Violence against Women and Girls Guidance

Updated: 28 November 2019|Legal Guidance, Domestic abuse , Sexual offences

Introduction

The CPS has published a Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy for 2017-2020 providing a framework outlining the approach taken to these crimes. The CPS recognises VAWG as a form of discrimination against women and a fundamental issue of human rights arising from gender inequality. The framework is in line with the CPS’s Public Sector Equality Duty and draws upon the UK’s ratification of relevant United Nations conventions (The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, 15 Years of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women (1994–2009)—A Critical Review) , the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) and the Government’s strategy on ending VAWG 2016-2020.

VAWG crimes describes behaviours which are committed primarily, although not exclusively, by men against women. It includes incidents related to domestic abuse including controlling or coercive behaviour, rape and other sexual offences, stalking, harassment, so called ‘honour’ based abuse, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child sexual abuse, modern slavery and human trafficking focusing on sexual exploitation, prostitution, pornography and obscenity. Detailed consideration of all these offences is available in specific and interlinked legal guidance listed within Annex A.

The CPS recognises that victims of VAWG crimes are disproportionately women with the majority of perpetrators being male. Within this context of VAWG crimes, the CPS also recognises that many of these offences are committed against men and boys, and that some offences can be committed by females. The CPS’s public statement on male victims for crimes covered by the CPS VAWG Strategy reaffirms our commitment to male victims.

All CPS policies on VAWG apply fairly and equitably to all relevant cases – irrespective of the gender of the parties involved.

Charging and Case Building

The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out the general principles prosecutors should follow when they make decisions on cases. To support the work of prosecutors the CPS has issued legal guidance on specific VAWG crimes which can be found at Annex A.

Although there is no specific offence of VAWG for England and Wales (although note that the Welsh Government has introduced the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act 2015), there are specific offences within criminal law that may constitute VAWG. For example, prosecutions can be brought for rape, sexual assault and controlling or coercive behaviour. For some types of VAWG there are no specific offences to prosecute under. However, if the behaviour falls within a particular policy or agreed definition of a criminal offence, then it should be prosecuted as such. For example, incidents of domestic abuse might be prosecuted under a number of offences, including controlling or coercive behaviour, and can range from criminal damage to murder.

The following sections provide examples of key considerations; prosecutors should however refer to the specific legal guidance which provides more detailed advice when making a charging decision.

Patterns observed across VAWG crimes including support needs

Victims can face significant barriers when reporting a crime as well as during the investigative and prosecutorial process. The nature of offending across VAWG crimes involves people who are often known to each other either intimately or through a family relationship, but can also encompass wider personal or professional relationships. The suspect or defendant can exert a greater level of control over the victim than observed in other crime types.

The criminal justice process may have implications for victims in relation to their family in the UK or overseas (for example the impact on any children, or fear of reprisals from family or the wider community) and personal circumstances (such as economic considerations such as housing and finances or immigration status).

Repeat victimisation and an escalation of violence, including post-separation, can also be significant factors across VAWG crimes. The safety of victims should be a paramount concern from the outset. In cases of intimate partner violence, the point of separation from the perpetrator, and engaging in criminal proceedings, can be associated with significant risk for the victim and their family. In many cases, separation does not decrease, but increases, risk. A victim’s own perception of risk should be taken seriously and form part of the overall risk assessment which should be carefully considered in the prosecution of cases. Where possible, multi-agency risk assessment and procedures should be in place for the victim, the suspect or defendant and any children.

There may also be a general level of concern or fear around what the court process may entail. Victims are more likely to engage with the proceedings and give their best evidence if they understand: what to expect; what is expected from them; and the process and its implications. Support needs should be identified as early as possible and reviewed regularly as the case progresses. Regular and meaningful communication with the victim should be a priority. Prosecutors should refer to the legal guidance on Special Measures.

Individual experiences of violence and abuse will be different across all cases. Victims may face additional barriers to seeking redress from the criminal justice system. In addition to their sex, they may be affected by a number of factors (which are not mutually exclusive) including: age, disability (A person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities (Additional information on substantial and long-term can be found here). For the purposes of equality analysis ‘Disability’ has been broken down into broad categories to help determine the impact of policies on different impairments.), gender identity, gender reassignment (transgender), sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, belief, cultural background or immigration status, marital/civil partnership status, whether they have caring responsibilities (including children or other relatives), whether they are pregnant, or are dependent on the suspect/defendant (for example emotionally or economically dependent). Men and boys subject to VAWG crimes may also face additional barriers related to their gender. Understanding these barriers and how they may intersect with each other and with VAWG crimes is important. Specific legal guidance explores these factors further and the Toolkit for prosecutors on VAWG cases involving vulnerable victims may also be of assistance.

Evidential Considerations

It is important that efforts aimed at gathering evidence to build a robust prosecution case are not focused solely on the evidence of the victim. The stronger the overall case, the less likely it is that it will be contested or, if it is, that the prosecution will need to call upon the victim to give evidence. The starting point should be to build cases in which the prosecution does not need to rely on the victim. However, prosecutors should ensure that the views of the victim are balanced with this approach, and that the victim is not overlooked during proceedings.

The prosecution duty of disclosure of unused material under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (CPIA) may also be particularly relevant in VAWG cases, especially where the parties involved are known to each other and where smart phones (or similar devices) of the victim or others may contain communication or other material that is relevant to the case, and have to be disclosed.

Detailed consideration is available in specific legal guidance listed within Annex A as well as within the Disclosure - Guide to Reasonable Lines of Enquiry and Communications Evidence which should be read alongside the Disclosure – Guidance on Communication Evidence.

Myths and Stereotypes

A large number of myths and stereotypes surround VAWG crimes; prosecutors should be mindful of these when handling such cases and be careful not to make assumptions about factors such as gender, age, race, disability, physical appearance, socio-economic background, the nature of the relationship and/or the impact of trauma resulting from experiencing abuse which can mean victims present in a range of ways.

Where they are present, prosecutors should do everything they can to dispel them with reference to the full facts of the case and an objective mind-set. Common myths and stereotypes are considered further in specific legal guidance within Annex A.

Public Interest

All decisions made by the CPS should be made with reference to the Code for Crown Prosecutors and relevant legal guidance. If a case does pass the evidential stage, prosecutors must decide whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest.

Certain public interest factors outlined within the Code for Crown Prosecutors might be highly relevant to the prosecution of VAWG crimes and it would be rare for a VAWG crime not to be taken forward in the public interest. Prosecutors should consider the questions and factors outlined in section 4.14 Code for Crown Prosecutors in relation to the seriousness of an offence including consideration of the suspect’s culpability and the harm caused.

Miscellaneous

Identification of Cases and Performance Management

Identifying and accurately recording VAWG crimes is important. Correct flagging on the COMPASS case management system (CMS) is important in developing a picture of, and reporting on, our handling of these cases nationally and regionally at CPS Area level. Analysis of CPS prosecution data on VAWG is also critical in managing performance across the organisation and the data is used to understand, and where relevant, address issues identified.

Currently, flags exist on CMS for domestic violence, rape, forced marriage, honour-based violence, human trafficking and child sexual abuse with the facility to disaggregate data by sex, age, religion/belief, disability and ethnicity where possible.

Annex A

VAWG Crime Legal Guidance

Listed below are links to legal guidance specifically dealing with VAWG crimes although wider, more generic, guidance may also apply:

Further reading