Response to Home Office’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy

Published 22 July 2021 | by Jillian Kowalchuk

Safe & the City has been fighting for safer, more inclusive spaces through technology and data-driven design since 2017. We’ve focused our efforts on the most neglected aspects of VAWG in public spaces - street and sexual harassment. Not only is this a part of our Founding story-resulting in the idea of a safety navigation app to tag incidents of street harassment and unsafe locations- but how these technology-enabled insights allow us to work in partnership to prevent it from happening again. Previously surveys were the primary way to capture the scale and impact of the issue, with one recent UN Women UK survey showing 71% of all women have experienced sexual harassment in a public space. This report reflects the gap of what the police know and how they are limited to intervene effectively; ‘...in 2020 the police recorded 219,661 harassment offences. However, ‘There is no reliable national data on the specific context, location or type of harassment that occurs.’

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) covers an array of behaviours from domestic violence, female genital mutilation and sexual assault. However, as highlighted in the report, “Most research focuses on violence perpetrated by men against women in intimate partnerships, or domestic abuse, with fewer studies looking at other forms of violence against women and girls.” With this limited perspective, we’re not seeing the whole picture of the problem and the interconnected locations, people, times and situations where the broader forms of VAWG is experienced.

Safe & the City has over 25,000 citizens using our application across the UK with over 30,000 insights including routes and locations that feel unsafe, and incidents of street harassment ranging from catcalling/commenting to sexual assaults and rape. We work alongside the London Metropolitan Police, Mayor of London, UN Women UK and other partners to inform data-driven responses to trends in particular locations to identify.

While we commend the UK Home Office for rapidly responding to the tragic murder of Sarah Everard the outrage of millions of women and girls who have felt unsafe, unheard and disempowered by existing systems is not easily resolved. We are disappointed to learn that the VAWG call to evidence we submitted for an existing solution was not received. In a GB interview, the Safeguarding Minister decided to build an app “to anonymously report areas where they feel unsafe and identify what about the location made them feel this way.” While little is still known about this app to be created, its costs to taxpayers or the open tender process it went through, we would urge the government not to dismiss existing solutions, like Safe & the City. We would like to understand from the 180,000 submissions what other ideas were reviewed but not considered and why. When we duplicate existing tools to introduce new costs, risks and confusion it takes away from the more significant issue we all want to solve in ending violence against women immediately. We encourage you to call on the government to ask how these submissions were reviewed and find more ways to work with existing organisations and experts to work in partnership to end violence against women in the UK.