How many violent attacks and sexual assaults on women are there?

By Lucy Gilder & Jennifer Clarke
BBC News

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Image source, Met Police
Image caption,
Sabina Nessa's body was found near a community centre in Kidbrooke in south east London

The murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and many others by men have reignited a national conversation about the safety of women and girls.

Sarah Everard's killer was a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police Force, which has since published an action plan to tackle violence against women and girls across London.

But further changes have been called for - including a demand by MPs for action to address the "shocking" collapse in rape prosecutions in England and Wales.

How many women are killed every year?

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), between April 2020 and March 2021, 177 women were murdered in England and Wales, compared to 416 men.

Of these women, 109 were killed by a man and 10 by a woman. In 58 cases there was no known suspect. This means that - where the suspect was known - 92% of women were killed by men in the year ending March 2021.

In Scotland between 2019-20 and 2020-21, the number of murdered women dropped from 19 to 10, while the number of men killed increased from 47 to 48.

Records from the past decade show that 134 women were killed by men in Scotland. This means in cases where a suspect was identified during this period, 89% of female murder victims were killed by a man.

What proportion of women knew their killer?

The most recent data from the ONS shows that 60% of the women killed in England or Wales knew their suspected killer, compared to 44% of male victims.

Around a third of suspects were a current or former partner. This is the most common relationship between victim and attacker where one exists.

In Scotland, over two-fifths of female victims were killed by their partner or ex-partner.

How many sexual assaults against women are there?

In England and Wales, a total of 40,572 women were victims of sexual assault in the year ending September 2021, an increase of 13% from the previous year (35,029 offences). This is the highest number of sexual offences ever recorded within a 12-month period.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, there was a decrease in recorded cases of rape and sexual assault against women. This is likely because of lockdown restrictions imposed during the Covid pandemic.

Police statistics do not report the gender of the attacker in sexual assault offences.

In the year ending September 2021, 41,332 women were victims of rape, also the highest annual figure recorded to date. This is an increase of 10% from the previous year (37,502 offences).

In the last year, 2,298 cases of rape or attempted rape were recorded by the police in Scotland.

Despite the record increase in the number of offences being reported, the End Violence Against Women Coalition believes the real total is much higher:

"We know that these figures are still just the tip of the iceberg," says director Andrea Simon.

"Many women do not feel able to report [sexual assault] to police, for reasons ranging from societal cultures of victim-blaming, to myths and stereotypes that impact how survivors are treated."

How many rape cases lead to a prosecution?

In England and Wales Home Office data shows that for the year ending September 2021, just 1.3% of rape offences with a recorded outcome have led to a charge or further court proceedings.

This percentage includes both female victims (the vast majority) and male victims of rape and excludes cases which are still being investigated.

Ministry of Justice figures from 2020 show that 1,717 cases of rape involving a male perpetrator and female victim led to a prosecution. Of these, 492 led to a conviction (29%).

Over the past four years, prosecutions for rape in England and Wales have fallen by 70%.

One reason for this decline is that a large proportion of victims decide to withdraw from proceedings. Between July and September 2021, this was the reason that 63% of rape investigations were closed.

In Scotland, there were 300 prosecutions for rape and attempted rape in 2019-2020. This is an increase of 20% from 2016-17.

How many women report domestic abuse and stalking?

The police recorded 872,911 offences related to domestic abuse in England and Wales in the year ending September 2021. This is a 5% increase on the 835,319 offences recorded in the previous year.

An ONS survey estimated that estimated 1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the year up to March 2020.

In addition, 690,929 incidents of stalking and harassment were recorded by police over the same period, a 21% rise on the previous year. An estimated 4.6% of the adult female population in England and Wales were victims of stalking offences between April 2019 and March 2020.

It is possible some of the increase may be a result of changes to the way police identify and record stalking cases. Victims may also feel more confident reporting offences.

In Scotland in 2020-2021, police recorded 65,251 domestic abuse incidents. In four out of every five cases, the victim was female and the accused male.

During the same period in Scotland, 1,045 stalking charges were also reported.

How much domestic violence against women is committed by police officers?

In June 2021, BBC research found that UK police forces had received more than 800 allegations of domestic abuse against officers and staff over the previous five years.

Just 43 cases - about 5% of the total - were prosecuted. Victims said they did not think their complaints were properly investigated.

A Channel 4 investigation found similar evidence.

The College of Policing told the BBC it was investigating how allegations of domestic abuse are treated when they involve police offers.

In March 2022, London Mayor Sadiq Khan published a plan to help restore the reputation of the Met Police after public trust in the force fell to record levels. Ending violence against women and girls has been identified as a priority.

How did the police and government respond to Sarah Everard's death?

Much of the horror around the Sarah Everard case was because her killer Wayne Couzens was a serving Metropolitan police officer who kidnapped her through a fake arrest.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Police at Clapham Common handcuff a woman

The Met was also criticised for the way it policed a vigil for Sarah Everard held in south west London.

But Sarah Everard was not an isolated case.

Image source, Henry/Smallman family
Image caption,
Bibaa Henry (left) and Nicole Smallman were found in bushes at Fryent Country Park in Wembley

In February, the Met was also forced to apologise after the police watchdog highlighted "disgraceful" misogyny, discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment within its ranks.

What is the government doing to tackle violence against women?

After Sarah Everard's murder, the government announced immediate measures to improve the safety of women and girls, which included additional funding for street lighting and CCTV, as well as a pilot scheme to place plain clothes officers in bars and clubs.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Women's Aid CEO Farah Nazeer says "too many women tell us their experiences at the hands of violent men are belittled"

The House of Lords proposed making misogyny a specific hate crime offence under the government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, but MPs rejected their call.

The Femicide Census project collects information about women who have been killed in the UK. Founders Karen Ingala Smith and Clarrie O'Callaghan say the government must go further:

"We want the state to be accountable for preventing and prosecuting men's violence against women. We want perpetrators brought to justice but better still, we want the killing of women by men - femicide - to stop.

Media caption,
On International Women's Day 2021, Labour MP Jess Phillips read out the names of all the women killed in the UK over the previous year where a man was convicted or charged

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women's Aid says the government must take the issue of women's safety more seriously.

"Far too many women continue to tell us that their experiences at the hands of violent men are belittled, disbelieved and dismissed by police and the criminal justice system."

She wants "fundamental cross-system change" to tackle what she calls "the epidemic of violence against women and girls".