UK Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to ‘iGlobal’ about her determination to fight back against the scourge of violence against women and vowed to do her best to ensure that those who commit these crimes face the full force of the law.
As the minister in charge of the country’s policing operations, the Global Indian minister was speaking in the wake of the suspected murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard who went missing while walking back home from a friend’s house in south London earlier this month.
“Just days after celebrating female achievements on International Women’s Day, we are sadly reminded that there is much more progress to still make,” Patel told ‘iGlobal’.
“I continue to work to tackle the root causes of male violence towards women, and the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill which will become law later this year, will also go a long way towards ensuring that those that commit these crimes face the full force of the law and that many more victims are protected,” she said.
Even as a serving Metropolitan Police officer emerged as a murder suspect after human remains were found in a woodland in Kent, Everard’s case sent shockwaves across communities and brought the subject of regular threats faced by women and girls on the streets into sharp focus.
“As international students one of our and our families' primary concern is our safety and security when we are alone thousands of miles away from our family,” said Sanam Arora, the Chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK), a representative group for Indian students in the UK with a majority of female members in active leadership roles.
She added: “One of the reasons many Indians choose to study in the UK is that safety has never really been an issue. Therefore, what has happened with Sarah has left us very shocked and we hope strict measures are taken urgently to ensure such a heinous crime doesn't happen again.
“We are proud of being students and graduates of the UK and this pride amongst other things stems from the freedom of being that we have experienced in the UK. This is invaluable and ministers must do all they can to ensure this is retained going forward.”
A survey by UN Women this week found 97 per cent of young women in the UK said they had been sexually harassed, while 80 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment in public spaces. While domestic abuse has surged in the wake of the Covid crisis, women’s fears about street harassment have also heightened during the pandemic, with research finding that almost three-quarters of women are scared of exercising outside in the dark.
As a way to tackle some of these challenges, since the first national lockdown in March 2020, Karma Nirvana is among the organisations that received funding to deliver a government-backed helpline.
“Whilst the first two weeks during lockdown numbers remained low, however, we soon saw a huge incline in reporting of honour-based abuse to our helpline, including domestic abuse where there was no other context,” said Natasha Rattu, Executive Director at Karma Nirvana.
“Our calls increased up to 243 per cent. But last year, averaged at around 79 per cent for the whole year when we looked at the data from 23 March to the end of December. A real big increase on the data in 2019,” she shared.
The UK government’s Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently going through parliamentary approvals, is designed to provide efficient and better protection for domestic abuse victims and this month, a raft of amendments were presented for greater protections for female victims and further clamping down on perpetrators.
The proposals include:
making non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison
strengthening legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour (CCB)
so-called ‘revenge porn’ laws – introduced by the government in 2015 – to be widened to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress
make it easier for victims who may prefer not to report abuse to avoid being cross-examined in person