The Equality and Human Rights Commission threatened on Friday to take legal action against more than 100 councils in Britain for failing to provide specialised services for women who are victims of violence.
The commission said about one in four local authorities had no specialised services at all, while it is feared nearly a quarter of rape crisis centres could close because of a lack of funding as a result of cuts in the recession.
"In many parts of the country services for women who have experienced violence are chronically under-funded or simply do not exist. Women shouldn't be subjected to this postcode lottery," said commission chairperson Trevor Phillips.
About three million women in Britain suffer rape, domestic violence, stalking or other forms of abuse every year, the commission said.
It argued that as public bodies are legally required to promote gender equality, councils had to ensure that they provided support for victims of violence because that was a major cause of women's inequality.
In its study, the commission found that the worst provision was in eastern and southeastern England.
Ethnic minority women were also particularly badly catered for, with only one in 10 councils offering services that could deal with women facing particular circumstances such as forced marriage.
The commission said it would write to every local authority failing to provide adequate services to explain the situation.
Those who fail to produce an adequate response will face action, it warned.