Together against violence: Tech’s role in addressing VAWG and RASSO

International Women's Day launched over a hundred years ago to celebrate the achievements of women in different areas across society, work, culture and politics. Progress has been made in various areas, but violence against women and girls (VAWG) and incidents of rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) remain a prevalent issue that has a significant impact on women.  

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, around 1.4 million women experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2023. These crimes still make up 18% of all reported crimes in England and Wales. Online abuse is also becoming more prevalent, and it disproportionately affects women, who are up to 27 times more likely to experience online abuse compared to men. About 36% of women have encountered online abuse on social media, and this number increases to 62% among young women.  

Additionally, there is increasing evidence of a connection between offline and online offenses, with up to a third of domestic abuse survivors reporting instances of online harassment, abuse, or control from a current or former partner.  

On this day, we felt it important to showcase the impactful work of techUK’s ‘VAWG and RASSO Tech’ Working Group which aims to raise awareness about these important issues and initiate a significant call to action.

While we work to tackle VAWG and RASSO, it is essential to acknowledge that although technology alone cannot fully solve all the issues in this space, using it at the right time, in the right way can really support victims and law enforcement. It is all about using tech for good, driving innovation and improving multi-agency collaboration to protect women and girls.  

“The ambition is for the working group to support policing to effect real change in tackling VAWG and RASSO issues. We work together in order to provide advice thought leadership, highlight existing solutions, innovate and collaborate to provide new solutions. It’s a real privilege to Chair the group and being able to combine my policing experience with work in the tech industry in order to make a difference in an area that I care so passionately about.” 

(Naomi Bolton, VAWG and RASSO Working Group Chair) 

The group, made up of tech industry, police, policymakers, academics and technical specialists, has been actively collaborating with public sector bodies, supporting, through a digital lens, the positive developments in policing to tackle VAWG and RASSO and improve services for victims. The VAWG and RASSO Tech Working Group serves as a communication platform for industry, policing and partners, aimed at sharing information on new developments and avoid duplicating efforts, embracing a “problem focused rather than solution driven” approach.  

Achievements of the group  

The working group was established in November 2022 and announced via a launch event hosted by Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, national VAWG lead, who discussed the use and value of technology to tackle and improve VAWG.  

“Technology is at the centre of our lives, and in our very recent Strategic Threat Risk Assessment, online threats are a significant one of those harms”.

(Maggie Blyth) 

Blyth has outlined three key steps to advance the efforts against VAWG. These include implementing online reporting options for those victims who do not feel comfortable to come forward, providing training for law enforcement to address such crimes and enhancing collaboration with tech industry. 

The group has been working with key stakeholders across policing to ensure that the message on the role of technology is clear and to lay the groundwork for improved collaboration between policing and industry. This message has been reiterated on various occasions and at events, such as the “Cityforum VAWG - Reducing threats and building security and confidence” panel in December 2023 where techUK took part in a panel discussion with Greater Manchester Police, ACE, Open University Law School, Kulpa and Forensics Analytics. The event, with key-note speakers from private, public and third sector, engaged in discussions about the supportive role of tech industry and how tech for good can support both victims and law enforcement agencies. 

There is significant ongoing progress in this space, with the active involvement and support of the working group. This includes the second iteration of the Strategic Threat Risk Assessment (STRA), the VAWG delivery framework, and initiatives like the Digital Evidence Project (DEP) focusing on extraction, analysis, triage, investigation, redaction, and prosecution. The working group is also collaborating closely with the Vulnerability Knowledge Practice Programme (VKPP) to feedback on their findings and potential future VAWG threats in the digital space.  

Additionally, techUK has a seat on the RASSO Tech Partnership Board (RTPB), chaired by Chief Constable Sarah Crew, National Police Chiefs' Lead for Adult Sex Offences which benefits from regular outputs of our working group, who have been helping to innovate, challenge and inform the strategic needs and requirements while also linking to the wider digital strategy across stakeholders.  

Building partnerships between law enforcement, industry and third sector is one of the key messages of the group; Shifts in mindset and attitude are needed to overcome barriers and to improve response to tech-enabled abuse across various sectors. 

It is well known that the pace around capability development and deployment must change. Not only this, but the culture and mind-set of frontline responders and investigators. Policing’s adoption of digital has accelerated but so has the use of digital to commit crime. Therefore, the technology sector also has a vital role to play in supporting the designing out of VAWG and RASSO.

Steps in the right direction 

One notable example of progress in the RASSO space is Operation Soteria, which has led to all 43 forces across England and Wales adopting a National Operating Model for addressing rape and other serious sexual offenses.   

Operation Soteria adopts a victim-centred approach, not only on listening to victim’s preferences but also assessing and enhancing the overall victim experience and journey.  

Today more than ever it is crucial to dismantle gender-based violence. There are significant initiatives in place to support efforts to prevent VAWG and RASSO, for instance, improving broader engagement through the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic abuse and HeForShe.  

Collaboration between industry, public and third sectors, as well as academia, is essential to achieve a positive outcome on this issue. The Working Group actively collaborates with third sector organisations, such as Victim Support and Refuge

Another promising initiative in progress is the establishment of the Centre for Protecting Women Online by the Open University. The Centre will be led by Professor Olga Jurasz who is a member of our VAWG and RASSO Tech Working Group. This centre will be a valuable asset in ongoing effort to combat online violence against women.  

'The work of this centre will be vital in advancing knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon of online violence and will enable us to make a lasting difference in improving women’s safety.'

(Professor Olga Jurasz) 

There is still more work that needs to be done to prevent and reduce offences of VAWG and RASSO, and improving collaboration with private sector and the tech industry is essential to achieve that. Our working group has been doing a fantastic job in building those essential links and collaborations with law enforcement agencies and stakeholders. Only through open dialogue and cooperation can we improve prevention strategies, support services and legal frameworks essential at combating gender-based violence.  

If you would like to know more about the positive and impactful work of our working group, reach out to [email protected]

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Cinzia Miatto

Cinzia Miatto

Programme Manager - Justice & Emergency Services, techUK

Cinzia joined techUK in August 2023 as the Justice and Emergency Services (JES) Programme Manager.

The JES programme represents suppliers, championing their interests in the blue light and criminal justice markets, whether they are established entities or newcomers seeking to establish their presence.

Prior to join techUK, Cinzia held positions within the third and public sectors, managing international and multi-disciplinary projects and funding initiatives. Cinzia has a double MA degree in European Studies from the University of Göttingen (Germany) and the University of Udine (Italy), with a focus on politics and international relations.

[email protected]

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Georgie Morgan

Georgie Morgan

Head of Justice and Emergency Services, techUK

Georgie joined techUK as the Justice and Emergency Services (JES) Programme Manager in March 2020, then becoming Head of Programme in January 2022.

Georgie leads techUK's engagement and activity across our blue light and criminal justice services, engaging with industry and stakeholders to unlock innovation, problem solve, future gaze and highlight the vital role technology plays in the delivery of critical public safety and justice services. The JES programme represents suppliers by creating a voice for those who are selling or looking to break into and navigate the blue light and criminal justice markets.

Prior to joining techUK, Georgie spent 4 and a half years managing a Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCRP) in Westminster. She worked closely with the Metropolitan Police and London borough councils to prevent and reduce the impact of crime on the business community. Her work ranged from the impact of low-level street crime and anti-social behaviour on the borough, to critical incidents and violent crime.

[email protected]

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Ella Gago-Brookes

Team Assistant, Markets, techUK

Ella joined techUK in November 2023 as a Markets Team Assistant, supporting the Justice and Emergency Services, Central Government and Financial Services Programmes.  

Before joining the team, she was working at the Magistrates' Courts in legal administration and graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2022.  Ella attained an undergraduate degree in History and Politics, and a master's degree in International Relations and Security Studies, with a particular interest in studying asylum rights and gendered violence.  

In her spare time she enjoys going to the gym, watching true crime documentaries, travelling, and making her best attempts to become a better cook.  

[email protected]

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