Sexual violence and domestic abuse

3 November 2017
What was claimed

90,000 women are raped in the UK every year.

Our verdict

There is no way of knowing exactly. Estimates suggest 90,000 woman a year were victims of rape, attempted rape and sexual assault offences in England and Wales. An estimated 50,000 women were raped, rising to 70,000 including attempted rapes.

What was claimed

400,000 women are sexually assaulted in the UK every year.

Our verdict

There is no way of knowing exactly. This figure is probably too low. The latest estimates say 533,000 women aged 16-59 were sexually assaulted in England and Wales in 2015/16.

What was claimed

1.4 million women every single year suffer from domestic violence.

Our verdict

We can't know exactly. An estimated 1.4 million women aged 16-59 were victims of domestic abuse in 2013/14 in England and Wales. There were an estimated 1.3 million victims in 2015/16, and 430,000 cases involved violence.

“In Britain … 1.4 million women every single year suffer from domestic violence, 400,000 are sexually assaulted, and 90,000 are raped”

Owen Jones, 2 November 2017

Owen Jones’ figures refer to England and Wales, rather than the whole country. They’re imprecise, and it’s important to understand the definitions behind them. But they give a reasonable sense of the scale of each issue, as far as the available figures can tell us.

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Domestic violence and abuse in England and Wales

An estimated 1.3 million women aged 16-59 were victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales in 2015/16. Roughly 430,000 cases involved violence. Mr Jones’ 1.4 million figure reflects what the ONS found for domestic abuse in 2013/14.

They estimate that 700,000 men were victims of domestic abuse in 2015/16, of which 230,000 cases involved violence.

Domestic ‘abuse’ and ‘violence’ are terms often used interchangeably, although they sometimes refer to different things. These ONS figures cover everything from physical violence, sexual assault and stalking to emotional and financial abuse.

These figures are higher than the number of cases reported to the police, who recorded around 535,000 domestic abuse-related offences in the year ending September 2017.

Not everyone reports their experience of sexual offences to the police. The Office for National Statistics conducts a Crime Survey which aims to get more accurate figures than the police numbers.

The survey involves face-to-face interviews and asking respondents to complete a self-completion survey. This means the survey may identify victims who have not reported the crime to the police.

Although self-completion leads to “significantly higher” reporting of domestic abuse and sexual offences, it should not be taken as an exact estimate, given that these incidents are notoriously hard to measure.

Sexual assaults and rape in England and Wales

The number of rapes and sexual assaults in England and Wales is also difficult to measure. Again, we need the Crime Survey to help us estimate how many people have been victims of these crimes.

The latest ONS figures estimate that 530,000 women aged 16-59 were victims of sexual assault in the year up to March 2016. They do not publish an exact number for incidents of rape, but they do find that 0.7% of women experienced “Incidents of rape or assault by penetration (including attempts)” in the year to March 2016. That’s seven women out of every thousand.

To get more detailed figures, you need to go back to research from 2013. It found around 2.5% of women said they’d been a victim of an actual or attempted sexual offence in the previous year. That was an average over three years from 2009 to 2012.

The report estimates that around 400,000 women a year were victims of any sexual offence, including attempts. According to the research: “These experiences span the full spectrum of sexual offences, ranging from the most serious offences of rape and sexual assault, to other sexual offences like indecent exposure and unwanted touching.”

Of those, 90,000 were victims of rape, attempted rape and sexual assault offences. An estimated 50,000 women a year were raped, rising to 70,000 including attempted rapes.

The figures are less clear in Scotland

The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey estimates that 3.4% of women were victims of partner abuse in 2014/15, and 1.5% were victims of physical partner abuse. They warn that these figures aren’t accurate for the whole of Scotland, as they exclude people living in institutions and remote islands.

The survey’s definition of domestic abuse excludes all incidents committed by ex-partners or family members.

The Scottish police also record cases of domestic abuse, sexual assaults and rape, although again these will likely underestimate the extents of these issues.

There were 60,000 reported incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland in 2016/17. Of cases in which the gender was known, 80% of victims were women.

There were roughly 4,000 recorded sexual assaults. Almost a thousand of these were against children under 16, who are not covered by the Crime Survey for England and Wales. There were another 2,000 cases of rape and attempted rape. As far as we’ve seen, no gender breakdown is provided for these figures. These figures can’t be compared to the Crime Survey figures for England and Wales.

Correction 7 November 2017

We amended the first two conclusions to specify that the figures were for England and Wales.

Update 8 March 2018

We updated this piece with the latest figures on domestic-abuse related offences reported to the police.

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