Input for SR VAWG’s country visit to the U.K. and Northern Ireland 
The OFN Submission towards the visit of the Special Rapporteur, Reem Alsalem, to the UK.

The visit of the Special Rapporteur (from 12 to 21 February 2024) will commence in London, and she will also undertake field visits, to both urban and rural areas in the different regions, in order to gain a first-hand understanding of the issues related to violence against women and girls as experienced by various segments of the population. During her visit, and as a means of gathering information from all relevant stakeholders, the Special Rapporteur intends to convene meetings with Government officials; representatives from civil society organizations; women’s organisations; community leaders; groups of women and girls; UN agencies; and other relevant stakeholders working towards the elimination of violence against women and girls in the country.

In preparation for the visit, the Special Rapporteur invites all interested individuals and organizations, including civil society organizations, women’s rights activists, and academics to provide input:

    OFN Input

    Introduction

    The Older Feminist Network (OFN) is pleased to respond to the call to inform the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls in the UK.

    The OFN is a well-established UK organisation the members of which have lifetimes of experience to contribute to the promotion of a feminist perspective on issues which directly or indirectly affect older women having worked towards a society which recognises that women are equal, not inferior to men. We base our responses on the Istanbul Convention, its Articles and the Four pillars of Prevention Protection, Prosecution and co-ordinated Policies. We are a small collective of mainly retired older women volunteers without full-time paid workers or researchers. We reach our members and the wider public through newsletter, website, blogs, face to face and hybrid zoom meetings, meeting twice a month.  The majority of OFN members are over 50.

    In many fields we have witnessed the passing of attitudes based on biological differences to justify inferior roles to women compared to men as a British woman (Nicola Fox) became NASA’s Head of Science and almost half the doctors in the UK are women. We note a lack of motivation by the UK government to act upon the Key CEDAW principles with respect to prostitution, pornography, surrogacy, sex entertainment venues and the erosion of sex-based rights. Recent reports have shown that many women work in an atmosphere of misogyny and sexism in which women’s complaints are silenced by outright perpetrator denial or fear of losing their jobs or access to promotion.

    OFN has a focus on VAWG on the intersecting grounds of sex and age, representing older women, towards whom violence has only been recently monitored and reported in the UK. Until 2021 Crime Stats Reports had an upper age limit of 75 years for reporting VAWG, with the upper limit removed in Nov 2023, following reports of abuse in care homes in which women are the majority.

    Data for abuse therefore cannot be compared over time.  In a 2021 paper ‘Domestic Abuse of Older People’ (House of Lords Library) reference is made to the invisibility of older people (here the data still references only ages 60 – 74) though there is some separation of the sexes.  Women in this age group are said to be around twice as likely to suffer some form of abuse as men.  The percentage of people aged 75 years and over who experienced domestic abuse in the last year was lower than all other age groups but % for comparison over time are unavailable. The Age UK Study showed that 1 in 30 people aged 60-74 and 1 in 50 people aged 75+ have been subjected to domestic abuse in 2022. Older women are frequently subjected to one or more forms of violence, abuse and neglect based on their sex, age and other protected characteristics.  The WHO considers data collection on ‘elder-abuse’ as conservative due to underreporting.  The interaction between sexual abuse and ‘elder abuse’ also remains largely unexplored.  This lack of adequate data leads to assumptions and a lack of focus regarding violence and discrimination against older women.  This means we often remain invisible and overlooked by policy makers.  This undermines older women’s self-esteem and self-worth, which results in further exclusion rather than inclusion into wider society.

    Strategies

                •           Reporting

    In 2022 the UK government launched its ‘Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’. The first phase of the campaign launched in March 2022 aims to target and challenge the harmful behaviours that exist within wider society. However, the strategies do not make provision to tackle men’s behaviour directly. We have seen over many years how it is the ability of the victim to report violence against themselves, often, as in rape cases re-traumatising the victim in an attempt to provide evidence. The APPG UN recommendations /strategies from the report https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf to improve mechanisms to provide women and girls with greater confidence that reporting incidents of abuse are predicted to have a deterrent effect. Without a change in the nexus of behaviours which support misogyny the strategy will not tackle the violence of the perpetrator.

    Vast numbers of women/girls do not report abuse for a variety of reasons that include, shame, economic dependency, social attitudes, victim blaming, reluctance for fear of reprisal from the perpetrator. At least some if not all of these factors apply to older women, for whom much abuse takes place behind closed doors.  Both at home and in public facilities women can be in closed environments where those who are isolated or experience mental health needs, dementia and fragility are at risk. This can be due to a range of factors, including a lack of awareness among health and social care professionals. Tools used by professionals to assess risk of domestic abuse often don’t consider the specific risk factors affecting older people. The cost-of-living crisis may leave older women more susceptible to economic abuse and make it more difficult to leave where they rely financially on their abuser.

    Governments should ensure transparency and effective monitoring of all residential institutions, including where older women live, and ensure meaningful penalties in the event of abuse, neglect, inappropriate use of medication or other concerns.

                •           Education

    The children’s commissioner report that young people are seeing pornography which depicts degrading acts and violence against women from an early age. Frequent users (as are performers) of pornography were more likely to have real-life experience of an aggressive or degrading sex act. A definite connection has been made between young people’s perceptions of what counts as acceptable sexual practices in pornography, choking, etc., and unhealthy sexual relationships involving violence against women.

    Conroy (2018) examines the perceptions of masculinity among young men. He writes and runs courses to challenge assumptions in the socialisation of males through masculinity to become men. Reactions to questions of how men should be are characterised by responses such as- ‘In control’. ‘Provide’. ‘Be tough’. ‘No tears’. ‘Don’t ask for help’. ‘Be sexually active (straight)’. ‘Don’t be emotional’. ‘Protect’ and, sadly, ‘Don’t be too gentle’.

    In all policies there should also be more focus on the perpetrators, men who buy sex, those who take lessons about sexual relations from pornography and abusers who are left in the family homes as their victims, often together with their children, flee to shelters for victims of violence. The abuser should be evicted. Jackson Katz is a leading activist in the US against sex-based violence. His message is that the epidemic of violence against women is a men’s issue because it is what men do to women that is the problem (The Macho Paradox, 2016). He runs awareness raising courses and has taken his message into male areas such as baseball teams and the military.

    • Online Safety Bill

    The current focus on The Online Safety Bill (2022) is a reaction to children’s easy access to pornography. It was only in September 2020 that relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) became a statutory part of the school curriculum. As part of Relationships Education, children will be taught about the importance of respectful relationships and the different types of loving and healthy relationships that exist. Meanwhile it is reported that most children have seen pornography as children. The Online Safety Bill going through the House of Lords, should be used to Implement Age verification to protect children from internet pornography. However the aim of preventing and removing extreme sexual violence is insufficiently defined as if there is an acceptable level of sexual violence.

    There must be tighter regulation of Internet pornography, which, as is well documented, contributes to Violence against Women and Girls.

    Sexual Exploitation

    So far the UK Government has tackled trafficking as if it were separate from exploitation of prostituted women, without reference to article 1 of the 1949 Convention which views all prostituted persons as victims of the procurers.

    The seminal work by Professor Janice Raymond ‘Not a Choice, Not a Job’ (2013) explored and exploded myths about prostitution as a career choice.

    Reviewed by Sigma Huda, a former UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons she said: -‘This book will greatly benefit not only government authorities and human rights activists but also academics and researchers in understanding the complexity of this ‘crime against humanity’ and methods to eradicate it.’

    We were heartened by the publication from UK Government All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of the results of its enquiry In March 2014 into prostitution laws in the UK. They recommended fully decriminalising the selling of sex, criminalising paying for sex and ensuring support provision for people exiting prostitution. The Northern Ireland assembly adopted the ‘Sex Buyer Law’ in 2015, a law which was had also been adopted in Canada, France, Iceland, Lithuania Norway, Sweden, the USA.

    In 2016 The Commission on the Sex Buyer Law, formed by invitation of the APPG on Prostitution, published a guide ‘How to Implement the Sex Buyer Law in the UK’.

    Following lobbying by the sex Industry, more research was carried out and published by the Conservative Human Rights Committee. Careful and balanced gathering of evidence provided further justification for the implementation of the Nordic Model in the report ‘The Limits of Consent.’

     Nordic Model Now advocates for a new social consensus that recognises the harm and violence intrinsic to prostitution, both to the individuals caught up in it and to the wider society, and the adoption of concrete measures to bring about its eradication while helping those caught up in it to make a new life outside.

    The European Parliament resolution of 14 September 2023, which recognises prostitution as a form of violence and calls on Member States to adopt all the pillars of the abolitionist model: the decriminalisation of prostituted persons, their access to exit pathways, the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual acts and all forms of pimping, and the implementation of awareness-raising programmes aimed at men and young people in particular. The UK Government should follow the conclusions of their three reports and a consultation, to legislate for Implementation of the Nordic Model of prostitution in which it becomes illegal for anybody to ‘hire a body’ for sex.

    Equally women (and men) appearing in pornography are exploited in a highly lucrative industry of sexual exploitation, which is violent, sexist and racist. Dines describes pornography thus: porn has hijacked our sexuality. Pornland (2010).

    The recent government consultation on surrogacy shows a blatant disregard of the rights of women and children. The Law Commission proposed that the commissioning parent(s) of a child born to a surrogate mother becomes the parent(s) at birth to erase the mother from the child’s history. Certainly, the proposers were unaware of the plethora of programmes in which men and women seek the birth mother from whom they have been separated. This proposal was subsequently dropped following a consultation clearly dominated by the commercial interests of the surrogacy agents. Law Commission proposals did not take account of or the rights of the child or the-well documented medical complications of surrogacy, which are treated in the NHS at public expense It seems that this multi-£bn industry can preferentially lobby the government to legalise this practice.  Even in ‘altruistic’ surrogacy where mothers do not profit, the commercial interests of fertility clinics, lawyers and agencies benefit financially.

    Sir James Munby, the president of the family division, describes the removal of a baby at birth as a drastic decision. He advocates transparency of decisions about removal of a baby at birth so that the child can find out about the circumstances surrounding their birth. Even if the child of a surrogate mother finds out about their origins, they will find that the foundation of their existence is a contract involving money.

    Sexism and Misogyny

    Violence against Women and Girls is encouraged by sexism and misogyny. Older women are unsurprised by State services recent reports from the NHS https://www.bma.org.uk/media/4488/sexism-in-medicine-bma-report-august-2021.pdf, the armed forces https://committees.parliament.uk/work/856/women-in-the-armed-for/theom-recruitment-to-civilian-life/  the police https://www.college.police.uk/article/tackling-sexism-and-misogyny-policing and London Fire brigade (Nov 22 Report inaccessible) reveal shocking levels of Sexist and misogynistic behaviour among staff. When the latter report was published the Transport secretary responded with a loose statement about what organisations should do. He rejected the proposal to hold a National Racist and Misogynist Inquiry. He seemed unaware of the APPG/UN report (2021) on misogyny in the UK. The APPG UN recommendations /strategies from the report https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf

    OFN welcomes the recent passing of the UK Domestic Abuse Act 2021, for the first time defines domestic abuse which also includes those who witness abuse are also victims. This should encompass domestic abuse of older women by relatives living with them. These victims also need consideration and support given the upheaval that such prosecutable violence could invoke.

    In the Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, the first phase of the campaign launched in March 2022 aims to target and challenge the harmful behaviours, such as misogyny documented in above reports. The APPG UN recommendations /strategies from the report https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf to improve mechanisms to provide women and girls with greater confidence to report incidents of abuse.

    The focus on strategies for victims to report their trauma said to act as a deterrent, a claim which is yet to be evaluated. Violence against women and girls in the UK is being addressed by research into the prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment (2021) and improvements in the reporting process can only do so much when the deeper causes in a society in which sexism flourishes are not yet addressed. The UK Government are committed to put into law an offence of sexual harassment.

    The recent APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) avers that only by strengthening reporting systems and increasing trust in their efficacy can we challenge and change the current societal culture of ignoring or accepting this abuse. Equally the abuse of the most impoverished and marginalised women, prostituted women, should not be ignored.

    The erosion of women’s rights

    There is no definition of femicide in the UK. On average 3 women a week are killed by men in the UK.  Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate that 177 women were killed up to the year ending March 2022 and of which 92% had a known male suspect.  In order to understand how many older women are subject to homicide OFN has reviewed the data collected by Karen Ingalla Smith for the ‘Counting Dead Women’ project.  As of January 2024, 108 women are listed as killed by men in 2023 (note this figure will rise).  The ‘Counting Dead Women’ project collects the age of all victims where available (107 of the cases currently listed).  44 of the 107 victims were over the age of 49 (just over 40%) of which 8 (15%) were over the age of 75.

    There have been recent attempts to erode women’s rights to single sex spaces based on the ideology of gender and many are critical of the term ‘gender’.  The use of the term ‘gender based violence’obscures the fact that the perpetrators of violence against women and girls is sex based. In the UK, under the Equality Act 2010, ‘sex’ is a protected characteristic and conflating this term with gender is confusing and unhelpful.   The 2010 Act guarantees that single-sex services can be restricted if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.  For example, preventing further trauma to female victims is deemed a legitimate justification to providing single sex services.

    As Ms Alsalem is aware, certain devolved governments in the UK have set out plans to introduce ‘self-identification’ in order to obtain gender-recognition certificates (GRCs).  Although this has not been successful to date the threat of such legal changes throughout the UK remains as these changes have the real potential to allow violent males to self-identify as women in order to gain unfettered access to women and girls.  This remains a real and serious risk to the safety to all women in the UK, whatever their age.  In the last decade, just raising these concerns and requesting debate, women have been silenced, bullied and harassed and often left unprotected by police and other state services such as prisons and hospitals.

    Many women have been silenced and if they dare to speak are victimised for expressing their believe that men cannot change into women. This attempt to silence women often occurs when exercising their freedom of speech, thought and freedom of assembly.  Police forces in the UK have been recording any reported instances of ‘gender critical views’ as ’non crime hate incidents’, though the UK appeal courts have held this to be a breach of Article 10 ECHR (R v College of Policing 2021).  There have been instances of criminal charges being pursued by some forces e.g. Marion Millar (age 50) was charged by Police Scotland in June 2021 for allegedly posting ‘transphobic tweets’, when she was expressing lawfully held views regarding proposed ‘gender reform’ legislation.  This action was discontinued by the Scottish Crown Office in October 2021, with similar action taken by Gwent police against Jennifer Swayne (age 53) though the Crown Prosecution Office declined to prosecute.  It is often considered that the process itself though amounts to a punishment to women given the stress caused.

    It is not known how many women have been victimised at work, but since 2021 there have been a number of employment tribunal cases in the UK.  The UK Employment Appeal Tribunal held that holding gender-critical views in the UK is a protected belief under the EA 2010 (Forstater v CGD 2021).  The cost of bringing a discrimination case is prohibitive for an individual as legal aid and recovery of costs is not generally available.  Cases have tended to come to prominence due to crowd funding by victims in order to pursue justice.  It is noted that the majority of claimants are women over the age of 50: Sonya Appleby (age 62); Alison Bailey (age 53); Denise Fahmy (age 55); Rachel Meade (55) and Jo Phoenix (age 59).  In the case of Jo Phoenix, the court held using the term ‘transphobic’ was itself an insult and part of the bullying and harassment against her.  One case (Adams (age 52) v Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre) has yet to conclude but evidence given refers to a 60-year-old female victim, who on asking if ‘trans inclusive’ meant ‘women only’ was subsequently emailed and told she was not suitable for their services.  Two female Green Party members (both over 50) are also awaiting a hearing against their party relating to similar unlawful discrimination regarding their lawfully held ‘gender critical’ views.

    Older Women detained in prisons, hospital mental health facilities, homeless shelters can be vulnerable in mixed sex settings and should not be forced to share accommodation that includes men. In mental health settings unwell patients have been ignored when they complain about harassment. Older women can be subjected to physical violence from intimidation, fraud, sexual harassment to actual sexual assault and rape. Older women can also face risks of exploitation from employers and voluntary organisations.

    The members of the OFN brought up in a misogynistic society see violence against women and girls to be directly related with the pillars of misogyny, namely prostitution, ‘sex entertainment’, pornography and surrogacy. The practice of commercial surrogacy is indistinguishable from the buying and selling of children and surrogacy should be stopped because it is an abuse of women’s and children’s human rights.

    All practices, including prostitution, in which the most impoverished of women are sexually exploited for the benefit of others on the mythical basis of ‘choice’ rather than objectification and impoverishment should be banned.

    Conclusions

    The strands of misogyny should be viewed as a nexus of interrelated aspects of men’s behaviour towards women which creates a society in which our children, particularly teenagers, absorb messages which make them believe that women are inferior to men and that violence in relationships is an acceptable cultural norm.

    Funding for support organisations should be closely monitored and evaluated for their effectiveness. Funding should be allocated to organisations which work to overcome violence against women not those which keep prostitution going (Conservative Human Rights Commission Report (2019) ‘The Limits of Consent’) ‘Ugly Mugs’ was given funding for a strategy of identifying and passing information about violent sex buyers between prostituted people to protect them.  This programme operated in Ipswich where 5 prostituted women were murdered in 2006 by a ‘charming’ sex buyer.

    The UK Government should adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all forms of discrimination against women and girls. 

    Older Feminist Network (Est 1982) https://older-feminist.org.uk

    Introduction

    The Older Feminist Network (OFN) is pleased to respond to the call to inform the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls in the UK.

    The OFN is a well-established UK organisation the members of which have lifetimes of experience to contribute to the promotion of a feminist perspective on issues which directly or indirectly affect older women having worked towards a society which recognises that women are equal, not inferior to men. We base our responses on the Istanbul Convention, its Articles and the Four pillars of Prevention Protection, Prosecution and co-ordinated Policies. We are a small collective of mainly retired older women volunteers without full-time paid workers or researchers. We reach our members and the wider public through newsletter, website, blogs, face to face and hybrid zoom meetings, meeting twice a month.  The majority of OFN members are over 50.

    In many fields we have witnessed the passing of attitudes based on biological differences to justify inferior roles to women compared to men as a British woman (Nicola Fox) became NASA’s Head of Science and almost half the doctors in the UK are women. We note a lack of motivation by the UK government to act upon the Key CEDAW principles with respect to prostitution, pornography, surrogacy, sex entertainment venues and the erosion of sex-based rights. Recent reports have shown that many women work in an atmosphere of misogyny and sexism in which women’s complaints are silenced by outright perpetrator denial or fear of losing their jobs or access to promotion.

    OFN has a focus on VAWG on the intersecting grounds of sex and age, representing older women, towards whom violence has only been recently monitored and reported in the UK. Until 2021 Crime Stats Reports had an upper age limit of 75 years for reporting VAWG, with the upper limit removed in Nov 2023, following reports of abuse in care homes in which women are the majority.

    Data for abuse therefore cannot be compared over time.  In a 2021 paper ‘Domestic Abuse of Older People’ (House of Lords Library) reference is made to the invisibility of older people (here the data still references only ages 60 – 74) though there is some separation of the sexes.  Women in this age group are said to be around twice as likely to suffer some form of abuse as men.  The percentage of people aged 75 years and over who experienced domestic abuse in the last year was lower than all other age groups but % for comparison over time are unavailable. The Age UK Study showed that 1 in 30 people aged 60-74 and 1 in 50 people aged 75+ have been subjected to domestic abuse in 2022. Older women are frequently subjected to one or more forms of violence, abuse and neglect based on their sex, age and other protected characteristics.  The WHO considers data collection on ‘elder-abuse’ as conservative due to underreporting.  The interaction between sexual abuse and ‘elder abuse’ also remains largely unexplored.  This lack of adequate data leads to assumptions and a lack of focus regarding violence and discrimination against older women.  This means we often remain invisible and overlooked by policy makers.  This undermines older women’s self-esteem and self-worth, which results in further exclusion rather than inclusion into wider society.

    Strategies

                •           Reporting

    In 2022 the UK government launched its ‘Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’. The first phase of the campaign launched in March 2022 aims to target and challenge the harmful behaviours that exist within wider society. However, the strategies do not make provision to tackle men’s behaviour directly. We have seen over many years how it is the ability of the victim to report violence against themselves, often, as in rape cases re-traumatising the victim in an attempt to provide evidence. The APPG UN recommendations /strategies from the report https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf to improve mechanisms to provide women and girls with greater confidence that reporting incidents of abuse are predicted to have a deterrent effect. Without a change in the nexus of behaviours which support misogyny the strategy will not tackle the violence of the perpetrator.

    Vast numbers of women/girls do not report abuse for a variety of reasons that include, shame, economic dependency, social attitudes, victim blaming, reluctance for fear of reprisal from the perpetrator. At least some if not all of these factors apply to older women, for whom much abuse takes place behind closed doors.  Both at home and in public facilities women can be in closed environments where those who are isolated or experience mental health needs, dementia and fragility are at risk. This can be due to a range of factors, including a lack of awareness among health and social care professionals. Tools used by professionals to assess risk of domestic abuse often don’t consider the specific risk factors affecting older people. The cost-of-living crisis may leave older women more susceptible to economic abuse and make it more difficult to leave where they rely financially on their abuser.

    Governments should ensure transparency and effective monitoring of all residential institutions, including where older women live, and ensure meaningful penalties in the event of abuse, neglect, inappropriate use of medication or other concerns.

                •           Education

    The children’s commissioner report that young people are seeing pornography which depicts degrading acts and violence against women from an early age. Frequent users (as are performers) of pornography were more likely to have real-life experience of an aggressive or degrading sex act. A definite connection has been made between young people’s perceptions of what counts as acceptable sexual practices in pornography, choking, etc., and unhealthy sexual relationships involving violence against women.

    Conroy (2018) examines the perceptions of masculinity among young men. He writes and runs courses to challenge assumptions in the socialisation of males through masculinity to become men. Reactions to questions of how men should be are characterised by responses such as- ‘In control’. ‘Provide’. ‘Be tough’. ‘No tears’. ‘Don’t ask for help’. ‘Be sexually active (straight)’. ‘Don’t be emotional’. ‘Protect’ and, sadly, ‘Don’t be too gentle’.

    In all policies there should also be more focus on the perpetrators, men who buy sex, those who take lessons about sexual relations from pornography and abusers who are left in the family homes as their victims, often together with their children, flee to shelters for victims of violence. The abuser should be evicted. Jackson Katz is a leading activist in the US against sex-based violence. His message is that the epidemic of violence against women is a men’s issue because it is what men do to women that is the problem (The Macho Paradox, 2016). He runs awareness raising courses and has taken his message into male areas such as baseball teams and the military.

    • Online Safety Bill

    The current focus on The Online Safety Bill (2022) is a reaction to children’s easy access to pornography. It was only in September 2020 that relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) became a statutory part of the school curriculum. As part of Relationships Education, children will be taught about the importance of respectful relationships and the different types of loving and healthy relationships that exist. Meanwhile it is reported that most children have seen pornography as children. The Online Safety Bill going through the House of Lords, should be used to Implement Age verification to protect children from internet pornography. However the aim of preventing and removing extreme sexual violence is insufficiently defined as if there is an acceptable level of sexual violence.

    There must be tighter regulation of Internet pornography, which, as is well documented, contributes to Violence against Women and Girls.

    Sexual Exploitation

    So far the UK Government has tackled trafficking as if it were separate from exploitation of prostituted women, without reference to article 1 of the 1949 Convention which views all prostituted persons as victims of the procurers.

    The seminal work by Professor Janice Raymond ‘Not a Choice, Not a Job’ (2013) explored and exploded myths about prostitution as a career choice.

    Reviewed by Sigma Huda, a former UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons she said: -‘This book will greatly benefit not only government authorities and human rights activists but also academics and researchers in understanding the complexity of this ‘crime against humanity’ and methods to eradicate it.’

    We were heartened by the publication from UK Government All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of the results of its enquiry In March 2014 into prostitution laws in the UK. They recommended fully decriminalising the selling of sex, criminalising paying for sex and ensuring support provision for people exiting prostitution. The Northern Ireland assembly adopted the ‘Sex Buyer Law’ in 2015, a law which was had also been adopted in Canada, France, Iceland, Lithuania Norway, Sweden, the USA.

    In 2016 The Commission on the Sex Buyer Law, formed by invitation of the APPG on Prostitution, published a guide ‘How to Implement the Sex Buyer Law in the UK’.

    Following lobbying by the sex Industry, more research was carried out and published by the Conservative Human Rights Committee. Careful and balanced gathering of evidence provided further justification for the implementation of the Nordic Model in the report ‘The Limits of Consent.’

     Nordic Model Now advocates for a new social consensus that recognises the harm and violence intrinsic to prostitution, both to the individuals caught up in it and to the wider society, and the adoption of concrete measures to bring about its eradication while helping those caught up in it to make a new life outside.

    The European Parliament resolution of 14 September 2023, which recognises prostitution as a form of violence and calls on Member States to adopt all the pillars of the abolitionist model: the decriminalisation of prostituted persons, their access to exit pathways, the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual acts and all forms of pimping, and the implementation of awareness-raising programmes aimed at men and young people in particular. The UK Government should follow the conclusions of their three reports and a consultation, to legislate for Implementation of the Nordic Model of prostitution in which it becomes illegal for anybody to ‘hire a body’ for sex.

    Equally women (and men) appearing in pornography are exploited in a highly lucrative industry of sexual exploitation, which is violent, sexist and racist. Dines describes pornography thus: porn has hijacked our sexuality. Pornland (2010).

    The recent government consultation on surrogacy shows a blatant disregard of the rights of women and children. The Law Commission proposed that the commissioning parent(s) of a child born to a surrogate mother becomes the parent(s) at birth to erase the mother from the child’s history. Certainly, the proposers were unaware of the plethora of programmes in which men and women seek the birth mother from whom they have been separated. This proposal was subsequently dropped following a consultation clearly dominated by the commercial interests of the surrogacy agents. Law Commission proposals did not take account of or the rights of the child or the-well documented medical complications of surrogacy, which are treated in the NHS at public expense It seems that this multi-£bn industry can preferentially lobby the government to legalise this practice.  Even in ‘altruistic’ surrogacy where mothers do not profit, the commercial interests of fertility clinics, lawyers and agencies benefit financially.

    Sir James Munby, the president of the family division, describes the removal of a baby at birth as a drastic decision. He advocates transparency of decisions about removal of a baby at birth so that the child can find out about the circumstances surrounding their birth. Even if the child of a surrogate mother finds out about their origins, they will find that the foundation of their existence is a contract involving money.

    Sexism and Misogyny

    Violence against Women and Girls is encouraged by sexism and misogyny. Older women are unsurprised by State services recent reports from the NHS https://www.bma.org.uk/media/4488/sexism-in-medicine-bma-report-august-2021.pdf, the armed forces https://committees.parliament.uk/work/856/women-in-the-armed-for/theom-recruitment-to-civilian-life/  the police https://www.college.police.uk/article/tackling-sexism-and-misogyny-policing and London Fire brigade (Nov 22 Report inaccessible) reveal shocking levels of Sexist and misogynistic behaviour among staff. When the latter report was published the Transport secretary responded with a loose statement about what organisations should do. He rejected the proposal to hold a National Racist and Misogynist Inquiry. He seemed unaware of the APPG/UN report (2021) on misogyny in the UK. The APPG UN recommendations /strategies from the report https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf

    OFN welcomes the recent passing of the UK Domestic Abuse Act 2021, for the first time defines domestic abuse which also includes those who witness abuse are also victims. This should encompass domestic abuse of older women by relatives living with them. These victims also need consideration and support given the upheaval that such prosecutable violence could invoke.

    In the Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, the first phase of the campaign launched in March 2022 aims to target and challenge the harmful behaviours, such as misogyny documented in above reports. The APPG UN recommendations /strategies from the report https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf to improve mechanisms to provide women and girls with greater confidence to report incidents of abuse.

    The focus on strategies for victims to report their trauma said to act as a deterrent, a claim which is yet to be evaluated. Violence against women and girls in the UK is being addressed by research into the prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment (2021) and improvements in the reporting process can only do so much when the deeper causes in a society in which sexism flourishes are not yet addressed. The UK Government are committed to put into law an offence of sexual harassment.

    The recent APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) avers that only by strengthening reporting systems and increasing trust in their efficacy can we challenge and change the current societal culture of ignoring or accepting this abuse. Equally the abuse of the most impoverished and marginalised women, prostituted women, should not be ignored.

    The erosion of women’s rights

    There is no definition of femicide in the UK. On average 3 women a week are killed by men in the UK.  Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate that 177 women were killed up to the year ending March 2022 and of which 92% had a known male suspect.  In order to understand how many older women are subject to homicide OFN has reviewed the data collected by Karen Ingalla Smith for the ‘Counting Dead Women’ project.  As of January 2024, 108 women are listed as killed by men in 2023 (note this figure will rise).  The ‘Counting Dead Women’ project collects the age of all victims where available (107 of the cases currently listed).  44 of the 107 victims were over the age of 49 (just over 40%) of which 8 (15%) were over the age of 75.

    There have been recent attempts to erode women’s rights to single sex spaces based on the ideology of gender and many are critical of the term ‘gender’.  The use of the term ‘gender based violence’obscures the fact that the perpetrators of violence against women and girls is sex based. In the UK, under the Equality Act 2010, ‘sex’ is a protected characteristic and conflating this term with gender is confusing and unhelpful.   The 2010 Act guarantees that single-sex services can be restricted if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.  For example, preventing further trauma to female victims is deemed a legitimate justification to providing single sex services.

    As Ms Alsalem is aware, certain devolved governments in the UK have set out plans to introduce ‘self-identification’ in order to obtain gender-recognition certificates (GRCs).  Although this has not been successful to date the threat of such legal changes throughout the UK remains as these changes have the real potential to allow violent males to self-identify as women in order to gain unfettered access to women and girls.  This remains a real and serious risk to the safety to all women in the UK, whatever their age.  In the last decade, just raising these concerns and requesting debate, women have been silenced, bullied and harassed and often left unprotected by police and other state services such as prisons and hospitals.

    Many women have been silenced and if they dare to speak are victimised for expressing their believe that men cannot change into women. This attempt to silence women often occurs when exercising their freedom of speech, thought and freedom of assembly.  Police forces in the UK have been recording any reported instances of ‘gender critical views’ as ’non crime hate incidents’, though the UK appeal courts have held this to be a breach of Article 10 ECHR (R v College of Policing 2021).  There have been instances of criminal charges being pursued by some forces e.g. Marion Millar (age 50) was charged by Police Scotland in June 2021 for allegedly posting ‘transphobic tweets’, when she was expressing lawfully held views regarding proposed ‘gender reform’ legislation.  This action was discontinued by the Scottish Crown Office in October 2021, with similar action taken by Gwent police against Jennifer Swayne (age 53) though the Crown Prosecution Office declined to prosecute.  It is often considered that the process itself though amounts to a punishment to women given the stress caused.

    It is not known how many women have been victimised at work, but since 2021 there have been a number of employment tribunal cases in the UK.  The UK Employment Appeal Tribunal held that holding gender-critical views in the UK is a protected belief under the EA 2010 (Forstater v CGD 2021).  The cost of bringing a discrimination case is prohibitive for an individual as legal aid and recovery of costs is not generally available.  Cases have tended to come to prominence due to crowd funding by victims in order to pursue justice.  It is noted that the majority of claimants are women over the age of 50: Sonya Appleby (age 62); Alison Bailey (age 53); Denise Fahmy (age 55); Rachel Meade (55) and Jo Phoenix (age 59).  In the case of Jo Phoenix, the court held using the term ‘transphobic’ was itself an insult and part of the bullying and harassment against her.  One case (Adams (age 52) v Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre) has yet to conclude but evidence given refers to a 60-year-old female victim, who on asking if ‘trans inclusive’ meant ‘women only’ was subsequently emailed and told she was not suitable for their services.  Two female Green Party members (both over 50) are also awaiting a hearing against their party relating to similar unlawful discrimination regarding their lawfully held ‘gender critical’ views.

    Older Women detained in prisons, hospital mental health facilities, homeless shelters can be vulnerable in mixed sex settings and should not be forced to share accommodation that includes men. In mental health settings unwell patients have been ignored when they complain about harassment. Older women can be subjected to physical violence from intimidation, fraud, sexual harassment to actual sexual assault and rape. Older women can also face risks of exploitation from employers and voluntary organisations.

    The members of the OFN brought up in a misogynistic society see violence against women and girls to be directly related with the pillars of misogyny, namely prostitution, ‘sex entertainment’, pornography and surrogacy. The practice of commercial surrogacy is indistinguishable from the buying and selling of children and surrogacy should be stopped because it is an abuse of women’s and children’s human rights.

    All practices, including prostitution, in which the most impoverished of women are sexually exploited for the benefit of others on the mythical basis of ‘choice’ rather than objectification and impoverishment should be banned.

    Conclusions

    The strands of misogyny should be viewed as a nexus of interrelated aspects of men’s behaviour towards women which creates a society in which our children, particularly teenagers, absorb messages which make them believe that women are inferior to men and that violence in relationships is an acceptable cultural norm.

    Funding for support organisations should be closely monitored and evaluated for their effectiveness. Funding should be allocated to organisations which work to overcome violence against women not those which keep prostitution going (Conservative Human Rights Commission Report (2019) ‘The Limits of Consent’) ‘Ugly Mugs’ was given funding for a strategy of identifying and passing information about violent sex buyers between prostituted people to protect them.  This programme operated in Ipswich where 5 prostituted women were murdered in 2006 by a ‘charming’ sex buyer.

    The UK Government should adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all forms of discrimination against women and girls. 

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