The government opened a consultation into the proposed Victims Bill which aims to build on the Victims Code. The consultation ran from 9th December 2021 and closed on 3rd February 2022, it covered a vast array of topics for victims and I chose to concentrate on what I think are some of the needs for female victims of male violence within the Bill.
Below is my emailed submission to the Victims Bill Consultation (it is slightly amended because every time I re-read my work I edit myself – my sentence structures are shoddy, but the content has not been altered). It certainly isn’t perfect and I am know I have missed points, but I simply don’t have the time to do this as much justice as I would like. Nonetheless here it is.
Response to the Victims Bill Consultation
Dr Shonagh Dillon LLB, DCrimJ – CEO Aurora New Dawn
I write this statement as a response to the aims of the Victim’s Bill which I readily welcome. I refer you to the submissions from Woman’s Aid Federation England (WAFE), End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), and Safelives for more detailed responses to each question. The response of the aforementioned umbrella bodies is particularly important in relation to the intersecting needs of black and minoritised and migrant women, and deaf and disabled women. In addition, it is important to note the need for community services to be prioritised alongside accommodation-based services for victims. I have not duplicated their responses and largely support their inputs to the consultation.
The response I detail below raises specific concerns for female victims of male violence and it is those issues I wish to focus on, particularly in regard to the need to ensure clear language and responses for female victims within the code. My response combines my academic knowledge through my doctoral research, with nearly three decades of practitioner experience on the frontline in the male violence against women sector.
For clarity the research I undertook addressed the silencing of feminist discourse in relation to the clash between transgender rights and women’s sex-based rights and the impact this issue and debate has had on the male violence against women sector. I interviewed 31 participants from both sides of the debate and combined this with online ethnographic research from the social media platform Twitter.
The aspect of applying the code needs to be transparent and quantifiable for female victim’s needs. The government should make clear to agencies providing services and equally the local authorities, PCCs and politicians funding and driving strategies, of the necessity for a compulsory model of single sex spaces for female victims of male violence in their localities. This does not mean that adequate provision cannot be made for other minority groups, but the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence, domestic abuse and stalking are women, and there is a plethora of research evidencing the need for single sex provision to be protected. As a practitioner I know that women are consistently requesting and supporting women only provision after experiencing male violence.
My research evidenced commissioners and funders pushing and, in some cases, enforcing the gender neutral/trans inclusive model onto specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence providers, acting ahead of, and against, any legal change of gender reform. Ultimately what this means for female victims, in its practical application, is that in some areas women who have been subjected to rape or domestic abuse are, against their wishes, expected by providers to use mixed sex spaces. This denies the reality of tailored support and enforces an ideology onto women who are subsequently ‘educated’ to agree with gender identity ideology and forced to accept the men in their spaces are women. Not only is this deeply traumatising for any woman who wants female only spaces to heal from male violence, but it is a direct discrimination to women with religious beliefs who will categorically not be able to access spaces that are mixed sex. Women are therefore put at great risk.
I have recently undertaken an interview with Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal which explains this issue in detail. In addition, I also recently ran a focus group with Muslim women (as yet unpublished), all the women in the focus group stated they simply would not enter a mixed sex space if they were fleeing domestic abuse, which, if none were made available for them, I understand would amount to a direct discrimination of their protected characteristic of religion and belief.
Gender v Sex
The victim’s code must use the correct language and refrain from consistently confusing the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. For example – the MOJ’s statement on 1st April 2021 stated:
“Victims of rape and sexual violence can choose sex of police interviewer.”
However, the language used within the 2020 document states:
“If you are a victim of sexual violence, gender-based violence or domestic abuse, you have the Right to request that the police officer conducting the interview is of a gender of your choice.”
It is imperative the Victims Bill allows the preference of sex of a police officer and indeed any professional connected with the victim’s journey, including professionals within Sexual Assault Referral Centres – I refer to the evidence of the need for female victims to assert this right throughout my statement. What is essential for the government to understand, is that by replacing the word ‘sex’ with ‘gender’, victims will not have the right to state the preference of the sex of the professional supporting them throughout their journey after being subjected to rape or domestic abuse.
As evidenced in my research – a similar debate occurred in Scotland recently:
“More recently in Scotland an amendment was requested to The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Bill, which sets out what victims can expect after they have been raped (Scottish Government, 2020). The policy was written using the word ‘gender’ instead of ‘sex’ and many female victims of rape contested the wording, asserting their right to request a female examiner (HEAL, 2020). The Labour MSP Johann Lamont lodged amendment 28 at the Scottish parliamentary debate, asking for a six-word amendment: “for the word ‘gender’ substitute ‘sex’” (Lamont, 2020a; Scottish Parliament, 2020, pp. 82-84), and the bill passed (Scottish Parliament, 2020, p. 94). However, Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) opposed the amendment, one of their stated reasons was a lack of female forensic examiners (HEAL, 2020; Rhodes, 2020), but as Lamont (2020) stated in the debate, the wording of the bill is a different argument (Lamont, 2020b; Scottish Parliament, 2020, p. 84). The reasoning of RCS in opposing the amendment was made clearer when informing a group of rape survivors that they apply gender across all their services “in principle and in practice — in relation to any male who makes a verbal declaration of identifying as a woman, requiring no transition of any kind, whether medical or social” (HEAL, 2020).“
The government must be clear what they mean between the terminology ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. There is simply no reason, particularly in the current climate, to be unaware that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ have different meanings or that it is ‘sex’ not ‘gender’ that is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. To confuse this issue not only makes it harder for female victims to request the support they desire in their journey, but it also enables the agenda of trans rights activists to enforce policies that benefit their preferred ideology into systems and practices. In essence this reduces the voice of female victims rather than enhances it.
To adequately provide trauma-informed services and responses for female victim’s, services must consistently provide single sex provision as an option. This is one of the most basic trauma-informed requirements that needs to be met for women who have been subjected to male violence. Single sex exceptions enshrined in the Schedule 3 part 7 and Schedule 9 part 2 of the Equality Act are essential protections. My view is that they establish an understanding in law that recognises the presence of a man for a woman who has been subjected to male violence could be incredibly traumatising, moreover it is a proportionate means of a legitimate aim to use the exceptions, otherwise it could make the service less effective, or result in women self-selecting out of support services. I refer you to the detailed article by Karen Ingala Smith evidencing the priority need for women of this requirement.
This requirement should be referenced throughout the documentation within the Code and the Bill for female victims. The Bill should also honour the announcement from government stating the code would allow for victims to specify the sex of their police officer.
The Equal Treatment Bench Book has recently been updated to recognise that victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence should not be compelled to use the preferred pronouns of the offender. As I referenced in my research:
“The case of Karen White is a good example of where these policies lead us. It is viewed by feminists as highly dangerous and offensive when rapists like White declare they are women, their crimes are recorded and reported as female crimes (Hellen, 2019; IPSO Guidance, 2016). Subsequently, at the point they are brought to justice, the courts and judiciary will insist a male rapist is referred to as ‘she’ during the legal process, including by his victim (Judicial Institute for Scotland, 2019; Judicial College, 2018). This policy, supported by only 12% of the British public (Biggs, 2020; Populus, 2018), played out at White’s trial when the prosecutor reported: “Her penis was erect and sticking out the top of her trousers” (Biggs, 2020). One could argue this amounts to a mandate for gaslighting rape victims, hearing all court officials referring to the man who raped them as ‘she’; and further, that being forced to use this language constitutes a state-sanctioned abusive act, prioritising pronouns over the rights of female victims (Newman, 2020). Yet these are obvious outcomes which flow from an acceptance of the mantra ‘transwomen are women’. Redefining the word woman removes the biological weapon used by the perpetrator, and by referring to a male rapist as ‘she’, these policies directly oppose the language of the law which in rape is defined as “A person (A) commits an offence if: he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis” (Trans Crime UK, 2019; Public Accountability and Inclusion Directorate, 2014; Sexual Offences Act, 2003, Part 1).”
Although I welcome the updated version of the ETBB which states:
“There may be situations where the rights of a witness to refer to a trans person by pronouns matching their gender assigned at birth, or to otherwise reveal a person’s trans status, clash with the trans person’s right to privacy….Why the witness is unwilling or unable to give evidence in a way which maintains the trans person’s privacy. For example, a victim of domestic abuse or sexual violence at the hands of a trans person may understandably describe the alleged perpetrator and use pronouns consistent with their gender assigned at birth because that is in accordance with the victim’s experience and perception of the events. Artificial steps such as requiring a victim to modify his/her language to disguise this risks interfering with his/her ability to give evidence of a traumatic event.”
There are still aspects that remain problematic, as astutely pointed out by the organisation Legal Feminist:
“The use of the language of rights in the amendment is significant. While this is an important step forward, many of the problems raised by the ETBB’s general guidance about the use of preferred pronouns are still not addressed in the new version. In practice witnesses’ ability to exercise their right to use pronouns which align with the sex of trans-identified parties to proceedings will be limited by the fact that the ETBB is likely to be interpreted to mean that the judge, the lawyers representing all parties in the proceedings, and perhaps other witnesses, should use preferred pronouns based on self-defined ’gender identity’. The ETBB does not discuss the implications for a witness of calling a trans-identified male ‘he’ while everyone else who speaks in the court room calls that person ‘she’. Where this happens it is likely to confuse and unnerve the witness, who may feel pressurised to use preferred pronouns themselves. This experience is likely to be particularly confusing and distressing for child witnesses and witnesses with learning disabilities.”
The CPS, Police Witness Care Units and her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals services are all agencies listed as having responsibilities to deliver services under the Victim’s Code/Bill. This provides an opportunity to make clear within the Bill the need to ensure the pronouns of offenders are not prioritised over victims of rape and domestic abuse, including children and vulnerable adults.
In relation to collecting data, the Victims Bill should enshrine the compulsory application of the recording of all protected characteristics for victims and offenders across agencies. I would strongly urge this requirement to be extended to PCCs and Local Authorities when they commission domestic abuse and sexual violence services. This very simple mechanism will enable robust data for the needs of all victims moving forward.
I recently responded to a petition calling for the Scottish Government to review the need to Accurately record the sex of men who are charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape. The same points apply to victims in England and Wales, and it is essential that the biological sex of perpetrators of sexual offences and domestic abuse is uniformly recorded across all police forces.
An example of how the government is currently conflating and confusing data, resides in the recent enshrinement of the DA Act which resulted in guidance being sent out to all local authorities across the country. The guidance requests accommodation-based domestic abuse organisations to provide data under a need’s assessment spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was issued during the consultation phase of the DA Bill and having checked very recently is, to my knowledge, still represented in the current format – (see below in Appendix A).
The demographic data requested is not in line with protected characteristic of sex. The question that should be reserved for the protected characteristic of sex on the Needs Assessment Form is at point 8 (see appendix A). The data asked for is listed under “gender identity” not “sex”. Gender identity has no basis in law and is terminology that is rejected by many. Collecting data which is meant to be for the protected characteristic of sex but uses the terminology “gender identity” was recently challenged under Judicial Review in England and Wales by the campaign group Fair Play for Women, after the Office of National Statistics (ONS) produced incorrect guidance for the planned Census. The ONS lost the case and subsequently had to pay costs to Fair Play for Women and amend their guidance. I am unclear as to why or how sex specific data has again been reinterpreted by the government and or civil servants on this issue via the need’s assessment in the DA Act, particularly after such a large financial loss to the taxpayer in the ONS case.
I understand that the need’s assessment is guidance only and some of the requested data is incredibly cumbersome for providers to collect, but the sex of a victim is and should be something we all collect in frontline domestic abuse and sexual violence services, so this data is not one that will be hard to produce. There should be the required category for recording sex and then a separate category for those who identify as transgender or non-binary, with due regard being paid to people who have a Gender Recognition Certificate. But the two should not be conflated and sex should not be self-determined (as asserted by the aforementioned Judicial Review).
The reduction of data on sex is problematic for the specialist male violence against women movement. The decimation of services that were borne out of the grassroots second wave movement is vociferous and rapid. If we cannot define women, we cannot protect them or fight for their services. The work of Karen Ingala Smith and the Femicide Census team evidenced that over a ten-year period 1,425 women in the UK were murdered by men. This equates to on average one woman every three days being subjected to men’s fatal violence, and within this data we know it results in one woman every four days being murdered by a current or former partner. It is therefore vital we get the data collection right in order to prevent male violence in all its forms.
Obviously, the DA Bill is now the Act and local authorities are sending out this data collection material to all providers and subsequently using it to inform their strategic needs, and thus the commissioning of services. The category for sex is entirely missing on any demographics and is replaced with the undefined term ’gender identity’. The government have therefore asserted the incorrect use of protected characteristics detailed in the Equality Act 2010 by replacing ‘sex’ with ‘gender identity’. This is self-ID of gender reform through the back door via demographics, and it causes me huge concern for the collection of adequate data for female victims. The government is sending mixed messages to local authorities on this issue, and we are already losing specialist ‘by and for women’ feminist led provision across the country. We cannot continue to challenge the retention of single sex specialist services, if local authorities are simultaneously being led down a path which asserts the use of ‘gender identity’ as the proposed correct terminology and thus the preferred ideology supported by the government, particularly when it is direct contrast with the law.
Data collection in this sense may seem a small issue but it really matters. When it comes to protecting female victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, the Government Equalities Statement rightly notes they the largest demographic of victims (although notably the same Equalities statement makes no reference to sex apart from for male victims). But equally incorrect data collection limits the capacity of understanding of the need for specialist services for transgender victims. To be clear I think it is necessary to collect stats for those who believe they have a gender identity, alongside the sex specific data. In my view it is the right and appropriately legal way to collect data for victims.
Helpfully the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recently issued updated guidance for Scotland on the need for public bodies to accurately ask for and record someone’s sex. Due regard should be given under the Public Sector Equality Duty, on data collection for the purposes of fostering good relations, and reducing discrimination, when public bodies are providing services to people who share protected characteristics. The guidance makes specific reference to the need to compare public service data with census information and sets out the need for public bodies to be mindful of the case law with regards to the judicial review previously mentioned.
Since the issuing of the need’s assessment guidance under the DA Bill I have repeatedly written to various people of influence regarding the issues I raise in this submission. Thus far I have received no positive response to fix the problem, I therefore raise this again now as a matter for the public record, to ensure data is appropriately and legally collected so that female victims and survivors are centred in their own services.
As the Victims Code/Bill and the DA Act feed into each other I would urge the government to review and correct the DA needs assessment guidance for local authorities, and simultaneously not make the same mistakes within the proposed Victims Bill. As with all protected characteristics enshrined in the Equality Act 2010, data must unequivocally record all characteristics appropriately, and for the purposes of male violence against women under the victim’s code and the Victims Bill, this must include the ‘sex’ of both victims and offenders.
‘By and For’ support
Whilst in their submissions to the consultation, my colleagues in the violence against women second-tier umbrella bodies have skilfully and very importantly highlighted the need for specialist ‘by and for’ model of support for black and minoritised and migrant women, deaf and disabled women, and LGBT+ victims and survivors, they fail to mention the protected characteristic of sex and the basic need for ‘by and for women’ single sex support services.
The approach of ‘by and for’ is supported for male victims and should thus be afforded for female victims.
There is a plethora of research evidencing the need for women to retain by women for women services when they have experienced male violence, as evidenced in my thesis:
“…women report their desire for women-only spaces and professionals. No matter the presenting problem, 87% of women show a same sex preference for therapists, increasing to 94% of women preferring a female therapist if the presenting issue was a sex-specific problem (Landes, Burton, King & Sullivan, 2013). Women who experience male violence state single sex refuge spaces are essential for their recovery and mixed sex spaces are not perceived as safe options (Women and Girls in Scotland, 2019, pp. 8 -12; FOVAS, 2018). Women report sharing a space with men impinges on their ability to speak confidently, with some saying they would simply self-exclude from mixed sex spaces, potentially risking their lives in an MVAW context (FOVAS, 2018; Women and Girls in Scotland, 2019, p. 12; Corry, 2018, p. 5-6; Women’s National Commission, 2009, p. 50).”
Previously Women’s Aid Federation England (WAFE) provided a helpful response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. In their response WAFE detailed the need for a specialist ‘by and for’ approach for female victims and survivors, including the need to prevent the blurring of the term’s ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Like them I also support the model of specialist services for victims who identify as transgender or non-binary. Unfortunately, what has been occurring with rapid effect is commissioners and funders have applied the notion of sex self-ID reform ahead of, and in contrast with, the law.
My research findings evidenced:
“…the sweep of transgender ideology policy capture meant participants involved in the provision of services for female victims understood that they risked their funding if they spoke up in objection to transwomen in female-only spaces. 99% of participants who worked on the frontline in domestic abuse organisations felt they had been silenced in the past, or are still being silenced, due to fears relating to the commissioning landscape and losing funding for already cash-stripped services. Participants, from both sides of the debate, spoke of their experiences of being put under pressure by funders and local authority commissioners to deliver trans-inclusive services”.
The Victims Bill should make it clear to commissioners and funders that the ‘by and for’ model that was one of the founding principles of the male violence against women movement is not only legal but should be recognised and protected for the many women who request it. One of the recommendations in my research includes the following:
“Funding and Commissioning – Funders and commissioners should be mandated to be transparent on contracting of MVAW service models that enforce trans-inclusion in female-only spaces, based on factual, evidence-based population data, with equality impact assessments being undertaken in relation to the impact on women and girls and in line with their duty to the EA2010. Where there is only one provider in the local area, services should be commissioned to provide single sex spaces as a compulsory model.”
If you require further evidence or information regarding my submission I am happy to provide it.
Dr Shonagh Dillon LLB, DCrimJ
 The Impact of Changes in Commissioning of Women-only Services. Equality and Human Rights Commission. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/research-report-86-the-impact-of-changes-in-commissioning-and-funding-on-women-only-services.pdf
Smith, N. et al (2015) Hear Me, Believe Me, Respect Me. University campus Suffolk. Available at: https://www.uos.ac.uk/sites/default/files/basic_file/Focus-on-Survivors-Final-Copy-Logo-Blk.pdf
Women’s National Commission (2010) Women-only Services. Available at: http://wnc.equalities.gov.uk/publications/doc_download/451-findings-from-the-wnc-survey-on-women-only-services.html
Women’s Resource Centre (2007) Why Women? Available at https://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/whywomenonly.pdf