When 1 in 3 women face violence, why is reporting so difficult? | ActionAid UK

Lee Webster

International Development Policy and Practice

ActionAid UK’s research has found that when women report violence to the police, they sometimes find it ‘traumatic’, feel they aren’t listened to – and often don’t get justice. In a world where 1 in 3 women will experience violence, it is crucial we tackle this crisis head on. 

Rani, a survivor of violence, now works at an ActionAid-supported crisis centre in Bhopal, India
Rani, a survivor of violence, now works at an ActionAid-supported crisis centre in Bhopal, India

This year, millions of women and girls around the world will experience one or another form of violence. But all too often, women are put off reporting crimes against them; and the women who do report are met with outdated legal systems, and deep-rooted sexist attitudes.

The result? In too many cases, women don’t get justice – and violence against women and girls continues with impunity. 

We know this is true – but now, we have some research shining a light on exactly how this is happening today. We’ve been speaking to women in the UK, South Africa and India about their experiences of the justice systems that are set up to support them. 

We wanted to get a global snapshot of the problem – to see whether it’s true that women, everywhere, are put off from reporting violence for the same basic reasons

Shivani Saini.

The justice system often works against women

What we found confirms our fears. 

According to the results, all too often, those women who do report violence to the police find that in the end, the justice system works against them.

Some 37% of women in the three countries have experienced violence and reported it to the police – or they know a woman who has.

Of those women, just 43% said they would describe the experience of reporting the crime as positive. Some said they felt they weren’t listened to; others felt that the perpetrator got away with it.

In Britain, nearly a third of women who’ve reported violence to the police said that doing so was a negative experience. Of these, 60% said they found it ‘traumatic’ – while 70% said the perpetrator got away with it. This was proportionally more than the average of 68% across three countries. 

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A traumatic experience with the courts

Women also reported mixed experiences with the court system. According to the research, nearly 1 in 5 women in the three countries have either been involved in a court case relating to male violence, or know a woman who has been.

Of these, just over half said going through court was a positive experience. 

Of those who reported a negative experience, some 63% found the experience traumatic, while 57% felt they were blamed for what happened. 

This is not justice. This is outrageous and wrong.

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Justice must work for women

It’s clear that too many women and girls find the experience of reporting violence to be traumatic, and feel that they – not the perpetrator – are the one on trial. It’s little wonder that so many women have no faith in the justice system, and don’t report male violence. 

ActionAid works with women and girls, including some inspiring campaigners, to ensure that survivors have a voice and can claim their rights – but much more needs to be done.

We urgently need a better approach globally to justice for women and girls, so that we ensure a fair playing field for female survivors. That includes enshrining laws to protect women and help them to report; ensuring justice systems are properly resourced; and making communities safe for women. 

Governments around the world must start listening to survivors. Women and girls everywhere need to know that when they speak up, they will be heard. 

Please join our campaign now, to help put justice back in the hands of survivors. 

Abbie Trayler Smith/ActionAid