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Statement on Violence against Women to UN conference

United Nations
Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
Ninth session (Vienna, 18 – 20 April 2000)

Statement on Violence against Women
by the UK Delegate, Hugh Marriage OBE
Head of the Criminal Policy Strategy Unit, Home Office


Thank you, distinguished Chairman, for allowing me to address this meeting. Because time is so limited, you can find the detail of what I am to say on two UK Home Office websites: women in the criminal justice system and violence against women (Note 1).

I am going to speak, not about the important work of supporting the women victims of violence, but of the initiatives we are taking in the UK to reduce the number of crimes of violence against women, including murder.

In the UK we have about 60m people – and, each week, two women are killed by their partners or former partners. This is not high by some international comparisons, but it is still horrifying.

The first thing you must do to bring this down is to change the climate of opinion. 30 years ago, when I started in this work, it was quite common for people to play down the significance of violence against women. I remember a senior policeman telling me “You have to recognise that not all murders are equally serious – some are just men killing their wives”.

Contrast that with the statement this year by the UK Deputy Home Secretary “Home should be a place of safety. An act of violence committed in the home is a breach of trust so serious that it should be regarded as an aggravating factor in the criminal justice system” (Note 2).

In other words, in the UK, the climate is changing. Domestic violence against women is no longer being seen as less serious than some other acts of violence. It is moving towards being treated as more serious than other forms of violence because of the breach of trust it represents.

As part of the work to change the climate, we have issued a major Government policy document on violence against women called Living without Fear, following which we have issued Government guidance to the police, criminal justice and health service professionals. We will shortly announce a reform of the law on sexual offences. All of that either is, or will be, available in full on our websites.

We are also investing money to reduce these crimes. The UK Government has a Crime Reduction Programme (Note 3), a £6m part of which is aimed at violence against women.

The programme is evidenced-based. We first use research to identify five key points for actions. We have published that research as What works in reducing domestic violence?.

This research identified three hotspots, three points at which such crimes are especially common.

First, one should be working in schools and youth organisations to change the attitudes of young men and women to sexual consent. You may know the excellent work of the Zero Tolerance Trust in Edinburgh.

The second hotspot is the point of separation. Squabbling couples can live together with relatively little violence for years. But as soon as the woman says that she wishes to separate and end the relationship, we know that she immediately puts herself at exceptionally high risk of sexual and physical violence. We are setting up projects to tackle that.

The third hot-spot is common to almost all forms of crime reduction – preventing repeat victimisation. It is always difficult to try to prevent the first attack, but as soon as we know that a woman is subject to violence, it becomes easier to target resources to prevent it happening on further occasions. We have had successful projects against repeat victimisation for years, but we need more.

The two further points for action are, first, improving our information to the minority ethnic communities in the UK. We have a successful anti-domestic violence campaign, called Break the Chain (Note 4). But it is aimed at the 94% majority white population. We want to reach out to the minority ethnic communities as well.

Finally, we want to improve our evaluation. We have good research in the UK, but we can invest significant amounts of Government expenditure only when we know that an intervention will work and will be cost effective. So we are investing some money in further research to evaluate promising projects to see if they are effective and cost effective.

Mr Chairman, distinguished delegates, thank you for listening. If you wish to take this forward, please visit our websites and send me links to your own: there are already some links to other EU member states. We are also establishing links across the world and expect soon to put up some to Africa, where there is good work in East Africa and South Africa, and also South America. Thank you.

Note 1: 2000 was early days for the internet and the original weblinks are now defunct
Note 2: The Rt Hon Paul Boateng MP
Note 3: The domestic violence element of the Crime Reduction Programme is regarded as one of the more successful
Note 4: No direct web reference to this Break the Chain campaign now exists