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United Kingdom

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. The maximum legal penalty for rape is life imprisonment. The law also provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and protective exclusion orders (similar to restraining orders) for female victims of violence. The government enforced the law effectively in reported cases. Courts in some cases imposed the maximum punishment for rape. The government provided shelters, counseling, and other assistance for survivors of rape or violence. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), from April 2017 to March 2019, police in England and Wales recorded 53,977 rapes; however, the proportion of offenses prosecuted fell to 1.7 percent, the lowest level since records began a decade ago. NGOs warned that police and Crown Prosecutorial Services have raised the bar for evidence needed, causing victims to drop out of the justice process.

The law criminalizes domestic violence. Those who abuse spouses, partners, or family members face tougher punishment than those who commit similar offenses in a nondomestic context.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. The law also requires health and social care professionals and teachers to report to police cases of FGM/C on girls less than 18 years of age. It is also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM/C or to help someone trying to do this. The penalty is up to 14 years in prison. An FGM protection order, a civil measure that can be applied for through a family court, offers the means of protecting actual or potential victims from FGM/C under the civil law. Breach of an FGM protection order is a criminal offense carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.

FGM/C is practiced in the country, particularly within some diaspora communities where FGM/C is prevalent. There were 298 FGM prevention orders issued to protect children perceived as at-risk of FGM/C. In March a court sentenced a Ugandan woman to 11 years for performing FGM/C on her three-year-old daughter in 2017. Her Ghanaian partner was acquitted of all charges. This was the first FGM/C conviction in the UK.

The government took nonjudicial steps to address FGM/C, including awareness-raising efforts, a hotline, and requiring medical professionals to report FGM/C observed on patients. The National Health Service reported 4,495 newly recorded cases between April 2017 and March 2018.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment at places of work. Authorities used different laws to prosecute cases of harassment outside the workplace. In July the government launched a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace “to gather evidence that the current laws on protecting people… are effective.” The consultations were a response to a campaign started in June by an alliance of NGOs including Action Aid, Amnesty International, and Time’s Up UK calling for employers to be found liable if they fail to protect their staff from sexual harassment at work.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Women were subject to some discrimination in employment.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future