this ambitious new strategy, which has looked right across society at the myriad ways violence against women and girls can manifest and takes a public health approach to breaking the cycles of abuse and violence.

“It is painfully clear that many women and girls in London have lost confidence in our justice system. I have personally spoken to many women and girls who felt disbelieved and dismissed by the police or unable to find the right support, so I am pleased to see a focus on rebuilding trust and confidence and the exploration of new support measures such as independent legal support for rape victims.

“Any policy relating to victims should be grounded in real, lived experiences and I was pleased to lead a survivor consultation to inform this strategy. This survivor consultation prioritised groups who are too often underrepresented and overlooked, including Black women and those impacted by so-called ‘honour-based’ abuse. These women directly shaped commitments in the strategy, including the development of community touch points to give women more options to safely disclose and access support.”

Martin Griffiths, Clinical Director for Violence Reduction Network NHS London and Consultant Trauma and Vascular Surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust said:

The Mayoral VAWG strategy marks a step change in the understanding and prevention of violence against women and girls in London. The NHS in London is an agent for change, playing a key role in the commissioning of Sexual Assault Referral Services, and services for victims of stalking. Working in partnership to support a public health approach the NHS will ensure that the obligation to build a fairer society for women and girls sits with us all.”

Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, who leads on the Met’s response to violence against women and girls, said:

“I’m grateful for the support of the Mayor and MOPAC as we improve the Met’s response to violence against women and girls (VAWG). This is a huge priority for us. We have set out our own ambitious plans to rebuild trust and to tackle VAWG. The Mayor’s plan will help ensure our improvement activity is subject to rigorous scrutiny but also actively supported. I’m pleased to see the Mayor’s broad focus across health, education, housing, social care and the wider justice system to ensure other agencies actively support this work. City Hall has a crucial role in commissioning victim services and we will be working together, alongside other partners, to make sure victims receive the best support.”

Councillor Jas Athwal, London Councils’ Executive member for Community Safety and Violence against Women and Girls, said:

“To truly make London a safe place for all women and girls we need to take every opportunity to address the deeply damaging issue of violence against women and girls and co-ordinate our efforts across the city.

“London boroughs are key partners in tackling violence against women and girls, especially via prevention and domestic abuse support services. We are committed to working with our local communities and businesses and the Mayor and the Met Police in order to champion, empower and protect women and girls.

“This strategy is a positive framework for joining up our work and focussing energy where it can have the biggest impact. The public health approach and inclusion of tackling perpetrators is particularly welcome.”

Mandy McGregor, Head of Transport Policing and Community Safety, said: “We all need to work together to end the epidemic of violence against women and girls and it’s vital that partners join forces across London. The transport network has an important role to play ensuring all women and girls feel are safe and feel safe in public spaces. We recognise women’s concerns about safety, and are prioritising action to tackle violence against women and girls when travelling in London. We have worked closely with MOPAC and the Night Czar on the development of the strategy and will continue to work with them and partners to end violence against women and girls.”

Grace Williams, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, said:

“A woman is killed at the hands of a man on average every three days in the UK, not to mention the countless others subjected to abuse every day. Every single Londoner has a role to play in ending violence against women and girls, from understanding the services that support survivors to tackling misogyny in all its forms.

“I do not accept that violence against women and girls is inevitable. This public health approach zeros in on the attitudes that make it possible.

“Across the length and breadth of Waltham Forest, I have faith that our residents’ will meet this challenge head on and make violence against women and girls a thing of the past.”

Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, Coordinator, Step Up Migrant Women Campaign, said:

“We welcome the publication of the Mayor’s refreshed VAWG strategy, which recognises the diverse, particular and intersectional needs of victims and survivors in London, including migrant women. This strategy is a step forward in improving the response that women exposed to this form of gender-based abuse urgently need.

“By understanding and recognising the barriers that prevent migrant women from rebuilding their lives free from abuse, the strategy sets out a plan of action to ensure pathways to safety are available for them without discrimination. This plan includes access to tailored support that is best provided by specialist led by and for organisations, and the critical role interpreters play.

“We are particularly pleased to see the Mayor’s aim to establish safe reporting mechanisms and access to support for all victims in London. Furthermore, we welcome the Mayor’s commitment to continuing the advocacy for establishing a firewall. Guaranteeing safe routes for reporting this crime and access support is critical to tackling VAWG and sending a clear message that abusing migrant women is unacceptable in London.”

Lucy, a survivor of domestic abuse, said: “It is really positive to see the direct action the Mayor, Waltham Forest and other places in London are taking to raise awareness and end violence against women and girls. The services available are inclusive, extensive and survivor led. It was these range of services that helped me realise I was in an abusive relationship and to exit it safely. I felt supported and understood and I hope other women feel the same through by using these vital locally led services.”

Aydin Sipaloglu, Head of Libraries at Waltham Forest Council, said:

“Community spaces – like our libraries – are where opinions are formed and attitudes take root. Not only should these venues be a safe space for everyone, they should challenge the underlying drivers of violence against women and girls.

“This strategy shifts the conversation around violence against women and girls as well as removing barriers that prevent survivors from accessing support from our public and charity sector partners.”

“Our libraries represent a safe space for survivors to disclose free of judgement or suspicion, with all our library staff receiving specialist training to ensure survivors are linked into specialist support as quickly as possible.”

Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition: “We welcome the new strategy, which we hope will see commitments translated into action that makes a tangible difference in women and girls’ lives.

“Violence against women is not inevitable and we’re particularly pleased to see the Mayor commit to adopting the principles of the Istanbul Convention, which puts prevention at the heart of all work to end male violence against women. Preventing women and girls from becoming victims in the first place will always be the best way to address this abuse, which is why we welcome long term attention to work with young people in schools and to shifting public attitudes and behaviour through communications work like the Have a word campaign.

“We also welcome the strategy’s commitment to ensuring all victims’ rights and needs are met, including migrant women, where more needs to be done to ensure safe reporting pathways for victims and survivors to report abuse without fear of being detained or removed from the UK.

“Demand for specialist women’s services in London has massively increased as a result of the Covid pandemic and will be significantly impacted by the cost of living crisis. It is therefore vital that this strategy provides sustainable funding for the lifesaving specialist services women rely on, including those run by and for Black and minoritised women, Deaf and disabled and other marginalised survivors of violence and abuse.”

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