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Where do my rights apply?

Ending Violence Against Women & Girls

Our Human Rights Act applies to everyone in the UK – but it becomes particularly important when people are put in vulnerable situations. With ONS data showing that women account for 73% of victims in domestic-abuse related crimes recorded by the police, women are at a higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the UK.

The Human Rights Act has been an integral tool in challenging the State when actions (or a lack of action) puts women at greater risk. Because police, unlike doctors or healthcare workers, cannot be sued for negligence, the Human Rights Act is an important way women can challenge a failure to investigate crimes relating to SGBV.

It has also been used to help women access the support and services they need when fleeing unsafe environments such as domestic abuse.

Key information

Who is this for:
Individuals and communities

Last updated
22nd November 2022

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Real life stories

The right to life may be at risk in cases involving domestic violence.

In Opuz v Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that Turkey had violated the right to life of Ms Opuz, who was killed by her son-in law. Before the killing, the police had received many reports about the son-in-law’s violent behaviour and death threats towards Ms Opuz and her daughter. However, they did not act on this information and Ms Opuz was ultimately killed. The Court also found that the Turkish Government had violated both women’s right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman and degrading way (Article 3) and the right not to be discriminated against (Article 14).

The right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment may be at risk in cases involving domestic violence or sexual and gender-based violence.

In 2018, two women, survivors of rape by John Worboys, won their legal fight to hold the police accountable for breaching their human rights because of failures to properly investigate reports of his crimes. The Supreme Court confirmed that the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment imposes a positive legal duty to investigate reported crimes perpetrated by private individuals. This means it is not enough to simply have the right processes and policies in place; failures in investigations can also breach the law. This case was ground-breaking as in other English law, it is actually very difficult to hold authorities such as the police to account.

The right to private and family life, home and correspondence may be at risk if women are unable to access public services such as housing, access to health care, education or have ongoing contact with the police and social services.

Erin was in her late 70s and affected by dementia. She was living in a care home where her partner, Patrick, visited her regularly. Staff saw Patrick touching Erin in a sexual way and raised concerns about it with Social Services, who carried out a safeguarding enquiry and capacity assessment. Erin’s friend wanted the care home to stop Patrick visiting altogether. Erin’s Care Act Advocate raised the issue of Erin’s right to private and family life. They agreed Erin had capacity to decide if she wants to have contact with Patrick, including kissing and hugging, although she did not have the capacity to consent to full sex. They therefore ensured the care home would not stop Patrick visiting and would not intervene if they saw Erin and Patrick kissing and hugging. The right to a private and family life is also relevant to immigration issues; women in the UK who have experienced domestic abuse and are reliant on their partner’s right to remain can leave their partner and apply to settle in their own right under Article 8.

The right to life may be at risk when women are disproportionately impacted by an action (or lack of action) by a public body.

In JD and A v the UK, the ECtHR found that the UK Government's ‘bedroom tax’ discriminated against women who are survivors of domestic violence. A and her son lived in a three-bedroom house that had been adapted under the UK’s Sanctuary Scheme to include a panic room. A needed this room because she had experienced sexual violence, harassment and stalking by a former partner. When the ‘bedroom tax’ was introduced, A’s housing benefit was reduced because the panic room was counted as a “spare” room. The Court found applying the reduction to survivors of domestic violence housed by the Sanctuary Scheme was discriminatory because it would disproportionately interfere with their right to peaceful enjoyment of property under Article 1, Protocol 1 of the Human Rights Act.

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