More than 99% of women experience repeated violence, harassment and abuse

The biggest survey of its kind showed that violence against women and girls from birth is a universal experience.

The Victim Focus group conducted a survey of 22,419 women in the UK between November 2020 and March 2021 and discovered that 99.7% of women and girls surveyed had been repeatedly subjected to violence including assaults, harassment and rape.

Only 0.3% of those questioned said they had been subjected to one violent incident or less.

This is higher than any previous statistics, including those from the UN, and comes as rape culture, victim blaming and the prevalence of violence against women took centre stage in the UK press.

The Everyone’s Invited website has received thousands of stories about sexual assaults on students, the death of Sarah Everard, the creation of a database for serial stalkers and abusers similar to the sex offenders’ register has been promised by ministers and the Domestic Abuse Bill has been given royal assent.

Collectively, the report was authored by Dr Jessica Taylor and Jaimi Shrive who run Victim Focus,  a group of professionals who are working to challenge, change and influence the world to treat victims of trauma, abuse and violence with respect.

Director of Victim Focus Dr Jessica Taylor told SWL: “The data we have seen so far has been devastating. We used a new methodology I adapted from an old study in Sweden, which encourages people to explore instances of abuse and violence that they may not have considered before.

“This study will certainly change the way we look at violence against women and girls (VAWG) forever, considering that it shows that our ‘one in five’ and ‘one in ten’ stats often used in VAWG weren’t accurate.

“As an example of what I mean, 87% of 22419 women said they were sexually abused in childhood. That is much higher than any of our estimates have ever been.” 

They found that the participants had experienced at least 808,867 acts of violence since birth with 216,965 physical assaults and 591,642 sexual assaults which meant women living in the UK were subject to at least 37 acts of violence each throughout their lives.

These numbers suggest that everyone would know multiple women and girls personally that have encountered violence.

Many women took to social media when the results of the study came out strongly identifying with the findings. 

One told SWL: “You can tell any girl or woman this statistic that 99.7% of women and girls have experienced multiple incidents of violence, harassment or abuse in their lifetime and they do not question it. 

“They’ll say yes, that makes sense. My mother, my aunt, my sister, my flatmate, my friend, every girl or woman I know has a story to tell. But men seem to be the only ones that are surprised by this. 

“That is a huge part of the problem that we need to address. Everyone needs to talk about this, not just women and girls, but men and boys as well.” 

The poll distinguished between violence experienced before and after the participants’ 18th birthday.

Selected Victim Focus survey findings about violence against women and girls pre and post 18th birthday

The study defined an act of violence as physical assault, physical abuse, sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced pregnancies, forced terminations, sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, rape threats, death threats and digital sexual crime such as being sent unsolicited images of nudity, being forced to watch porn and being forced to look at child abuse imagery.

One statistic that was focused on was that more than half of adult women surveyed have woken up to a partner having sex with them or performing sex acts on them whilst they are asleep and 27% have been subjected to this more than three times.

The vast majority of women who took part did not report any of these violent acts to the police and found perpetrators were mostly male.

The report made recommendations for the police, the criminal justice system, education, government, media, health and medical services, social care and other areas of society.

The findings echo what womens’ charities have seen and the South West Londoner spoke to the Sutton Women’s Centre, a charity run by local women for local women, about their work over the pandemic and the impact of the report.

A spokesperson said: “We are very small and very local but yes we can say it would be any type of woman, any age, any range of profession, any kind of social background, any ethnicity, from anywhere in the world, who have had this experience and we will have worked with them.”

Another said: “It does not surprise me, it does not surprise me at all.

“It is more shocking that it doesn’t shock us.”

Their youngest client was 16 and their oldest client was 84, and the centre has seen a 68% rise in women and girls accessing their services since last April.

Their services include counselling, a group therapy Freedom Programme for sufferers of domestic abuse, a community food bank, English as a second language, art and writing classes.

They currently have 75 women accessing these services but a waiting list of at least 150 and they expect that to grow when lockdown ends.

The full report is titled ‘I thought it was just part of life’ Understanding the Scale of Violence Committed Against Women in the UK Since Birth has been published and sent to all MPs.

It is available to read online for free on the Victim Focus website.

Featured image credit: Mobilus in Mobili via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

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