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Violence Against Women and Girls manifests in many ways – so we need to join up to tackle it

Portrait of two young women, one looking directly at the camera and the other looking away from it. Overlaid is the text "16 Days of Action against Gender-Based Violence".

In a new guest blog, published as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we asked our partners at Redthread to explain what violence against women and girls (VAWG) is, and why we have focused a strand of The Social Switch Project on tackling this important issue. Henna Khalique and Marike van Harskamp explain more.

One thing we know is that Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) manifests in many forms and if we are to address it and invest in it, we have to understand it.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign is a moment that “galvanises global action to increase awareness and share knowledge and innovations to help end all types of violence against women and girls”. At Redthread and The Social Switch Project, this is something we prioritise every day.

Girls and young women are invisible in serious violence data

We are proud partners of Catch22, delivering the VAWG strand of The Social Switch Project – training professionals and supporting young people to spot the signs of grooming, exploitation and how to stay safer online. This piece of work is our acknowledgement and commitment to tackling VAWG in all the insidious ways it appears.

To address it, we must truly understand the nuances that lay underneath the surface. Domestic abuse, sexual violence, stalking, and female genital mutilation (FGM), are just a few of the many different forms VAWG can take, and often girls and young women will experience several of these at the same time.

However, from our work in hospitals, we know that, although invisible in official statistics, girls and young women are also substantially impacted by serious violence – in 2022/23 they made up, more than 35% of all young people we supported. In contrast to young men, woman and girls endure a wider variety of harm, including violence, sexual assault, sexual and criminal exploitation, and domestic abuse.

VAWG and serious violence overlap

The term ‘violence affecting children and young people’ extends far beyond the commonly associated concept of ‘knife crime,’ particularly for girls and young women whose experiences often involve greater complexity. This broader perspective means that instances where girls and young women are affected by serious violence – which does not fall neatly under the VAWG framework – may go unnoticed. Limiting the discussion to a singular narrative does them a disservice, highlighting the need to delve deeper into their experience.

This raises the question, “What happens when the two areas overlap?”

  • When is VAWG related to violence and exploitation, and vice versa?
  • When is a girl being used by an abusive partner for sexual or criminal exploitation?
  • What services do they need?
  • What strategies are in place to prevent and tackle that?

The VAWG expertise at Redthread sits precisely at this cross-point. Few other organisations are meeting young women in the way we do: in health care settings and often at a moment of crisis, at risk or impacted by often multiple forms of violence and exploitation.

We offer tailored services for girls and young women that are suitable for their vulnerabilities and the complexity of the issues they face. Our Young Women’s Service bridges provision gaps by providing bespoke specialist support to affected young women.

Based in four London hospitals, the Young Women’s Service offers long-term support for girls and young women impacted by violence and criminal exploitation. The support is trauma-informed and community-based following the first contact in hospital, and aims to ensure safety (e.g. arranging relocation from a violent partner), improve mental wellbeing, raise and achieve aspirations, and build trusted support networks within the community.

VAWG specialists are also embedded in some of our hospital services, enabling support and expertise, and capacity building across our teams and hospital partners.

Violence Against Women and Girls online

However we cannot talk about the impact of violence and exploitation on girls and young women without considering the dangers of the online world. Social media all too often plays a key role in VAWG, whether it is abuse, grooming, stalking, or sexual harassment. The Social Switch Project raises awareness of online harm and aims to switch the narrative on how the relationship between social media and violence is understood, tackled and solved, whilst creating employment opportunities for young people in the tech industry.

As part of The Social Switch Project, our priority is to work with young people to improve their understanding of how to stay safe online. We also train professionals like the police, social workers and NHS staff so that they are more aware of how social media plays a role in violence and exploitation and can get better at identifying young people at risk.

Our specialist VAWG modules for young people and professionals, parents, and trusted adults address not only the online harms but also the key issues around consent and healthy relationships. Importantly, the modules’ inclusivity ensures the participation and engagement of people of all genders.

If we want to end VAWG, and prevent violence, then it requires us to listen to and understand the complexity of experiences of girls and young women impacted by many different forms of violence and exploitation, in real life and online, and make sure we create the services and support they need.

– Henna Khalique, VAWG Lead at Redthread
– Marike van Harskamp, Head of Policy and Research at Redthread