Social Justice

Exclusive: Women's safety funding 'doesn't scratch the surface' of tackling male violence

The Big Issue can reveal the "vast majority" of a women's safety fund has been spent on personal safety measures, not preventing male violence.

A sign reading "make our streets safe"

Tackling violence against women should focus on the behaviour of men, women's groups say. Image: Tim Dennell/Flickr

Government funding to protect women from violence in the wake of the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa does “not even begin to scratch the surface” of the problem, according to leading women’s rights groups. 

An investigation by The Big Issue has revealed that the majority of funding given to local authorities through the safety of women at night fund focuses on schemes encouraging women to protect themselves from violence instead of preventing men from offending.

“We cannot just rely on work that deals with instances of abuse once it has happened,” said Jane Butler, CEO at Rape Crisis. “We know that to truly end male violence, we need to challenge the harmful attitudes and beliefs that underpin it, so projects and campaigns that target perpetrator behaviour are key. “

Home Office data obtained by The Big Issue shows more than £4.5m was awarded to local councils, police commissioners and other bodies in November.

The fund was launched in July 2021 following the murder of Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer, an event which sparked national calls for action to tackle violence against women. A year on, the killings of 35-year-old Zara Aleena and Hina Bashir, 21, in north-east London, have renewed those calls.

While some successful bids were aimed at stopping male violence against women, the majority focused on changing women’s behaviour instead, including “safety packs”, apps and funding to promote the “Ask for Angela” campaign for reporting harassment in bars and clubs. 

Only three addressed male violence directly and some risked causing more harm to women from marginalised communities, one expert said. 

Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAWC) said it was “disappointing to see the vast majority of the safer streets funding going towards measures which do not even begin to scratch the surface of the transformation needed to meet the scale and persistence of this problem”.

She added that the issue with focusing on measures to increase “women’s ‘personal safety’” is that it “essentially means we are continuing to task women with keeping ourselves safe –  through drink-spiking kits, safety packs and advice which wrongly places the burden on our shoulders to change our behaviour and limit our freedoms in order to stop the male violence committed against us.”

The data seen by The Big Issue also revealed that police and crime commissioners in Northumbria, Northamptonshire, Thames Valley, Southampton, Sussex and North Wales received funding for installing police officers in the night-time economy, despite widespread backlash against the idea of covert policing in nightclubs last year, not least because Everard was killed by a serving officer.

On top of that, data shows that Black people in England and Wales are five times more likely than white people to have force used against them by police, while a report earlier this year from the Independent Office of Police Conduct revealed multiple incidents of sexist, racist, homophobic and ableist behaviour within the Metropolitan Police. 

Simon of the EVAWC said the placement of covert police officers in nightclubs was inappropriate given these circumstances.

“It’s clear that any measures focused on increasing surveillance and police presence in our communities will cause more harm and violence for Black, minority and migrant women as well as many others who are marginalised in society,” Simon said.

Of 82 bids submitted for the fund, 22 were successful. The majority went to police and crime commissioners (10) and councils (10), though The Nelson Trust and Exeter University were also successful bidders.

In total, three bids included schemes involving direct intervention to train or educate perpetrators on acceptable behaviour, while four included education programmes for schools on positive relationships and acceptable behaviour. 

Documents published separately by the Sussex Police and Crime panel show, for instance, that funding was partially spent on healthy relationships training for children aged 12 to 13 in the area.

These sessions aimed at “identifying what healthy relationships look like, understanding coercive and controlling behaviour and addressing toxic masculinity and misogyny,” the document says. 

Jane Butler, CEO at Rape Crisis, said she welcomed funding of interventions to tackle unhealthy attitudes and behaviours. 

“Many Police and Crime Commissioners have worked  with specialist victim organisations like Rape Crisis Centres to develop campaigns that address the needs of the local community whether that be training for venue staff on sexual harassment, awareness and bystander training, training for frontline police or outreach work. It is encouraging to see much of this work funded here,” she said.

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She added, however, that a strategic, joined-up approach which focuses on “violent men” as the root cause of violence against women was missing from the funding round. 

“We cannot just rely on work that deals with instances of abuse once it has happened. We know that to truly end male violence, we need to challenge the harmful attitudes and beliefs that underpin it; so projects and campaigns that target perpetrator behaviour is key,” she said.

“It’s encouraging to see this identified in some of the projects funded by the Home Office and see some PCCs are undertaking this work, but for this to be effective we need to see a strategic and coordinated approach.”

MP Jess Phillips MP, shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, also welcomed some of the interventions, but said more stringent action was needed to tackle violence against women and girls.

“Any government action to tackle violence against women and girls is welcome, but there is so much more to be done,” she told The Big Issue. “Labour has been calling for a serial domestic abuse perpetrators register for years, but the government have opposed it at every turn.

“This is a policy that would save lives, and it is shameful that ministers won’t just listen and bring it forward. Women and girls need more than pilots and piecemeal steps.”

Several other bids included reference to “communication campaigns” or “awareness-raising” campaigns around behaviours without giving further details.

Four bids included training or education sessions aimed at women, while four included safety apps, three included safety packs or “toolkits” for women, and two included anti-spiking kits for women. 

Eight bids also received funding for “safe spaces” for women in the night-time economy.

The need for greater education around men’s behaviour towards women has been highlighted in recent weeks by reality show Love Island, which has drawn complaints about the behaviour of male contestants. 

Charity Women’s Aid approached ITV after observing dozens of complaints from viewers online about coercive and controlling behaviour by the men.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of projects funded through the Safety of Women at Night Fund involves tackling the behaviour of perpetrators. 

“Our cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy targets this behaviour, such as the ‘Enough’ communication campaign, which focuses on targeting perpetrators and changing harmful misogynistic attitudes, piloting the StreetSafe tool which enables the public to anonymously report areas where they feel unsafe and strengthening measures against perpetrators through the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act”.  

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