Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of both men and women, 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 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. NGOs warned that police and Crown Prosecutorial Services have raised the bar for evidence needed, causing victims to drop out of the justice process. In July the Crown Prosecution Service launched a five-year plan for the prosecution of rape and serious sexual offenses (RASSO) to help reduce the gap between reported cases and prosecutions. The plan committed to improving cooperation between police and prosecutors, fully resourcing RASSO units, and training to improve communication with victims.
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.
The NGO Women’s Aid reported that as of April 6, a total of 38 of 45 service providers had reduced or suspended at least one service due to COVID-19. NGOs expressed concern that the digitization of medical services due to COVID-19 disproportionately affected women and children of color who were less likely to have access to computers or smart phones.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in November that while police-recorded cases of domestic violence in England and Wales rose by 7 percent from March to June, compared with the same period in 2019, the rise could not be attributed entirely to the COVID-19 pandemic because police made an effort to record these crimes better in recent years. The same report stated demand for domestic violence services increased since the start of COVID-19 restrictions on movement outside the home in March, and it acknowledged that victims trapped at home with their abuser due to restrictions may not able to report the crime to police.
The #YouAreNotAlone campaign introduced by the home secretary during the COVID-19 response aimed to raise public awareness about domestic violence and encourage those experiencing abuse to seek help. NGOs criticized the fact that the campaign was carried out entirely in English. Additionally, in April the Home Office provided an additional two million pounds ($2.64 million) to NGOs and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support. Throughout the year professional organizations responsible for safeguarding women and children issued COVID-19 specific guidance to help practitioners, such as nurses, police, and social workers, to identify and report signs of abuse.
Domestic violence and abuse was at a 15-year high in Northern Ireland, having increased by 9.1 percent with more than 32,000 incidents (18,885 crimes) recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) from June 2019 to July 2020. Year on year, more incidents were reported during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in April (291 more) and May (258) than in the same months in 2019. Restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 forcing people to spend much more time at home created what some women’s aid NGOs described as the “perfect storm” for abusers. Domestic abuse accounted for 19.1 percent of all crime recorded by the PSNI during the year, and Northern Ireland remained the only region in the UK without specific legislation on coercive control.
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 younger than age 18. It is also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM/C or to help someone trying to do so. 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 illegally practiced in the country, particularly within some diaspora communities where FGM/C is prevalent. The government issued 298 FGM protection orders to protect children perceived as at-risk of FGM/C.
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 6,590 newly recorded cases between April 2019 and March 2020.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment at places of work. Authorities used different laws to prosecute cases of harassment outside the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Health policy was devolved to constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Department of Health has not funded some reproductive health services, and certain aspects of reproductive rights remain under political debate.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Women were subject to some discrimination in employment.