I beg to move,
That this House
notes the One Billion Rising Campaign, and the call to end violence against women and girls;
and calls on the Government to support this by introducing statutory provisions to make personal, social and health education, including a zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships, a requirement in schools.
I rise to speak to the motion on the Order Paper in my name and in the names of many Members across parties. Before I do so, I should like to say some thank yous. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us this debate. I thank the Leader of the House for tipping us the wink a few weeks earlier that we would probably secure a debate on this day, which is significant because of my other thank you—to the One Billion Rising campaign, a coalition of women around the world rising against violence against women. Many of us who are in the Chamber have been in Parliament square with them today, dancing, shouting and protesting. The movement was prompted by the 15th anniversary of “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler. Any of us who have heard her speak about how rape is used as a weapon of war will recognise that we are having absolutely the correct pair of debates today—the debate that I am initiating and the debate on sexual violence in conflict that Nicola Blackwood will introduce later.
I chose this subject for debate because activists in the One Billion Rising campaign around the country have been running workshops about what would make the most difference in addressing domestic violence. Over the course of history, quite a lot of things have been done in that regard. We have better prosecution rates, IDVAs—independent domestic violence advisers—and refuges to help victims of domestic violence. However, the workshops concluded that the most important thing to do is make the next generation safe, and that the shortfall in our response to such violence is caused by a lack of education to prevent it. That has led to a situation where one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime, and that is unacceptable.
Others have reached the same view. Although the recent cross-party inquiry into unwanted pregnancies focused on preventing teenage pregnancy, it also argued the importance of teaching young people in school to make informed choices and to resist being coerced through peer pressure into sex or risky sexual behaviour. The Schools Safe 4 Girls campaign, which was launched by the End Violence Against Women Coalition last autumn, echoes that message. Almost every Select Committee report that has looked into domestic violence concluded that the Government’s weakest response is in education.
It is a real pity that that did not proceed. It is also a pity that the Government-initiated inquiry into sex and relationships education, which was
launched in 2011, has yet to report. The Government have a lack of urgency and a lack of adequate commitment on this matter.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many people will say that this education is the responsibility of parents and families and that it should not be done in schools? Many of its opponents—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We can hear some such opponents on the Government Benches. I would say to them—I hope that my hon. Friend agrees—that many families do not have the capacity to educate their children, and many families, unfortunately, have violent relationships within them, and that is not appropriate to the education of children.
The responsibility of families does not get rid of the responsibility of the education service.
Does the hon. Lady agree that some schools are already taking a lead on this issue and teaching it, and that that, along with partnership working with the police, it is incredibly important? That is what I find in my London borough of Hounslow.
Yes, of course there are schools that are doing this well. The problem is that we do not have a comprehensive system—I will go into the details later—that guarantees excellent sex and relationships education. It is unsafe not to have such a system in schools, and that is my argument.
I am trying to make progress, but I will give way.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for being so patient, because I know she wants to make progress. The Office for National Statistics estimates that more than 500,000 people will be victims of sexual crimes in an average year, with only up to 10,000 prosecutions. Does that not show that there needs to be wider education so that people can protect themselves, as the state, through the police force, is clearly failing to protect them?
Let us be honest: the police response to this issue has improved over the past decade. It is better than it used to be, but it is not good enough. My hon. Friend is right that the police usually detect only about 2% or 3% of crimes and that there are even fewer prosecutions. The situation, therefore, is not completely unusual. The best response to crime is to prevent it in the first place. My argument is that taking on the challenge of teaching against violence is one way of preventing it.
I am an MP now, but I used to be an educator. I used to teach children in the last years of primary school and then I taught adults to be teachers. I know that good-quality education can transform lives, but I also know that, too often, this subject is an afterthought in too many
schools. Let us look at the issue from first principles: is it necessary to act; will the motion’s proposed action make a difference; and what will happen if it does not?
The British crime survey shows that one in 14 women and one in 20 men interviewed in 2011-12 had experienced domestic abuse by a partner or family member in the past year. According to the same interviews, nearly one in three women and almost one in five men said that they had experienced such abuse since the age of 16. A freedom of information request made by my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper suggested that a third of 999 calls about domestic violence are from people who have been previous victims. Every week, two women are murdered in domestic violence murders. Around the world, women aged 15 to 44 are more likely to die or be disabled because of violence than as a result of cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
This is an issue in schools. A YouGov poll found that nearly one in three 16 to 18-year-old girls has experienced groping or unwanted sexual touching. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found that a third of girls aged 13 to 17 in relationships had experienced physical or sexual violence, with 12% of them reporting rape. We know how often girls who are victims of rape do not report it, because they are not taught in schools about relationships and the importance of consent. The interim findings of the exploitation inquiry undertaken by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the university of Bedfordshire uncovered worrying trends of increased sexual exploitation of young people by their peers. Violence and sexual aggression in relationships has become too common for British young people. To overcome that, they need to be able to make positive choices for their own future.
The work on young people’s understanding is really important. This crime is almost unlike any other, because the victim tends to feel responsible or, indeed, is sometimes deemed responsible by society as a result of their actions. We do not tell burglary victims, “It’s your fault, because you haven’t got a burglar alarm,” yet society too often tells victims of rape and sexual violence, “It’s your fault. You were drunk and wearing sexually provocative clothing.” Those attitudes are absorbed by young women so that they think it is their fault.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling case for statutory education. On teaching girls about consent, is it not just as important that boys also learn that no always means no?
My hon. Friend is right. In preparing for this debate, I have been looking at research about whether sex and relationships education actually works. One of the things that that has shown is that there is further to go with boys than girls. We should take that very seriously, because we need to address the level of tolerance that young boys seem to have towards violence, seeing it as relatively normal. We do not know why that is.
If I keep giving way I will take up too much of the debate, so I will try to resist, but if any Members are really assertive I will give way. How about that for a deal?
Research shows that young men have a higher tolerance of sexual violence than young women. Although both are changed by good-quality sex and relationships education, the sad thing is that a lot of research studies show that the young men move from a very bad set of attitudes to about where the young women’s attitudes start. The young women get more confidence and change their attitudes a lot by understanding that it is not tolerable to put up with physical violence, sexting, sexual bullying or being barged about.
As I have said, I used to be a teacher and a teacher educator in the days when things were much worse. I remember a teacher education resource about computers in education. In those days, computers were rather new in the classroom and the resource stated how the boys would be really excited about them and how the girls’ ribs would be bruised as the boys pushed past them to get to the computers because they enjoyed the lesson so much. That was a resource for people learning to teach. It indicated a tolerance of violence in the classroom that is utterly unacceptable, and that is the reason why I think the motion will do more to prevent the violence that too many women and men in our society face.
I have discussed successful sex and relationships education and how it can change things. Some of it is successful and some of it is very bad. Ofsted’s report says that about three quarters of the lessons observed were good and about a quarter were poor. Of the good lessons, Ofsted noticed that the bit that was not so good was relationships education. I think that we have created an education system that focuses far too much on the mechanics of sex and not sufficiently on autonomy, the right to say no, positive relationships and empowering young women in that way.
I commend the evidence sent by the PSHE Association, which provides teachers with assistance on personal, social, health and economic education. It notes that about 40% of 16 to 18-year-old students have not received or cannot remember lessons or information on sexual consent. Only 6% of respondents said that they got the information on relationships that they needed in PSHE. It points out that good quality PSHE teaching not only helps to raise young people’s awareness of abuse, but supports those who experience abuse to develop practical strategies and skills to stop it, and that it challenges prevailing negative attitudes towards women and girls. We know that this can work and prevent the appalling problem of young girls thinking that violent, abusive relationships are normal and that the controlling way in which their so-called boyfriends manage their behaviour is acceptable.
In view of the cases in Oxford, I asked my local police commander whether there was the same problem in my area of the exploitation of young girls by organised gangs which seduce them with violence, bullying, presents and threats. He said that he did not think that there was an organised gang in Slough, but that he had identified about 12 young women who are very vulnerable, but who think that they just have boyfriends and are not at risk.
That is why we need this education. We need it to enable girls to be safe. We need it to enable boys to know that such behaviour is absolutely unacceptable
throughout society, even if it happens behind closed doors. We need it to ensure that people who have been victims of violence know that it is not their fault. We must make a society in which all those things are real. I believe that excellent sex and relationships education based on zero tolerance to violence will deliver that. We are still miles behind according to the evidence that has been sent to us by groups such as the National Union of Students, which reports that many students still face sexual bullying and violence as the norm in colleges and universities.
This motion, if implemented, could really make the difference. I urge the Minister in his summing up to tell us that he will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Education, which in my view has done less than his Department to deal with this issue, and remind them that this is not something for the future; this is urgent.
There is a six-minute limit on speeches. We may have to reduce that towards the end of the debate.
I congratulate hon. Members from all parts of the House on securing this important debate on the day of One Billion Rising. I also congratulate Stella Creasy on leading a fantastic cross-party group in Parliament square. It is a shame that the Metropolitan police tried to move us on. [Laughter.] They did not succeed, I might add.
I am pleased to speak in this debate for a couple of reasons. First, like many Members, I am a parent. I have two teenage daughters and was lucky enough to bring one of them to the event today. I find it impossible to disagree with the heart of the motion and what it is trying to do.
When I look at the UK, I think how lucky and privileged we are in many ways. I returned recently from a trip to Afghanistan. The sorts of rights, freedoms and protections that are afforded to us and our children are still wishful thinking for an enormous proportion of the women in that country.
There are some chilling points that we are right to discuss in this debate. I was interested to read an attitude to violence survey conducted among young people in Wiltshire in 2009—the latest research that I could find—in which a quarter of the children surveyed said that they thought that violence was okay in some or all cases. They thought that it was particularly okay in relationships, for example if somebody found out that their partner was cheating on them. I find that shocking. I find it particularly shocking that one in five young girls agreed with that statement. I also noted that 56% of the young people questioned said that they had witnessed domestic violence. Although some of the methodology was a little suspect—the categories included “parents checking up on my movements”—the survey provides food for thought.
Given that violence is such a big problem, is my hon. Friend not also concerned that only 34% of men and 17% of women who are sentenced for violence against the person are sent to prison? Does that not send out a very bad message about how seriously we take violence against the person in this country?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, particularly with regard to violence by women that is directed towards men, but that is not the purpose of this debate. There are wrinkles in that matter that I do not want to go into. However, it is important that we hear male voices in this debate and I welcome the Minister to his position.
I want to talk about what we have done already. I am very proud of the Home Secretary. That statement might not receive wide cross-party support, but we have taken some important steps, as did the previous Government. We have provided stable funding for those who counsel and support victims of violence. I know from the domestic violence support centre in Devizes that the stability of that funding is very welcome. We have put new funding into a number of initiatives. We have trialled domestic violence protection orders. I am proud that those have been trialled in my constituency. It would be wonderful if the Minister could tell us when we might hear the results of those pilots and whether the orders will be adopted nationally.
We have also introduced Clare’s law, which has been campaigned for so effectively by many Members across the House. We have started to criminalise the serious offences of forced marriage and female genital mutilation —problems that have bedevilled us for many years. We have introduced a campaign that focuses on the problem of teenage rape, which tells young girls that it is wrong. Importantly, we have reformed stalking law to help those who are stalked.
A special subject for me is online violence, abuse and bullying, particularly against women and girls. Again, there has been extraordinary cross-party support in this area, for which we are all grateful. I do not mean to scaremonger, but it seems to me that we are conducting a long-term experiment with our children, particularly our girls and young women, by exposing them so freely to the violent, degrading and sexualised content of the online world.
There are two buckets of problems that we are trying to deal with. The first is children looking at third-party content on websites. I may be classified as the Mary Whitehouse 2.0 of my generation, but I do not mind what people call me. With the support of Members from across the House, we have made extraordinarily good progress in bringing the internet service providers to a point where they will all introduce filters that provide protection on all devices in the home by the end of the year. The fundamental problem is that only four in 10 families with children currently use filters. That means that six out of 10 children live in a filter-free environment. By the end of this year, public wi-fi will not allow adult content by default. Mobile phone operators are also making tremendous progress in refreshing their adult content bars. That is a tribute to the energies of Members from all parts of the House, in particular Fiona Mactaggart who has worked tirelessly on this matter.
I recognise the excellent work that my hon. Friend has being doing. As well as the online issues, is she concerned about the violence that is often depicted in games for computer consoles?
My hon. Friend raises a very good point. Work is going on to put age ratings on games and also on online music videos. Perhaps I am prudish, but
some of the stuff that one sees in the gym these days is not what I want my children to be watching. It is fine as long as it is age rated and parents know that it is available.
On third-party content, Britain will be leading the world in the way that we protect our families. That is a tribute to the energy of this Parliament.
The second bucket of problems is often referred to as “sexting”. That is not a term that children use and it is rather an inflammatory one. It refers to user-generated content that we would all recognise if we saw it. The problem is children and young people exchanging inappropriate images, content and messages. That is a huge, growing and endemic problem and we have no idea how big it is. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children published qualitative research last year that suggested that it is almost the norm in schools for children to receive and exchange this sort of information.
There have been some extraordinarily tragic cases. Chevonea Kendall-Bryan, a constituent of my hon. Friend Jane Ellison, committed suicide after being forced to perform a sex act on a boy and then pleading with him to remove the image. Records show that she had sent him a text message saying:
“How much can I handle? HONESTLY. I beg you, delete that.”
He did not delete the image and she fell to her death from a window. That is a tragic case.
Only yesterday, another colleague gave me an e-mail from a woman saying that her 12-year-old daughter had been seriously sexually assaulted in class at a very good independent school. This issue cuts across all boundaries and affects all parts of the country. The mother said that when she talked to her daughter about why alarms bells did not go off when the boy sent a text requesting sexual acts, her daughter looked at her as if she was mad and said, “Mum, All the boys send texts like that.” Boys as young as 11 and 12 are sending highly inappropriate photographs of their genitalia around networks via social media.
Does the hon. Lady share the concern of many Members that seemingly mainstream companies such as Facebook have introduced applications that facilitate such behaviour through short-term images appearing and then being deleted after a number of seconds?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and that is part of the work that the UK Council for Child Internet Safety is doing with companies that want to be responsible.
Fundamentally, this is a behavioural point, and what we need is education. Right now, there is no technology that can protect our children against this sort of thing. Parental education and the education of children are both part of the mix. I look with interest at today’s motion as a consultation is under way, and we need to see the results before finally deciding what should be in the curriculum.
It is a great pleasure to follow Claire Perry, who has done some fantastic work in the area of improving online protection for children.
Last week, I visited the St Mary’s sexual assault referral centre, which was the first of its kind to be established in the UK. There are now 41 across England and Wales. St Mary’s sees women, men and children, the youngest being three weeks old and the eldest 93 years old, and has more than 1,000 cases a year, of which just under half are children. The centre provides a range of services, including forensic medical examinations to collect evidence and document injuries; counselling, including pre-trial therapy; child advocates to support children and families; a young person’s advocate aimed at identifying those at risk of being sexually exploited; and independent sexual violence advisers, who offer practical support through the process.
The recent tragic suicide of Frances Andrade demonstrates the extent of the psychological damage suffered as a result of sexual assault, its enduring nature and the risk to victims of court proceedings. St Mary’s provides a holistic service to meet individual needs so that victims do not have to fight their way through various referral criteria and thresholds to get help. It is a valuable and important resource with a committed and experienced team.
Greater Manchester police have predominantly funded the sexual assault referral centre, including follow-on psychosocial support, in the belief, supported by evidence, that if victims feel supported they are more likely to have confidence and therefore continue with the criminal justice process. There are concerns, however, that changes as part of the restructuring of the NHS in April 2013, and changes in police funding in 2015, will result in deficit funding and the fragmentation of services that are currently offered at St Mary’s. Without those services, an 80-year-old woman would not be able to talk about the abuse that she has kept secret for years, and children who have been sexually exploited would not get the support that they need to feel confident enough to be a witness against their abuser in court. I would be grateful if the Minister could look into that for me.
Of course it would be better if children never had to be referred to St Mary’s, as the team there would agree, but that means that we need much earlier intervention in children’s lives. I have talked to the team working with sexually exploited children referred by the police as the result of an investigation, and they told me that children were sometimes reluctant to talk to them as they did not initially see themselves as sexually exploited. It is horrifying that many sexually exploited children are subjected to intimidation, coercion, blackmail and threats of violence, but it is equally shocking that others think their abuser cares about them.
To understand what we need to put in place to prevent violence and the abuse of children, we need to understand the long, sad journey of some children to becoming victims of sexual exploitation. They are often the type of neglected children about whom Action for Children talked in its recent report—children who feel so alone and so lacking in self-esteem that they welcome any attention, and who have no understanding of what a caring relationship is about because they have never seen one. Often, such children never reach the threshold for intervention by any services, so their neglect goes undetected. We can see why they are vulnerable to sexual grooming and how important it is to identify vulnerable children in their early childhood.
That is why I am impressed by Stockport’s supporting families pathway, which enables referrals to all council and other local services to be recorded on a single shared database. That means that a complete picture of a child’s life can be built up, and there can be early detection of children who are struggling. At the moment, the model that we have means that children have to reach a certain threshold to be referred to services, and that threshold is often reached far too late in a child’s life. The sharing of data across all agencies would enable a vulnerable child to be identified much earlier. The question would then be not whether their need was great enough to access services but what would be the most appropriate intervention that we could make to help them.
Of course, schools have an important role in safeguarding children. I believe that compulsory sex and relationship education in schools would give children and young people the confidence to reject inappropriate relationships.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the consultation on computing content is an encouraging part of the consideration of the new curriculum? That includes communicating safely and respectfully online, keeping personal information private and general common sense in the internet space. That would go some way towards dealing with some of the problems that she has addressed.
I do agree, and I was interested to hear the hon. Lady talk about that yesterday.
Sex and relationship education in schools is very important, because it can help children to understand when they are being groomed by older men for sexual exploitation or involved in sexually coercive relationships by their peers. Both the Director of Public Prosecutions and the deputy Children’s Commissioner have spoken recently about the impact of pornography on young men who commit sexual and relationship violence. I was also concerned to read in a report by the chief inspector of probation, out last week, that some professionals fail to combat sexual offending by children because they miss warning signs. That report, conducted by probation inspectors, studied 24 teenage boys with convictions ranging from indecent assault to rape and found that opportunities to intervene when the offender was young had been missed in nearly every case.
Action is needed not just when the offender is young but when the victim is young. It seems clear from the reports that we read of the case in Oxford that the police did not act fast enough when young women first disclosed that they were unhappy about how their controllers were treating them.
I agree, of course, and as I have just said, it is important to identify child sex offenders as well as children who are sexually offended against.
Sex and relationship education has an important role in challenging at an early age attitudes in boys that result in sexually offending behaviour. With better inter-agency working, data collecting, early intervention and compulsory sex and relationship education in schools, we can make a start on preventing harm from coming to our children, but I fear that centres such as St Mary’s will be needed for some time. I believe that without
St Mary’s, there would be more tragic deaths among victims of sexual abuse. We want a better world in which victims are not afraid to speak out and perpetrators cannot rely on the silence of their victims. It is really good to see support from all parties for the excellent motion that my hon. Friend has tabled, because each of us is trying to make a difference in our own different ways. After all, 1 billion voices cannot be wrong.
It is traditional on these occasions for me to be a lone voice—in fact, that is customary in most debates. I intend to continue that tradition today.
Of course, we are all united in our opposition to any violence against women and girls. I would be astounded if any of us were not. I pride myself on being renowned as one of the most hard-line Members when it comes to matters of law and order and sentencing. I always find it rather strange that those who speak passionately about how we should have zero tolerance of any violence against people, which I agree with, are often the same people who then argue that the perpetrators of violence should do anything but be sent to prison. As I made clear in an intervention, we are in the ridiculous situation whereby, of people convicted of violence against the person in this country, only 35% of men and, shockingly, only 17% of women are sent to prison. If we really want to send out a message of zero tolerance towards violence against people, the first thing we ought to do is press for much tougher sentences for people guilty of it. That would be a better way of deterring crime than the education route that Fiona Mactaggart thinks will solve these problems.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should never try to prevent crime, that we should never intervene and try to educate and divert people from crime, and that we should always wait until they commit a crime and then lock them up for as long as possible? Is that not nonsense?
The hon. Lady seems to forget that for many people, respite from violence comes when the perpetrator of that violence is sent to prison. That is one of our best deterrents against violence. When people are prosecuted and not sent to prison, the violence continues. Sending people to prison is one of the best things we can do. It seems that Opposition Members are less keen on a zero tolerance approach to violence than their rhetoric suggests.
Given the title of the motion, we could be forgiven for thinking that the only—or main—victims of violent crime are women and girls, and that it does not apply to men or boys. In a debate that I secured in Westminster Hall last year on female offenders, I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Grant) that the reality of these matters sometimes differs from the rhetoric. After the debate I asked her in a parliamentary question whether she accepted that the figures I had quoted were correct. I received a reply which seemed to indicate that she did
believe those figures were correct, and given that they are the Ministry of Justice’s own figures, I will continue to use them.
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that the vast majority of incidents of violence against women and girls never get anywhere near the criminal justice system?
The hon. Lady may well be right and we certainly need to do something about that. I do not disagree with that point.
I want to quote the most recent biennial statistics—from November 2012—from the Ministry of Justice on the representation of females and males in the criminal justice system. They confirm that men are twice as likely to be the victim of violent crime as women. Some 2% of women interviewed for the crime survey for England and Wales reported being victims of violence, compared with 4% of men. The statistics also confirm that of all incidents of violence reported in the 2011-12 crime survey, 62% of victims were male, and 38% were female.
I cannot give way because time is limited and I have already accepted two interventions. There will be plenty of opportunity for people to make their points. My point also applies to children. Again, according to the Ministry of Justice biennial statistics and the British crime survey, a smaller proportion of girls than boys reported being victims of violence—5% of girls versus 11% of boys.
It is not just violence generally where men do worse than women. Women accounted for between 27% to 32% of recorded homicide victims between 2006-07 and 2010-11, while men were victims in between 68% and 73% of cases. We all agree that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence. In the past, the Minister has stated that 7% of women are victims of domestic violence, but so are 5% of men. It is not just an issue for women.
I have already explained that I cannot give way.
Those figures do not tell the full story because they relate to all abuse and all violence in households. In partner abuse, 4.2% of women are victims and 3% are men. Men and women are both victims of domestic violence and partner abuse. We must also bear in mind that the definition of domestic violence includes non-violent components.
I have not got time to give way; there is a short time limit and there will be plenty of time for other cases to be made during the rest of the debate.
I also want to talk about the perpetrators of violent crime—[Interruption.]
Order. There are too many private conversations and it is difficult to hear Mr Davies. I am sure we all want to hear what he has to say—[Interruption.] Perhaps not, but at least he can enjoy it.
That is part of the problem, Mr Deputy Speaker. They do not want to hear anyone who does not agree with them. One could be forgiven for thinking that the perpetrators of all these crimes were men and not often women, but again, that is not true. There are many female perpetrators of violence against both women and men, and according to official Ministry of Justice figures, the most common offence group for which both males and females were arrested during a five-year period was violence against the person—34% of females and 31% of males arrested in 2010-11 were arrested for violence against the person. Again, that is not restricted to women but applies also to girls. In 2010-11, violence against the person was the most common offence group for which juvenile females were arrested.
I am afraid that time does not allow me to go through those figures in more detail, which I would like to do.
I will take a quick intervention from my hon. Friend.
May I offer my hon. Friend a slight lifeline? Does he at least agree with the first part of the motion, which is a call to end violence against women and girls?
Absolutely. As I said at the start, we all want to end violence against women and girls, but—unlike some others, it seems—I want to end all violence. I do not take the view that violence against women and girls is somehow worse than violence against men and boys. As far as I am concerned, all violence is unacceptable and all violence against the person should be punished by law. We should not try to segregate men and women in the criminal justice system. Both men and women are victims, and both are perpetrators of crime. I believe in true equality and want people to be treated equally when they are a victim of crime and when they are a perpetrator of crime. At the moment, whether people like it or not, men are treated more harshly than women in the criminal justice system, certainly when it comes to sentencing. That is an inconvenient truth for many people.
It is traditional to say that it is a pleasure to follow the previous speaker, in this case Philip Davies, even if I do not subscribe to the views expressed. Hopefully the hon. Gentleman will now hear the other side of the argument.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to this debate and my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart for leading our request to the Committee. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Stella Creasy who encouraged us all to get involved and has been absolutely committed. Unfortunately, she could not speak in the Backbench
Business Committee debate, but she is a perfect example of a woman’s place being not only in Parliament, but on the Front Bench. This has been a cross-party issue—I was going to say cross-gender, but that has a completely different meaning. I should also mention my hon. Friend Karl Turner, who attended the Backbench Business Committee debate with us.
Today, in London, we are debating violence against women and girls, but people are responding to this call from the shores of Brazil, from Australia with the Girlpower Goddess and White Ribbon event, and from India, where there was a flash mob in Parliament square and the song, “Jago Delhi Jago”—Rise Delhi, Rise. We know that two months’ ago in Delhi, five men were accused of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student who did nothing but sit on a bus. People in Delhi have risen up, and we are saying yes to this day of action to end violence against women. The movement was started by Eve Ensler, but the tsunami has been pushed forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow.
I pay tribute to a friend of mine, the late Malcolm Richards. He used to be a journalist on the Brentford and Chiswick Times, which was part of the Richmond and Twickenham Times that I worked for as part of the Dimbleby newspaper group. He brought to the world’s attention the first woman’s refuge in Chiswick, started by Erin Pizzey. Both Malcolm and Erin were able to say to women, “We hear your silent scream and there is a safe place for you.” There is now a network of 45 safe houses that provide emergency accommodation for women and children.
This debate shows that around the world today there are still practices that victimise women and treat us as second class. We want to end the practice of the badly named “honour” killings, where women are killed for alleged behaviour and for bringing shame on their family although the behaviour of men is tolerated. There are 5,000 of those killings worldwide. We want to put an end to the dowry system where the payment of a sum effectively buys a female, a girl, for marriage. We need to end the terrible practice of female genital mutilation, which has no base in culture or religion. I applaud the bravery of midwives such as Alison Byrne in that respect, and draw the House’s attention to a conference in the Liverpool women’s hospital on
What about modern-day slavery? Eighty per cent. of people who are trafficked are women. War rages in trouble spots throughout the world—rape is used as a weapon of war. The UN says that the roots of violence against women lie in the unequal power relationship between men and women, and persistent discrimination against women.
The debate is not about women and girls as victims, but about empowerment. Malala Yousef stood up and was almost killed because she wanted every girl to go to school. Women have been empowered by microfinance, although they might still be exploited. Those who stand up for no more page 3 say that women do not want to be objects in a newspaper. The first woman doctor had to pretend for 46 years that she was a man called James Barry so that she could qualify, but women now make up 50% of entrants. Carrie Morrison, who was the first woman to qualify as a solicitor, stood up. The women
who gave us the vote stood up. The women MPs from Tanzania, Pakistan and Afghanistan, whom I have met, are trying to increase the quota of women MPs from 30% to 50%. Thirty per cent. is not enough in Tanzania. Parliament has celebrated Aung San Suu Kyi, who must daily stand up to those who try to take away human rights and progress made by democracy. We must highlight and support those women.
I have mentioned action around the world, but more importantly, what about the action through the generations, from our mothers, who sometimes did two jobs—working in the home and outside—to the suffragettes and suffragists, who gave us the vote, and the women in the peace camps at Greenham Common. All those women here and around the world have stood up. On this day, we recognise and celebrate their courage.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I appreciate being called now, because—unfortunately—I have to go to the Westminster Hall debate at 1.25 pm. I want to talk about protecting future generations of women and girls from violence and forced marriage.
Worldwide, 10 million girls are married each year before they are 18, which is equivalent to more than 27,000 girls per day, or 19 every minute. In the developing world, one in three girls will be married before they are 18. In October last year on the first international day of the girl, the United Nations population fund released new data that predict that, by 2020, if child marriage prevalence trends continue, 142 million girls will be married before they are adults and, because of the rising global population, that means an increase in child marriage to around 14 million girls per year.
In most cases, laws and international conventions are in place to protect children from being forced into marriage, yet Governments fail to implement those protections. We do not know exactly how many British girls face forced marriage, but evidence shows that they are being taken out of the country to be married against their will. Here in the UK, families are also getting children married off in the community or in religious ceremonies. Some take advantage of the fact that the law in Britain allows the marriage of 16 and 17-year-olds with parental consent.
Understanding the causes and consequences of early and forced marriage is paramount in preventing girls from losing their childhood, their dreams and the opportunities to make their own choices about their lives and relationships. Causes and practices vary according to context, yet there are common themes. In some areas, child marriage has been practised for many centuries, while in others it emerges as a response to conditions of crisis, including political instability, natural disaster and civil unrest.
Poverty and gender inequality are common drivers of child marriage. Many parents marry their daughters off young to protect them from poverty, sexual harassment, the stigma of extramarital sex, and sexually transmitted infections. They also marry daughters off to reduce their own economic burdens, and yet child marriage entrenches those problems and does little to protect girls or boys.
In the developing world, a lack of access to education is both a symptom and a cause of child marriage, especially for girls, many of whom get very little formal education because they are valued more for their future roles as wives and mothers. As a result, they miss out on opportunities to learn, to build financial independence and to make autonomous decisions about their futures. Those effects are passed on to successive generations.
Child marriage is a shocking infringement of human rights and the rights of the child. It has many significant and worrying consequences. It leads to higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidities; it contributes to infant mortality and poor child development; it is associated with violence, rape and sexual abuse, resulting in emotional and psychological problems, desertion and divorce; and it increases population growth and hinders sustainable development.
In Bangladesh, an eight-year-old child ran away from her 60-year-old husband whom she had been forced to marry, and had acid poured over her. She has no life at all and is not supported or protected in the least. We must protect against such things.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. The stories one hears from around the world are shocking.
Child marriage takes away opportunities for education and training, and removes autonomy. It removes economic independence, undermines self-confidence and reaffirms gender stereotypes. It is associated with, and helps to perpetuate, harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation. It is a severe threat to combating poverty and the achievement of the millennium development goals.
As the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on population, development and reproductive health, I want to highlight child marriage and maternal and reproductive health, in response to “A Childhood Lost”, the group’s report, which was published last year following parliamentary hearings. The consequences of child marriage for maternal and reproductive health are grave. Child brides are unable to negotiate protected sex with their husbands, and are often under pressure to start bearing children immediately, which leads to a prolonged period of reproduction and larger numbers of children.
Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and also face much higher chances than older women of experiencing pregnancy-related injuries such as fistulas, and of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The children of child brides are 60% more likely to die before the age of one than children whose mothers are aged 19 or over. Those problems are compounded by the fact that child brides are often unable to access life-saving health care for themselves and their children, including contraception, family planning advice and maternal health care.
The British Government have demonstrated a strong political will to tackle forced marriage in the UK and abroad, and a Bill to criminalise the offence in the UK is being drafted. As I said at the beginning, legislation is not enough to combat child marriage. Governments need to revise laws and policies on related important issues such as divorce, inheritance and property ownership to protect girls. Improved co-operation is needed across
Government Departments and embassies, including in the UK. Other harmful practices such as female genital mutilation need to be tackled, and access to sexual and reproductive health services, improved registration systems, and professional support and shelters, are essential.
I am interested to know whether the Government will consider including child marriage in the personal, social, health and economic education curriculum; whether they will make registration of religious marriages compulsory in the UK; and whether they will increase the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 when criminalising child marriage. I urge the Department for International Development and other donors to evaluate existing interventions so that aid is spent effectively, and to scale up programmes to prevent child marriage and support survivors. The Department for International Development has shown great leadership in family planning via the June 2012 family planning summit. We need to work to meet the needs of family planning, and sexual, reproductive and maternal health care of girls and women of all ages, whatever their marital status.
We parliamentarians must work with colleagues in other countries, particularly in the developing world, to galvanise political will and to share best practice in tackling child marriage through programmes and services, and legislative reform and implementation. We urgently need to do something for women worldwide whose cries are not heard.
I am grateful to have been called to speak in this important and timely debate. It is a pleasure to follow Heather Wheeler, who has been a strong voice for women and girls since her election.
It is estimated that, in Hull, almost 25,000 women and more than 18,000 children will experience domestic violence each year. To put that in real terms, three or four children in every classroom experience domestic violence. Humberside police respond to some 55 incidents of domestic violence every month, and 81% of victims are female. Children who live with domestic violence have an increased risk of behavioural problems and emotional trauma. Mental health difficulties will definitely arise in their adult lives as a result of their experiences.
Hull has been working hard to address the problem. The local primary care trust, working with Hull city council, has implemented the Strength to Change programme. This is a voluntary scheme aimed at men who are often the perpetrators of domestic violence. It is a groundbreaking project that makes a real difference to victims of violence. There is an excellent women’s centre in my constituency, Purple House, which provides support for hundreds of women victims. However, cuts are affecting these projects, and there is currently a review to decide whether these vital services are necessary—they definitely are.
The total cost of domestic abuse to the criminal justice system, health, social services and housing amounts to approximately £3.8 billion a year. It is clear that to prevent violence against women and girls, we need to do more to ensure both young men and young women are educated to develop positive and equal relationships with their peers. That education and support must start in schools. Statutory personal relationship education
and early intervention in schools will help to change attitudes and behaviour towards domestic violence. Schools need to play a key role in educating boys and girls to realise that violence and abuse in relationships are completely unacceptable. I therefore urge the Government to make sex and relationships education statutory and standardised.
In the time left, I want to speak to an issue that is an absolute catastrophe and a scandal: female genital mutilation. The Government estimate that approximately 20,000 under-15-year-olds are at risk from this practice every year—more than 50 young female victims every day. It is important to make the point that such mutilation is motivated only by the need to control women. It is bullying, and the most grotesque abuse towards women. Female genital mutilation has been a criminal offence since 1985. It is shocking that we have not yet seen a single prosecution. We have seen some positive steps in recent weeks and months, with the Crown Prosecution Service refocusing on this area, and I welcome the publication of its action plan. However, to eradicate this practice we need cross-departmental work involving the Home Office, Department for Education, Department of Health and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and proper funding. We need to secure justice for victims and prosecution will prevent future victims of this despicable criminality. We must remember that this is a crime and that people should face the law when they carry out this vile and abusive violence.
I welcome the speech that the hon. Gentleman is making, and I also welcome the Westminster Hall debate he secured recently on this topic. I am sure he welcomes, as I do, the commitment the Home Secretary made on Monday to look closely at bringing forward a prevalence study in the UK to update our data, and, in particular, to make sure that the NHS records female genital mutilation.
I agree entirely with the hon. Lady, who has done a great deal of work on this issue as the chair of the all-party group on female genital mutilation.
I will make one final point. The Metropolitan police set up Project Azure to tackle the problem of female genital mutilation across the country. However, a freedom of information request showed that the team consists of just one full-time police officer and one part-time police officer. It is simply ridiculous to suggest that this is sufficient policing. I welcome the Home Secretary’s work, but we need more resources to police this most disgusting violence against women and young girls.
I support what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I agree that the issue of female genital mutilation is important. I appreciate the difficulty in detecting and prosecuting cases, but it is important that prosecutions follow as this is an horrific crime. On the subject of statistics, does he agree that the reason why most statistics show men as the victims of crime is that men are mostly the perpetrators of crime?
I am not necessarily sure that the hon. Gentleman’s latter point is entirely correct. What I will say is that his initial point was absolutely correct. I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I will end my remarks now.
As a former police victim examiner and doctor, I have seen deeply traumatised women in the middle of the night in the immediate aftermath of horrific sexual violence. I have also, as a doctor, met women in their 80s and 90s who are still suffering a lifetime of consequences. There is nothing new about sexual violence, but what has changed is the normalisation and acceptance of sexual violence within our society, and that is something that we really have to address. I am proud to be a patron of Devon Rape Crisis, and I welcome the £40 million that has gone towards setting up a network of rape crisis centres around the country. When I was a victim examiner, that was not available.
I am shocked that my hon. Friend suggests that there is a normalisation of violence. Will she define exactly what she means?
That is an important point, but before I come to it, I would like to pay tribute to the 27 remarkable, talented and skilled volunteer women who work for Devon Rape Crisis in my area.
I will address my hon. Friend’s point. What do I mean by “normalisation”? Well, for example, 80% of 15 to 17-year-old boys are now regularly accessing hardcore pornography. To my mind, that constitutes normalisation, as does the issue of sexting, which my hon. Friend Claire Perry mentioned, and the extent to which it goes unchallenged. One might say that this is a milder example, but when I go into the Tea Rooms in the House of Commons and see colleagues reading newspapers with images that objectify women, I find that offensive. I find it a normalisation that across the country young girls are sitting in households where they see such sexualisation of women as a normal portrayal of women. People may find me prudish, but I assure hon. Members that there is nothing that makes me blush. These are not blushes, but anger. That is what I would term as normalisation, and I hope I have answered the question from my hon. Friend Bob Stewart.
I thank my hon. Friend for her explanation.
That is wonderful.
It is crucial that we challenge through education the normalisation of sexualisation and violence towards women, but it has to be the right education. We need to make better use of peer educators. It is no use having an embarrassed teacher who blushes when talking about sex and sexual violence. Often, the best educators are peer educators, particularly those who have been victims and are prepared to talk about the impact that has had on their lives. We want the right people delivering that education, and of course “the right people” includes families. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes pointed out, parents should be aware of what their children are accessing and not be embarrassed to talk to them and challenge attitudes as they develop.
We also need to do something about prosecution and the number of people being brought to book for such crimes. Partly, that is about encouraging women to report crimes. From having spoke to women, I know how incredibly challenging that can be and how brave
women have to be to come forward and go through the criminal justice system, so it is disappointing that there seems to be a perception in some quarters that women should not be encouraged to report these crimes. In my opinion, that amounts to collusion in a process that says, “Don’t report!” We need to challenge those attitudes and provide the kind of support given by Rape Crisis and the professionals in sexual assault referral centres across the country.
In conclusion, we need to challenge attitudes, encourage reporting, put an end to normalisation and see an improvement in the support provided through our criminal justice system in order to ensure that perpetrators of sexual crimes against women know that they will pay for their crimes.
On the day when we celebrate love and romance, I am glad to take part in a debate that seeks to ensure that no one should ever be subject to a mentally or physically abusive relationship. I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on securing the debate and my hon. Friend Stella Creasy on her work in raising the profile of the incredible One Billion Rising campaign.
Despite Liverpool being the second safest city, victims of domestic violence make more than one in five of all 999 calls to Merseyside police—the highest rate in the country. That amounts to 43,995 calls. The increase in the incidence of domestic violence across Merseyside is staggering, with 32,511 incidents having been reported in the last year—an increase of 36% from 2003. This situation cannot continue. It is a terrible indictment that in 2013 in the UK one in six children aged 11 to 17 experience sexual abuse and that 109 women and girls lost their lives last year at the hands of a partner or former partner.
At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. Although that affects both girls and boys—I note the point made by Philip Davies—80% of calls to ChildLine on abuse were from girls. The statistics on that are many. Even if the Government do not accept the enduring physical, psychological, emotional and social consequences experienced by too many women across our country because of this terrible crime, it must surely be in their interest, given that according the Home Office violence against women and girls costs the public purse £36.7 billion a year, to address these heinous crimes and do more about this stain on our national conscience.
We have a serious problem in our society when findings from the crime survey in England and Wales show that one in 12 people think that a victim is completely or mostly responsible for someone sexually assaulting them when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or when they are sexually assaulted by someone they were flirting with heavily beforehand. No one in the country should ever blame a victim for the crimes perpetrated against them.
Is this any wonder when too many abusers are glorified? Perhaps one of the most famous cases of domestic violence was in March 2009, when the music artist Chris Brown was charged for, and pleaded guilty to, assaulting Rihanna. Members will remember the shocking photos of Rihanna in our press—her lip was split and she had a bloody nose and major contusions on either
side of her face—yet two years later Chris Brown was given an international platform at the Grammies. This is the man who subsequently got a tattoo on his neck showing a woman bearing a striking similarity to Rihanna and the scars of a serious beating.
We heard the other week that some of our major supermarkets are stocking an energy drink called Black Energy promoted by the convicted rapist Mike Tyson. It uses the slogan “Sex energy” and includes a series of adverts in which he is surrounded by scantily clad women in bikinis and calls himself “an animal”. I remind the House that this is a man who spent three years in jail for his heinous crimes. We also heard last year about the tragic story of a girl from Battersea who did not report a rape at the age of 11 because of a storyline in “Eastenders” that made her so worried about the court process that she thought she would not be supported.
I understand that a television advertising campaign beginning today or tomorrow will highlight the fact that 30% of young girls are sexually assaulted and that 25% are physically abused. Does the hon. Lady believe that such a campaign will help to reduce those figures?
We know that there has been a massive reduction, if not a complete moratorium, on the Government spending money on public information adverts. I think, however, that money spent in this area would be welcome, so I hope that the Minister will think seriously about allocating some of the budget to informing and educating the public about domestic violence and abuse, particularly at a time when this crime is on the increase.
There are people committed to tackling violence against women and girls. In Merseyside, our recently elected police and crime commissioner, my predecessor, Jane Kennedy, signed up to a dedicated series of pledges to tackle violence against women and girls that included maintaining specialist domestic violence and public protection units within the police service, which are at risk across the country owing to police cuts; delivering specialist training in domestic and sexual violence; and developing the roll-out of an integrated local action plan to tackle violence against women and girls. In December, we also saw the launch of the Draw and Line campaign, specifically aimed at combating domestic violence.
The reason for today’s debate, however, is that we need to do even more. We need our schools to do everything they can to educate the next generation. We recently saw the One Billion Rising sessions that took place across the country—we had one in Liverpool, at which women called for the statutory introduction of sex and relationships education in all our schools. We also need urgently to challenge the stereotypes in the press and media and to teach both girls and boys about how to respect each other in relationships. We need these statutory provisions to make personal, social and health education, including a zero-tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships, a requirement in every school in our land.
Just before this debate, as has been mentioned, we came together in Parliament square in support of the One Billion Rising campaign and heard the names of
the 109 women murdered last year by a present or former partner. It was tragic. The reason for the debate is that we need to do everything we can to ensure that we never have to read out the names of 109 women again.
We have already heard plenty of examples today. A girl of nine has given birth in one of Mexico’s western states. She was just eight when she became pregnant. My hon. Friend Heather Wheeler has already spoken about forced marriage. Only 25 years ago in the UK, it was not considered an offence to rape within marriage, and 603 million women currently live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.
One of my first cases at my weekly constituency surgery involved a girl who came to see me with her mother. She was absolutely convinced that her sister had died as a result of domestic violence but that it had not been recognised by the police. A second girl who came to see me had been raped twice by a man who was about to leave prison after serving a sentence for a separate offence. She was absolutely petrified, and the following weekend she ended up in hospital after having tried to take her own life. All this is happening right on our doorstep. We do not need to look at what is going on internationally; it is happening right in front of us.
I was pleased to hear Valerie Vaz mention Chiswick, where the world’s first women’s refuge was started. I am proud to represent Chiswick today, and I believe that it is part of my remit as a Member of Parliament to stand up for all victims of domestic violence and abuse, locally and elsewhere in the country. In London, especially, we have issues. Speaking at the Tackling Britain’s Gang Culture conference last month, Chief Superintendent John Sutherland of the Metropolitan police said:
“I regard domestic violence as the single greatest cause of harm in society.”
He said that it was having devastating effects, and he is so right. Thankfully, the issue is at the top of the agenda in my borough of Hounslow. London has an issue with teenage girl rape, and that is something that we have to resolve.
Now is the time to act, and I was glad to see Members from both sides of the House at the One Billion Rising rally today. Those from my side of the House included my hon. Friends the Members for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), for Battersea (Jane Ellison), for Devizes (Claire Perry), for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). We were there in Parliament square to say that enough is enough, and that now is the time to act.
Globally, we should exert pressure through the United Nations, which is looking at the matter. UN Women was set up in 2010 to focus efforts on gender equality and the empowerment of women, and I will be going next month to the UN Commission on the Status of Women to talk about this issue.
Here in the UK, we have made progress in some areas, including the £40 million of stable, ring-fenced funding for specialist domestic and sexual violence support services. We have increased the number of rape centres in London to four, but we need more. Stalking has been mentioned already, as has female genital mutilation, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea has done a great deal of work. Still more needs to be done. Internationally, we also need to put the pressure on and work together on conflicts, and I am glad that there will be a further debate in the Chamber today to discuss sexual violence in conflicts, because that should not be tolerated either.
Locally, in my constituency and my borough, we have taken various kinds of action. We have the Hounslow one-stop shop, which is run by the Metropolitan police, the Hounslow community safety unit and the Hounslow domestic violence outreach service. In December last year, Operation Athena, a London-wide crackdown on domestic violence, led to 22 arrests in my borough. The JAN Trust is visiting schools in Hounslow to deliver its Mujboor—meaning “forced” in Urdu—workshops on forced marriages and to educate young girls on their rights.
There is still much to be done, however, with regard to global awareness as well as to what we are doing right here in our own constituencies. That is where we all have a part to play. Every Member of the House can play their part by going to each of their schools—especially their secondary schools, but perhaps schools with younger children as well—and spreading the word that we can all take action on this issue. If we can encourage our colleagues to talk to young girls and boys about the issue, we will have played a part in changing the environment of violence that we see around us. There should be a zero-tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships, and I would like the Minister to consider whether Ofsted could measure what schools are doing to educate children in this area.
Let us join together and say with one voice that enough is enough, that violence against women and girls will not be tolerated, and that we will make this country a much better place.
Last year, I had the privilege of chairing the parliamentary inquiry into stalking law reform, which resulted in a new law on stalking being created. I declare an interest, as I am a practising barrister, having practised for many years in the fields of crime and domestic violence. I have seen many lives ruined by domestic violence.
Early in 2011, I became aware of the limitations of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which eventually gave rise to the parliamentary inquiry. The panel drew its membership from both Houses of Parliament and from across the political spectrum. We considered the adequacy of the existing law and, over the course of six months, took written evidence and held five oral
evidence sessions during which we sought the views of practitioners, legal experts, campaign groups and victims of stalking.
The panel concluded that the existing law was not fit for purpose and, in February last year, we published a report with recommendations on how legislation and practices should be improved. Within a month of our report’s publication, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would be implementing our main recommendations, and new clauses to that effect were passed by both Houses within a staggering 11 days. I only wish that changing the law were routinely so easy.
The right hon. Gentleman has an honourable record on these issues. What does he think about the Welsh Government’s proposals to introduce a Bill on domestic abuse and violence against women? Does he agree that such a Bill would provide an opportunity to take concrete action on this issue?
I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know that the Welsh Government are proactive on these issues, and I am delighted to hear that they are taking action, because this problem is as prevalent in Wales as anywhere else. I am grateful to him for making that point.
As of November last year, stalking is a named offence in the law of England and Wales. The new law is split into two sections, which have been added to the Protection from Harassment Act—namely, a section 2A offence, punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison or a fine, as well as the section 4A offence, which involves stalking that prompts fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. This latter offence is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or a fine, and is triable by either a Crown court or a magistrates court.
We felt that it was of utmost importance for the new law to take note of the fact that threats to the safety of those suffering stalking are not always physical. I do not want to enter into a debate about etymology, but I would argue that violence is not always physical. The “Oxford English Dictionary” defines violence as
“treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly interfering with personal freedom.”
It is in relation to that last part of the definition—forcibly interfering with personal freedom—that stalking can be considered an example of violence. Last year, the Association of Chief Police Officers also reviewed its definition of domestic abuse and, thankfully, it now takes account of controlling and coercive behaviour as well as of more immediate and obvious bodily harm.
Some forms of violence against women, such as stalking, are unfortunately more subtle than others, since they involve a pattern of behaviours which, taken alone, might seem innocent, but which take on a terrible significance when viewed over a period of time. Taken out of context, sending someone flowers or always being at the same events might not seem like threatening behaviour, but for a victim of stalking, every such incident can induce feelings of anxiety, panic and acute distress.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the survivors of stalking, and their families, who gave evidence to our inquiry and also acted as ambassadors
for our campaign. Tracey Morgan, Claire Waxman and Sam Taylor gave us an insight into the sheer horror that stalking can wreak on people’s lives. Tricia Bernal and Carol Faruqui spoke bravely about the murder of their daughters, Clare and Rana, by their stalkers. John and Penny, the parents of Jane Clough, also gave evidence to our inquiry. Jane was murdered by her former partner, but only after he had raped her on nine separate occasions. When the man who was to go on to murder her was charged with those nine counts of rape, and four counts of common assault, the court made the disastrous decision to grant him bail, during which time he followed Jane and killed her.
That is why we recommended that there should be a presumption that anybody charged with a serious violent or sexual offence should not be bailed except in the most exceptional circumstances. We also recommended that judges and magistrates should take account of previous offences as serious acts of aggravation. Raping, like stalking, is characteristic of obsessive behaviour that is likely to escalate if it is not stopped and treated. That is why it is essential that criminal justice professionals are made aware through mandatory training about the patterns of behaviour that make up these crimes.
This motion focuses on educating the generations to come about the realities of violence against women, so as to prevent it from happening in the future. That is to be applauded, of course, but we must also tackle the prevailing attitudes. In earlier debates, we highlighted the need for a domestic abuse, stalking and harassment risk assessment—or DASH—tool. I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers has been running a trial in Hampshire for officers, but it is not sufficiently widespread.
I would welcome any information on how many individuals have been convicted under the new stalking offences. I would also welcome an update on the Government’s intentions in respect of improving victims’ advocacy. Some of the campaigners I met over the course of our inquiry have written to me expressing concern that not enough is being done. I know the Minister will pass these questions and concerns on to his colleagues. I repeat again that training must be rolled out for all police officers, to hammer home the message that the psychological impact of these crimes is considerable.
This law will be a step in the right direction towards ensuring that women are not subjected to violence without the perpetrators being punished. We must protect women and give them redress. This is urgently needed.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate its sponsors, and especially Fiona Mactaggart, who opened the debate.
First, I will discuss female genital mutilation, as I have done in previous debates, but I will not talk exclusively about that subject. We have made great progress over the past few years and as a result many more Members are now talking about FGM. We have brought it into the mainstream of our political discourse, which will assist us in making further progress. FGM is a terrible thing that affects hundreds of thousands of girls around the world and here in the UK.
I want to thank some of the people and organisations who are helping to make progress. The recent Crown Prosecution Service action plan is not just words on a piece of paper; it has genuine heart and intent behind it, and I hope it will lead to real progress. The all-party group on female genital mutilation has had some very productive meetings with Ofsted over the past year or so. It has seized on this subject, and has agreed to ask specific safeguarding questions around FGM when visiting schools that have girls from identified at-risk communities. That will also drive change.
Stella Creasy has very passionately brought to our attention the One Billion Rising campaign. She and I have debated that campaign, because as a result of my experiences in addressing FGM, I have become a little jaundiced about the possibility of changing things solely through education. Over the almost 25 years that FGM has been illegal in this country, there have been almost no referrals through the education system. In fact, it is quite difficult to get people working in education to talk about FGM issues. At the recent Home Office roundtable, a senior local government leader in London admitted that when she trained the teachers in her local authority about how to deal with FGM in schools, many of them point-blank refused to teach that it was a crime, saying that that would infringe on some people’s cultural values. That is absolutely not on. As a result, particularly in respect of FGM, I am cautious as to whether we can rely solely on education. We must instead have a multi-agency approach and massive cultural education.
I will support the motion, of course, but we must not give the message to the people who are listening so intently to this debate that we think the One Billion Rising campaign is the only answer, because we know there is so much more to do. It might be part of the answer, but I know the Minister will talk about some of the other things that are going on, too, and we must make it clear that it is not a silver bullet and that there are lots of other steps we need to take—many of which colleagues have alluded to in the debate.
I want to thank the Home Office, too. In November 2011, I spoke about the Dutch health passport on FGM and in less than a year—this must be record time for any Government Department to put something into action— it has brought our own version of that passport, the statement against FGM, into use in the UK. I have spoken to FGM campaigner Sister Fa, who wants to get the German Government to adopt the idea. I therefore hope that there will be a ripple effect across Europe.
People have asked, “Is it really a passport?” I always answer, “No, it’s an empowerment document.” I hope it will empower some of the girls who have been through FGM to help their little sisters when they go back to their country of origin, so that they say to extended family members, “You’re not going to do to my little sister what you did to me, and here’s something that will tell you what the consequences are if you do.” The document will empower girls to help protect other girls.
My hon. Friend Claire Perry referred to cases involving two of my constituents. One was the tragic case of Chevonea Kendall-Bryan. She died in terrible circumstances, with lots of dreadful sexting and other things circulating about her. It was a dreadful incident. The other incident my hon. Friend mentioned involved a little girl who, for obvious reasons,
I will not name. I spoke to her mother this morning. She re-emphasised that the problem of sexual texting and imagery going around in schools is horrendously widespread. I return to an earlier point: what do we do if we cannot stop it happening even in school, and right under the nose of teachers? This little 12-year-old girl was physically penetrated by a 12-year-old boy with his fingers in class under the nose of the teacher. We have got to get a grip on what is happening right now. It is not just about education; it is about stopping crimes being committed in class.
Most—although perhaps not all—of us in this Chamber went to school before mobile phones were invented, let alone widespread. We do not know all the answers, therefore, and there will be girls listening to and reading this debate who might know more about what we can do. The mother of that 12-year-old girl said to me that some of the other girls in class were jealous of her daughter because they thought she had been singled out for sexual attention. If I were to send just one message out to these girls, it would be this: “Please stand together. It is not cool. It is absolutely dreadful. Make sure you don’t speak to those boys or have anything to do with them if they do this to your classmates.” We have to stand together on this issue.
The One Billion Rising campaign reminds us that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. Today’s debate gives us an opportunity to commend the women and men who in so many different ways are refusing to accept the status quo and are working either to support the victims of sexual violence or to change laws, attitudes, customs and institutions that perpetuate abuses of power here at home and internationally.
On a day when so many people around the world are celebrating loving relationships, it is important to highlight the extent to which violence against women and girls blights our individual and collective lives and to acknowledge the systemic nature of violence against women. It affects all of us, directly or indirectly, whatever our age, nationality and religion. I am sure all of us will have experienced gender-based violence or will know a friend, sister, mother, aunt or work colleague who has experienced it.
It is also important not to be overwhelmed by the dimensions of the problem and the scale of the challenge of ending the culture of violence. Some 20 or 30 years ago domestic abuse was seen as a private family matter. Too often criminal violence in the home was not pursued as it ought to have been. It was a taboo subject. Breaking the silence around abuse has been an important milestone on the road to taking the issue seriously and tackling it. It is a multifaceted problem, but I believe it is underpinned by inequality between women and men, and is perpetuated through unacceptable abuses of power. One reason why it is so difficult to address is that it challenges deeply
held attitudes and beliefs, understandings of justice and ingrained cultural perspectives—yet it is neither inevitable nor intractable.
As legislators, we have a special responsibility to tackle the grave and serious human rights abuses happening in our own community. We also need to recognise that we are not impotent to deliver meaningful progress. Today’s motion has focused largely on prevention within the formal education system. Obviously, education is a devolved issue in Scotland, and the structure of the curriculum does not mirror the situation in other parts of the UK. Nevertheless, I wish colleagues well in their efforts to improve the curriculum in England and Wales, and I hope there will be reciprocal learning on how the respective education systems can rise to the challenge, especially given the alarming attitudes to sexual violence recorded among young people, to which Members have alluded. Dr Wollaston talked about the normalisation of violence, so I do not see how anything could be more of a priority for us.
One example recently brought to my attention in the Scottish context was a pilot scheme initiated by the Dundee violence against women partnership, which was an attempt to embed preventive measures in the curriculum for excellence in nursery, primary and secondary school settings. Working with a range of partners and using a rights-based approach, it tries to embed the idea that children and young people have rights and that their dignity is important. The project workers commented on how relatively easy it had been to integrate preventive measures across the curriculum. They used a thematic approach so that the issues could be addressed in an English class or a statistics class—not just in the timetabled slot for health, well-being or relationships education.
Another key part of addressing sexual violence is ensuring that perpetrators are held more accountable for their actions within the criminal justice system. Changing attitudes and beliefs will not be enough on its own if people cannot realise their rights. I do not think it would be controversial to say that the historical track record has not been good in domestic terms.
Again, I would like to share some perspectives from the Scottish context, which I am sure will resonate with hon. Members from other parts of the UK. I pay tribute to the Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland for its campaigning and advocacy to raise awareness and improve our legislative framework. Only one in four rape cases reported to the police in Scotland results in a prosecution; three out of four people who seek access to justice are still denied it. We know that huge numbers—perhaps a majority—of people who have been raped do not report it to the police. In that respect, confidence in the system remains far too low. Conviction rates have historically been woeful; they are improving, albeit from an abysmal starting point. It is easy to understand why many people who have experienced serious sexual assault are reluctant to put themselves through further trauma at a time when they might feel exceptionally vulnerable. Given the fairly low prospect of securing a conviction, it takes immense courage for women to come forward.
Our criminal justice system has failed and continues to fail far too many victims of rape and sexual assault. Many of us have been deeply saddened by the dreadful revelations about the suicide of Frances Andrade. Back in 2002, an equally tragic death took place in Scotland
when 17-year-old Lindsay Anderson took her own life shortly after giving evidence at the trial of a person subsequently convicted of raping her. What was particularly appalling was that in court Lindsay had to hold up the underwear she had been wearing at the time of the attack. It was sickening and, frankly, it still leaves me speechless. In spite of real efforts to move away from using women’s character and sexual history in court, people subjected to sexual violence are still traumatised by the process, which can compound the very real harm done by the original offence.
I do not have much time left. Before concluding, I echo the points made earlier about the way in which women are portrayed in popular culture and about the misogyny often expressed in social media. We do not have any room for complacency. Prevention and accountability must go hand in hand. Together, we really can make progress and end—
It is a pleasure to follow Dr Whiteford. This morning, I was not intending to speak—not because I was disinterested or uninterested, but because it seemed to me appropriate that this debate should be led by women. I have, however, been inspired by the clarity, compassion, cross-party consensus and expressions of support for the importance of this debate. My decision to speak was also provoked by my hon. Friend Philip Davies, who is not in his place. I share with him a great interest in horseracing and I have a great affection for him. I thought he made some good points, but I profoundly disagree with him on one or two central points.
I have rearranged the day in order to speak up for many of my hon. Friends whose absence should not be misconstrued as lack of interest in this important subject. I want to put on record my personal commitment to this issue; I also want to speak on behalf of women and girls in my constituency and elsewhere who perhaps fear that men are not listening, and to speak up for a modern, compassionate, progressive conservative strain of thinking, which takes this issue very seriously and applauds the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their leadership on it.
It seemed to me that the central point made my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was to insist on an equality of treatment and to deny the need for any gender-based policy approach. That denies something very fundamental: that men and women are different and, in respect of sexual and physical violence, are not equal.
Around the world—here, too, but especially in the developing world—we are witnessing a shaming prevalence of violence against women and girls, which we have a duty to tackle. I do not pretend to be an expert, but one does not need to be an expert to see the urgency of the problem. If we look around the world, we can see that the emancipation of women and the education of girls has been a profound force for good in our society and in human progress. On the subject of the education of girls, I know from my own area of science that we have a huge problem and a huge challenge in Britain to ensure
that more of our girls are educated in a way that allows them to take part in the great opportunities of the modern economy.
Around the world, too, we have a huge problem of sexual violence, which has been a long-standing part of too many conflicts. We heard earlier from those more eloquent than me about the problems of genital mutilation, forced marriages, sexual slavery and the human trafficking of boys and girls. We are all mindful, too, of the appalling story of gang rape in India, which I think has triggered huge public interest and has fired people’s sense of moral outrage. In a world whose economic globalisation we celebrate day on day, we all face a challenge to take responsibility for other impacts of globalisation that are perhaps less visibly, immediately or directly seen as our responsibility. We need to take both those sides of globalisation together.
My main point, however, is that we have a serious problem here in the UK. In recent decades, we have seen an epidemic of sexual and violent crime, the casualisation of media attitudes to sex and violence, an explosion of pornography, and in recent years casual online sexualisation and prostitution and huge problems relating to stalking and even classroom abuse, as we heard in the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend Jane Ellison. It is the casualness of all this that is worth highlighting. Such things are not any more considered by our media or our commentariat to be serious crimes. That, I think, is the most serious crime of all.
We should all be shamed that London has become a global centre of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Far from this being, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley suggested, a distraction from the serious business of Government, I suggest that it is a vital and topical issue that affects more than half of our population.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his eloquent speech, reminding us all that not every male member of the Conservative party is blinkered or bonkers on this subject. Does he share with me the hope that better health and sex education in school can help prevent the real blight of sexting? As a Member of Parliament and as a parent, I must confess that, like others, I am only just beginning to understand the gravity of that situation.
I agree. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, which I feel personally, too, as the father of an 11-year-old daughter. I also think, however, that as a Parliament and a Government we need to be brave enough to realise that advice on sex must be put within some kind of moral framework. We need to be brave enough to acknowledge that young children require of us some guidance about what is right and wrong. Difficult territory though it is, there is no excuse for simply suggesting that there is no sense of appropriate conduct that we should be conveying.
This is a vital and topical issue which affects more than half our population, and it is an issue of global and local significance. I believe that our generation in this great institution must address it, and that we all have a duty to take it seriously. As I said earlier, I am the father of an 11-year-old daughter, but I also speak as the husband of a wife and as the son of a mother. We are all, in one way or another, linked to this issue, and, as a compassionate Conservative, I am proud that this
“I want to see an end to violence against women and girls in all its forms. I’m proud to add my voice to all those who stand up to oppose it. Too often these horrific crimes have gone unpunished. We want this to change and that is why we have criminalised forced marriage, widened the definition of domestic violence and made stalking illegal.”
I believe that, as a result of cross-party consensus, our generation may be able to look back on what we have achieved and be proud of it. I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on arranging the debate, which, given its significance, I should have preferred to take place on a Monday rather than a Thursday. I also congratulate the sponsors of the motion, and those who are speaking about this important topic this afternoon.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. I congratulate those who secured it, and those who have contributed to it so far. Let me also say that it is great to follow George Freeman. This important issue is close to the heart of many Members who are present today, and I know that those who are not present support the motion.
A recent incident in New Delhi unfortunately led to the death of a 23-year-old woman whom the people of India named “Nirbhaya Damini”, the brave-hearted daughter of India. Damini was brutally gang-raped by a group of men on a public bus. She suffered from various injuries which severely damaged both her brain and her body, and as a result of that inhumane act, she died on
This particular act of violence has sparked much anger in India, here in the UK, and throughout the world, and it is part of the reason why I stand here to discuss the subject of violence against women and girls. Over the last few months, through vigils in my constituency and outside the Indian high commission, I have been able to witness the hundreds of people who have been brought together to share their anger against the perpetrators of such a despicable act. All of us were in Parliament square this afternoon to support those were campaigning against the violence.
I want to focus my remarks on women and girls with an ethnic-minority background. Through my work in my constituency, I have come across many women and girls who, because of their background, require special assistance to protect them from violence, and who are much more vulnerable as victims. Women and young girls should not have to endure violence. We have a moral duty to protect our citizens, especially those who are in an especially vulnerable position. Many women suffer violence and are then unable to leave or take action against the perpetrators: they face different challenges, and feel powerless to overcome those obstacles.
Numerous acts of violence have been inflicted on women and young girls in recent years, and such issues are now being widely addressed. However, women from an ethnic-minority background may suffer various violent acts, notably female genital mutilation, “honour-based”
killings—of which there are more than 2,800 a year—forced marriages, domestic violence perpetrated by their husbands, in-laws and other family members, dowry-related abuse, and suicide or self-harm aggravated by harassment or violence.
It is vital to acknowledge that in some cases, women with an ethnic-minority background suffer acts of violence that are deemed acceptable and perpetrated by a group of family members. The main concept behind those acts is the “shaming” of the women’s families or community members. It is absolutely vital to eradicate that absurd concept, which is often used by perpetrators to justify their actions.
My hon. Friend is making a brave and impassioned speech. He seems to be hinting that there are issues involving power in the midst of these crimes and relationships.
I shall say more about that shortly.
The concept that acts of violence are justifiable if they will protect the family’s “honour” is ridiculous and unacceptable.
Furthermore, many women and young girls from an ethnic minority continue to suffer because they feel that there is no way out. There is evidence that, on average, women suffer acts of violence and abuse more than 20 times before they report it, but among women from an ethnic minority the number is higher—and that, of course, assumes that the acts are ever reported. The under-reporting of such acts is another serious issue which increases the complexity of the situation in which those women find themselves.
The funding of services for women who are victims of violence has been dramatically reduced. According to a report published by Women’s Aid, 27,900 women have been refused refuge because of a lack of vacancies, and the cutting of support for such groups will cause further problems.
I am also concerned by the cuts that are being made in my local police force. There will no longer be front-desk police officers 24 hours a day in my local police station in Southall. Those cuts could prove life-threatening when combined with the decreased funding for other services that help women who are victims of violence.
Let me end my speech by thanking Southall Black Sisters, who are based in my constituency. They have contributed positively to the community for more than 30 years, providing excellent services which help women from black and ethnic-minority backgrounds. Many people will know them for their work on the Kiranjit Ahluwalia case, which ultimately focused on issues that I mentioned earlier: issues which need to be resolved, and which lie deep within communities. Southall Black Sisters have provided valuable services, but, owing to their limited resources, they can only take on the most extreme cases, and there are still many more women who need assistance.
The matters that are being discussed today are of great urgency, and I hope that the Minister will resolve to work on a global basis with other Government agencies and non-governmental organisations to eradicate the fear of violence from women throughout the world.
I am pleased to note that a male Minister is responding to the debate. All too often, debates such as this are shunted off into the category of “women’s issues”, and it is left to our female colleagues to engage in them.
Other Members, including in particular my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston, have spoken powerfully about sexualisation and normalisation. The issue of female genital mutilation was raised by my hon. Friend—my good friend—Jane Ellison and Diana Johnson, who I know have done extremely good work in that regard.
There are two issues that especially concern me, and on which I press schools in my constituency. One is the use of social media for the swapping of sexual images. What worries me is that, while adults swapping sexual images of children are committing a criminal offence, when children do the same thing it seems to be regarded as a bit of a lark. I hope that the Government will think about whether the providers of social networks should bear some form of culpability. Are they not committing an offence by allowing the transmission of what is effectively child pornography?
I have also pressed local schools on the issue of consent. Too often we think that if a woman does not say no, there is implied consent. I wrote to all my local secondary schools asking whether in personal, social, citizenship and health education—I wish someone could come up with a better name, as PSCHE is a bit of a mouthful—they teach express consent, because not saying no is not consent. I was pleased that all the schools replied saying that the point had been taken on board. Will the Minister press the Department for Education to update the curriculum on PSCHE so that express consent, not just consent, is taught?
Those are my two points. I hope that the Minister will comment on whether the transmission of what is, in effect, child pornography can be dealt with by taking action against the network providers and whether the curriculum can be updated.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate, which shows the House at its best. As we make our voices count in the One Billion Rising campaign, we recognise that we cannot end violence against women and girls without also looking at wider attitudes in society. We need to consider how we, in our schools, our curriculums, our children’s services and our local authorities, are actively seeking to educate young people and safeguard them from dangerous and abusive situations. Alongside the resourcing of the immediate needs of those exposed to violence and abuse, we need to examine the widespread gender violence and attitudes to it that are so prevalent in society today.
As technology evolves, so, too, do the means of sexual exploitation. Grooming for sexual exploitation, the increased normalisation of sexual favours and the widespread sexualisation of the young all contribute to the vulnerability of our young people. Recent cases of systematic child grooming involving violence—often sadistic violence—for the purpose of sexual exploitation,
such as those in Rochdale and Oxford, highlight just how necessary it is to equip our young people with the knowledge and resources to prevent such horrendous situations from recurring in other areas and ways.
Such cases are, in a sense, the high-profile, visible manifestations of this culture. Many young and vulnerable teenage girls, in particular, are targeted, groomed and abused in this way by such offenders and by their peers. Young people need to understand that they cannot “consent” to their own abuse and their own exploitation, and that they cannot do so must be reflected consistently by law enforcement agencies, support services and education services.
Does my hon. Friend agree that these things are happening because there has been a huge reduction in the resources going to the agencies that protect these young kids?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I do believe there is an issue of resources to address. It is also important to acknowledge that successive Governments have perhaps not sought to invest enough in these services, particularly in the kinds of hub and spoke models that would allow us to get into the community to engage with the people who are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence. I believe that our educational bodies have a responsibility to teach and model respectful and healthy relationships for all young people.
My hon. Friend is making a key point about the importance of education. Statistics suggest that 750,000 children are witnessing domestic violence each year, so does he agree that it is increasingly important that our schools play a role in ensuring that children are able to understand that what they are seeing and experiencing is not normal?
My hon. Friend is knowledgeable and accurate on this point. We understand that the models we grow up with affect how we engage with the wider world. One of my particular concerns is to ensure that young people who are subjected to seeing this kind of abuse in their own circumstances do not go on to perpetuate that violence in later life.
We know that this education needs to be of high quality; to have age-appropriate content; to enable people to make informed choices; and to highlight potentially dangerous patterns of relationships or environments. It is needed across the board; it must not simply be targeted at a group we would deem vulnerable. I appreciate the views of Members across this House who feel, just as I do, that sex is a spiritual as well as emotional and physical act. There are those who, like me, believe that deep moral and ethical questions are related to issues such as the scale of abortion in this country, but to deny young people the education and the capacity to prevent themselves from finding themselves in that situation in the first place is a perverse outcome of that belief.
Education targeting the prevention of violence against women and girls is not just an issue for women and girls, so there is a need to educate both young boys and young girls about mutual respect within relationships, recognising that men and young boys can also be victims of violence and abuse. Educating both boys and girls is a key
element in a preventive education. Alongside statutory sex and relationship advice, resources should be made available in schools so that support can be accessed by young people experiencing or concerned about violence and abuse. I have real concerns about the resources available to engage those at high risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation.
We do not just need to take action in schools and education authorities. In my role as chair of the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade, I have been struck by the measures taken by some good local authorities to introduce strategies to tackle violence against women and girls in their own communities. Introducing measures to tackle domestic violence, sexual violence, prostitution and female genital mutilation under a comprehensive strategy, with direct support and enforcement of the law, is a real step towards the goal of a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women and girls. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s view on whether other local authorities should also adopt such strategies to work across their own communities. If such strategies were replicated nationally across local authorities and prioritised as a matter of urgency, that could go a long way towards ensuring that vulnerable people do not fall through the cracks.
In finishing, I wish to make a few brief remarks about one of the groups at greatest risk of violence against women and girls. The alarming statistics on adults involved in prostitution who were sexually abused as children, experienced domestic violence or entered prostitution before the age of 18—the age at which they could consent—highlight the urgent need for preventive education and support services for young people at risk. According to Home Office figures, 70% of those involved in street prostitution had a history of local authority care, and nearly half report a history of childhood sexual exploitation. Highlighting issues of vulnerability and the consent of children sheds light on the continued vulnerability of women into adulthood. The legislation on commercial sexual services currently sends no clear signals about the nature of this trade—these are signals to be picked up by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Perhaps a debate such as today’s is an important time to assess the impact that these industries have, not only on those directly providing these services or being exploited, but on our society’s attitudes towards women and girls.
In our group’s call for evidence for our inquiry into the law on prostitution, I have been struck by the fact that much of the language from those who purchase sex completely fails to challenge, and in some places continues to perpetrate, the idea that access to sex is a man’s right. In normalising and legitimising occupations in this way, we not only maintain the prevalence of an industry that will be sustained by future generations, but we communicate attitudes accepting and promoting the commoditisation of women. It is notable, for example, that violence against women involved in prostitution is part of one of the most popular video games in this country. Inherent in this attitude is the idea of the entitlement of men to pursue sexual pleasure, no matter what the cost. That attitude continues to reinforce the power imbalance at play behind many of the issues we have heard about today. We need to assess how widespread the acceptance of such—
Order. I am terribly sorry, but you have taken two interventions already.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart on securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on allocating time for it. I also pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and my hon. Friend Stella Creasy in promoting and getting behind the One Billion Rising campaign.
Many Members on both sides of the House have spoken with passion about the importance of ending violence against women. In my constituency, we have a wonderful football team, Hull City, with a wonderful football ground, the KC stadium, which holds some 25,000 people, and as a new MP I was told that the stadium would be filled to capacity by all the victims of domestic violence in the city. That statistic is a stark reminder of the prevalence of domestic violence in all our constituencies.
When I spoke to the police in Hull last week they told me that domestic violence was still one of their key priorities. My hon. Friend Karl Turner spoke about the very positive Strength to Change campaign, which was funded by the PCT. It worked with more than 250 perpetrators to try and change behaviour, but those men had already engaged in domestic violence. I think we all agree that it is much better to prevent it from ever happening by getting in early and ensuring that our young men and women understand what is acceptable in relationships and that violence is never acceptable.
The education we give to our young people in schools is limited, as we have heard. It falls within the science curriculum and talks about the biology of reproduction and sexual diseases, but does not in any way address the issues that young people say they want to know about. Young people want to know what a healthy relationship should look like. We need to consider the self-esteem that our young girls, in particular, should be developing and the confidence they need to make good choices. We know from examples around the world that good sex and relationship education in schools delays the time at which youngsters start having sex and most Members of this House would think that that is a jolly good thing.
We must also remember that parents can still withdraw their children from sex education up to the age of 19. Nobody can accept that that is a realistic way of proceeding. We need to ensure that the law reflects what is going on in our country. We know that PSHE is taught with success in some schools and not in others and youngsters tell us that we must get that sorted out for their sake.
I respect the Minister for Immigration, who is on the Front Bench, but I am disappointed that the Home Secretary is not sitting there today. I understand that she chairs the inter-ministerial group on violence against
women and girls, on which the Home Office takes a lead. She has spoken out against violence against women and girls on many occasions and I have great respect for her, too, but it would have sent a clear message that the Government were getting behind the motion had she been in the Chamber today.
Let me focus on the motion, which is about making PSHE a statutory requirement in our schools. The review undertaken by the new Government when they came into power ended in November 2011. We must remember that the previous Labour Government attempted to make sex and relationship education statutory in 2010, but that opportunity was unfortunately blocked in the “wash-up” by the Conservative party. The review finished in November 2011, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough said, and since then I have been chasing the Department for Education. I have tabled many parliamentary questions and asked whether Ministers are meeting groups and organisations to ensure that they get their approach absolutely right, but it seems that very little has happened.
My hon. Friend spoke about who she thought should be on the Front Bench. Is she as disappointed as I am that there are no Education Ministers sitting there?
Yes. One Education Minister was in the Chamber earlier, but unfortunately did not stay to hear the rest of the debate. The Department for Education is the villain in the piece today, because there is general acceptance across the House that although making PSHE statutory is not the whole answer, it is part of the jigsaw. It fits in with what the Government are saying and the steps they have taken since they came to power, as well as those taken by the Labour Government, to try to address violence against women and to equip our youngsters with the skills and knowledge they need to make good choices about the lives they lead. I am disappointed that no representative of the Department is in the Chamber to listen to the debate.
I was a little flabbergasted when I heard that the Department for Education had accepted that financial education should be statutory. If the Department knows that that is important and wants to give young people the skills and experience to deal with their finances, it seems rather ironic that it does not accept that young people also need the skills, experience and knowledge to deal with relationships and sexual matters. The Department argues that it does not want to prescribe what schools have to do, but it seems to me that if the Department can be prescriptive about financial education it could be a bit more prescriptive about sex and relationship education.
The Minister of State, Home Department, Mr Browne, answered Equality questions earlier today but said nothing about the very effective campaign to reduce teen relationship abuse, which is working directly with young people. It is not being used by the Department for Education—I checked its Twitter account and it is not promoting that campaign. I think the Department for Education should stop turning its face away from what the vast majority of young people, parents and Members of this House want, which is for high-quality statutory sex and relationship education to be brought in as soon as possible with properly trained teachers and proper resources. That will not solve the whole problem, but it will help.
It is a pleasure to follow Diana Johnson and I pay tribute to the leadership shown on this subject by the hon. Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). We have heard compelling speeches from Members on both sides of the House and I was particularly struck by those from the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman). Notwithstanding that, I share the disappointment that has been expressed about the lack of vigour from those who sit on the Government Front Bench, in particular. When I asked the Minister of State, Home Department, Mr Browne, this morning about the importance of statutory education in PSHE and violence against women and girls, I was told that it is voluntary and that schools can offer it if they want to. Everything we have heard in the debate this afternoon suggests that that is not enough.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is a problem that PSHE is not part of the curriculum in academies and free schools? As we have all agreed during the debate, the problem goes across society.
I agree. I also agree with those who said we need a whole-school approach. Yes, PSHE is vital but such education should also be mainstreamed across all other parts of the education system.
The figures, tragically, are all too familiar. In Britain, 60,000 women are raped every year and two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner. That culture of violence is doing enormous damage to our young people. As Claire Perry said, NSPCC research found that so-called sexting is linked to coercive behaviour, bullying and violence and has a disproportionate impact on girls. A YouGov poll for the End Violence Against Women Coalition found that more than 70% of 16 to 18-year-old boys and girls said that they heard sexual name calling towards girls routinely and, even more disturbingly, one in three girls said that they experienced groping or other unwanted sexual touching at school.
In a report published last year entitled “I thought I was the only one,” the office of the Children’s Commissioner found that in the space of just 12 months more than 16,000 children, mostly girls, were identified as being at risk of sexual exploitation. The report highlights that we need to ask why so many males, both young and old, think it is acceptable to treat both girls and boys as objects to be used and abused. That brings me to my key point: violence does not happen in a vacuum. We must recognise the impact of the wider culture, so I want to focus on just one aspect of that—the objectification of women in the media, whether it is in the newspapers, music videos, adverts and video games.
Women have been served up as sex objects in some of our daily newspapers for many years. They show images that would be prohibited on television or subject to the watershed, yet they are sold entirely without age restriction in shops, often at a child’s eye level. As the mother of two sons, there are shops I would prefer not to go into because of the eye-level material that they will see and have seen and because of the effect on them.
Every week we read in the papers cases of women who are killed by their partner or former partner. Every one of these cases should cause an outcry, but rarely warrants a paragraph because it is tragically becoming so routine. The problem was highlighted last year by women’s groups who gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry and later published a report called “Just the Women”. This examined how domestic homicide cases are reported as “tragic” one-off incidents, rather than as part of a well-understood pattern of behaviour. Rape cases in some papers are routinely placed next to pictures of half-naked women. Cases of forced marriage or so-called honour-based violence, a horrible misnomer, are explained in terms of culture or religion—anything but violence against women and girls. Lord Leveson himself suggested that a front-page report in The Sun headed “Bodyguards for battered Towie sisters” about violence against two women from “The Only Way is Essex”, which was accompanied by a picture of one of the women in an erotic pose in lingerie, may well infringe cause 12—the discrimination clause—of the editors code of practice.
No one is suggesting that the media are solely to blame for these attitudes, but their objectification of women and the treatment by some newspapers, for example, of rape cases go some considerable way towards explaining why prejudicial attitudes to women are so deeply entrenched and are so normalised. The chief Crown prosecutor for London, Alison Saunders, has expressed concern about the impact that the treatment of women in the media has on rape cases and jurors’ decision making. She believes that jurors are coming to court with preconceptions about women that affect the way they consider evidence and she says:
“If a girl goes out and gets drunk and falls over . . . they are almost demonised in the media, and if they then become a victim, you can see how juries would bring their preconceptions to bear.”
Fortunately, much needed work is being done with detectives and prosecutors, for example, to dispel myths and stereotypes about women who have been raped or subjected to sexual and others forms of violence, but Alison Saunders asks whether there is
“something more we should be doing”
so that people doing jury service are not being challenged for the first time, and the subject is not one that they are thinking about for the first time.
The answer to that question is, of course, yes. That is why our schools should be taking a lead. Work to prevent violence against women and girls must be an integral part of education policy, delivered in every school as part of the statutory curriculum. It is astonishing that in 2010 40% of 16 to 18-year-olds said either that they did not receive lessons or information on sexual consent, or that they did not know whether they did. Although PSHE education must now teach about consent, it needs to go further and cover all forms of violence against women, including teenage relationship abuse, forced marriage, FGM and sexual exploitation. It should also be linked to work on gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes; otherwise young women and men will never be exposed to education designed to reduce gender violence and to counter the damaging impact of cultural factors, such as the media.
The 1 billion women rising today want a world that empowers young people, rather than represses their sexuality, so work in our schools must allow young
people to be more in control of their sexual identity, rather than being dictated to by the media or advertising. Crucially, it must address harmful notions of masculinity and present boys with positive alternatives. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner have both spoken out about the impact of pornography on young men’s sexually aggressive behaviour, and there is evidence of the negative impact of porn on young men’s attitudes to women.
In my constituency, the domestic abuse charity Rise is an excellent example of existing good practice. It delivers a PSHE preventive education programme on healthy relationships to schools across the city. Our schools also subscribe to the whole-school approach recommended by the End Violence Against Women coalition, where heads take a lead, teachers are trained on the issues, and all students receive comprehensive sex and relationship education which deals with consent, equality and respect. If we are serious about preventing gender violence, those messages need to be reflected not just in our schools but across society as a whole.
Two women are killed every week in the UK—109 women last year. Worldwide acts of violence against women and girls aged 15 to 44 cause more deaths and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. More than 53% of children aged five to 18 in India have been sexually abused, and 57% of Australian women reported experiencing violence in their lifetime. In 2010-11 728,145 incidents of domestic violence were recorded by our police, but only 8% of those cases ended successfully in prosecution. Some 45% of women in the UK have experienced violence.
It is no wonder that 1 billion women are rising today. As Kathy Lette said at the rally in Parliament square earlier today, “Women are always runners-up in the human race.” The statistics are shocking and possibly challengeable, but it is not enough to be horrified. We have to do something. A study by Professor David Gadd, “From Boys to Men”, found that among year 9 pupils, 48.4% of boys and 33.3% of girls thought it was all right to hit their partners in certain circumstances. The Girl Guides attitude survey found that 39% of girls and 43% of boys thought it was all right “to make you tell your boyfriend where you are all the time”; 21% of girls and 39% of boys thought it was all right for a boy to tell his girlfriend what she can and cannot wear; and 2% of girls and 11% of boys thought it was all right to hit or kick somebody if they spoke to someone else at a party.
When young people believe that violence in a relationship is okay, we have a long, long way to go, because domestic violence is not about uncontrolled emotions. It is about power and control of one’s partner. It is about how women are viewed in society. Think back to those traditional marriage vows, which start with
“Who gives this woman to this man”
and end with women promising to obey. The vows may have been updated, but in so many cases attitudes have not.
If we want to change attitudes, we need good sex and relationships education in schools. We need girls and boys to be confident in themselves and to have good
self-esteem. We especially need girls to be assertive and not to accept that they have to do what they are told to do by their partner. Just think about where young people currently get much of their education about sex and relationships. Some may come from parents, but much more will come from peers and pornography. When I worked with young people, I was horrified by the publications they were reading and the films they were watching.
Porn does not talk about loving relationships or about young people waiting until they are ready to have sex. It does not talk about safe sex. It talks about taking women, about domination, about rough sex, about women as sexual objects to be used. I was deeply shocked when one young woman told me about being with a group of girls and boys in the bedroom of one of the boys. This boy was masturbating while looking at pornography in full view of the group. This was deemed to be appropriate behaviour, nothing unusual, perfectly normal.
I have worked with many victims of domestic violence over the years, including colleagues. Domestic violence robs the victim of confidence and self-esteem. Victims are told that it is their fault—if only they were a better girlfriend, wife, mother, lover, worker, cook, cleaner, this would not be happening to them. The reality is that whatever they did, however they behaved, the violence would still happen, because in the end that partner becomes the whipping boy, the outlet for frustration and anger—but, of course, “I only do it because I love you, dear.”
I believe sex and relationships education is essential in talking about good relationships, positive relationships, equal relationships. It is essential in building assertiveness in girls so that they do not accept that they should be hit and controlled. An Irish study showed that 12% of year 11 and 12 pupils think that boyfriends who hit girlfriends deserve a second chance. For me, that decision to stay, that excuse that “he only did it because he was stressed/upset/I was bad/he’ll never do it again” is far too often the start of a journey into long-term domestic abuse.
Such abuse is not only, and may not even be, violent, but it is psychological. It is controlling, threatening and bullying. The normal journey is one where the woman becomes more and more isolated because the perpetrator makes it impossible for the victim to maintain relationships with family and friends. Her self-confidence is stripped away and she can no longer see a way out. The fear of the perpetrator does not disappear if she manages to walk out. That is why refuges do not publish addresses and why women often have to move many miles away from their previous home and from any remaining support network.
Relationships are fundamental to our society, but too often they are not built on equality or mutual trust and respect. The very least we can do in a civilised society is give young people information and skills, and hopefully values, so that they can build positive and equal relationships.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting this important debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member
for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on leading it so eloquently. I want to focus my contribution on violence against women in the home, because I have been talking for some time with the Women’s Aid project in my constituency. It tells me that domestic violence against women in our communities is still for the most part hidden and not really openly spoken about, even by the women subjected to it. Why is that? We have heard a mixture of reasons today, not least of which are the fear of talking openly about it, the shame victims feel and their belief that they somehow brought the violence upon themselves, which is not the case. The real shame is that society still allows it to happen. In my part of the country, Scotland, a domestic violence incident is recorded every 10 minutes. Just imagine how many that is over the course of this debate.
No one deserves to be abused. No one should have to put up with abuse anywhere, let alone in their own homes. Domestic abuse can affect any women, regardless of class, race or age. There is no typical abuser either, but 82% of domestic violence incidents involve men attacking women—women they profess to love. Two or three women a week are even killed by former or current partners.
Many victims are not being attacked for the first time. In 2011-12, more than 33,000 of recorded incidents involved victims who had already experienced domestic abuse. The previous year the figure stood at just over 28,000. It can be a continuous cycle of violence, with women and children forced to flee their homes to seek sanctuary—many of us have difficulty understanding this —only to return to the abusive partner. Why? Again, the reasons are many: desire to try to maintain a resemblance of family life; they might have nowhere else to go; and even because, “Yes, I still love him.”
Domestic abuse causes serious and long-lasting harm. Apart from physical injury, it frequently causes psychological damage, and abused women can also lose their jobs and homes. It also affects the children who witness it. It undermines their relationship with their mother, disrupts their education and can even turn some into abusers themselves in later life. We have to stop this vicious cycle. Education in schools of zero tolerance is absolutely essential.
As I said, I have visited and spoken with those involved with the Women’s Aid project in Inverclyde. They believe that the causes of domestic abuse go back historically to the days when—believe it or not—a man was legally allowed to beat his wife. In Scotland, the problem can more usually be traced back to alcohol. For some, alcohol is the elixir that releases held-back pressure and frustration, allowing their rage to turn violent and leading them to lash out at those nearest and dearest. I always think that it is no coincidence that it took a Scotsman to write “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, in which a potion released his darker and violent side.
Domestic violence corrodes and damages our communities and our society. The extent of the problem is shocking. A recent study revealed at the Scottish Women’s Aid conference in Edinburgh showed that domestic violence in Scotland has risen by 66% over the past 10 years. There is always a motivation behind the violence, whether it is physical or emotional: it is a way of maintaining control through fear. The woman becomes isolated from her family and friends. Many victims of domestic abuse blame themselves for the abuse, as I have
said. Over time, domestic abuse creates an emotional and psychological state that is unique among crimes, similar to the fear endured by survivors of violent atrocities. I know that the police in Scotland have vowed to crack down on this crime and to make it easier for victims to raise the alarm, which I welcome.
The police have a major role to play in tackling domestic violence. We have the example of Gwent police force, which has established a dedicated domestic abuse and safeguarding unit, which appears to have had very positive results. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should replicate that on a national scale so that communities can be reassured and can receive specialised support services for the most marginalised and vulnerable?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He must have been looking over my shoulder at my notes, because I was about to move on to that subject. My local police force is now setting up remote stations to allow victims to report crimes without having to go to a police station.
We must go into schools and teach our young people that domestic abuse, be it physical, mental or sexual, is totally unacceptable. We must protect our future generations of women from this violence. All the agencies involved in tackling violence against women should be working together more effectively to eradicate it. There should always be zero tolerance for violence against women. We must be unremitting in our pursuit of those who carry out such crimes and in our support for those who suffer as a result. No woman should be subjected to violence, and certainly not in her own home. I applaud and support the work of the Women’s Aid project in my constituency.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart on initiating it and on the work that she has done in this field.
The Government estimate that last year 85,000 women were raped or sexually assaulted. That is a shocking statistic. Clearly, this violence takes place in a cultural context. I want to build on the remarks of the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Devizes (Claire Perry) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and my hon. Friend Luciana Berger to suggest some concrete things that we might do to shift this culture which is portraying women in such a highly sexualised way.
During my adult life, women have made lots of progress in many respects. We have made progress at work, in education and public services, and in pensions and child care, but we seem to have gone backwards in the public portrayal of women and the impact that that is having on our self-esteem and on the way that men treat us. The all-party group on body image has looked into women’s attitudes to their bodies. That can appear to be at the soft and fluffy end of the scale, but it often drives into women’s sense of themselves and levels of self-esteem. People who have negative self-images can
become extremely depressed and subject to mental health problems and eating disorders—so much so that 80% of women are unhappy with their bodies, 40% of children are concerned about their bodies, and 1.6 million people have eating disorders. People’s anxieties are strengthened by their being faced with a constant bombardment of images of perfection.
I thought it would be interesting to talk to two groups of young people about these issues. I went to a school in London to talk to a group of girls in year 10 and to a school in my constituency in County Durham to talk to a mixed group of boys and girls, also in year 10. They agreed that these were significant problems. The girls, in particular, drew a connection between the images portrayed in the media and the way they are harassed on the streets by complete strangers. They have now begun to airbrush their own photographs on Facebook—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Slough is groaning; I was appalled as well. There are some practical things that we can do about this. It is impossible to ban airbrushed photographs in advertisements, but we could label them as such.
The young people told me that they find such discussions valuable. As I said, they saw a clear link between sexualised imagery in the media and how they were treated in real life. The portrayal of such images should be covered in the PSHE curriculum. The Girl Guides have produced a fantastic pack about these issues. Another important aspect is that this is reducing trust between the genders. That is not a good thing, because obviously we want people to have happy, fulfilling long-term relationships, and they will not do that if they feel anxious and insecure.
The thing that most worried them was music videos that glamorise violence. They were particularly scathing of Eminem and of Rihanna’s video, “Love the way you lie”, which is about a woman who is apparently in love with an aggressive man. The girls were particularly alarmed by that.
We need to take some positive action, so I suggest that the Government consult urgently on introducing age-rating for music videos, which was one of the Bailey review’s proposals; that Ofcom look again at its rules for radio stations to keep sexually explicit and inappropriate lyrics to particular times of the day; and that we reduce the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it.
A further problem that has been brought to my attention by ATVOD—the Authority for Television on Demand—is that R18 material is available on on-demand online sites that are not out of the reach of children. A survey of mine on The Huffington Post website is gathering people’s views on these issues, so Members should visit it if they would like to take part.
I know that the Minister will not be able to commit to my suggestions this afternoon, but we need seriously to take some concrete steps and move the policy on.
Today we are seeing what is being called a “feminist tsunami” around the world. Philip Davies looks a bit worried; I think he should be, judging by the tone of some of his remarks. There are 160 events across the UK alone, and 203 countries
around the world are joining in to say, “Enough. It is time. One Billion Rising.” Whether here in the UK in Sheffield, Liverpool, Ipswich, Corby, Bute, Norwich, Manchester or Kirklees, or whether in Manila, South Africa, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, the Lebanon or Afghanistan, women and men are coming together to say that they do not want to live in a world where one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. They are turning those billion women who would be assaulted into a billion people calling for change.
The question for us today is whether the British Parliament has done justice to that call. Having listened to the debate, I think we have. A fantastic range of contributions have reflected the number of issues that affect women’s safety in British society and, indeed, internationally. I briefly want to reference some of them.
Many Members, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), have discussed the prevalence of domestic violence in our society and how we can tackle it. Dr Wollaston made a fantastic and personal contribution about how we might deal with that. Others have highlighted the issues in some of our minority communities, addressing in particular the idea that this is a cultural issue when gender violence is gender violence. In that sense, I pay tribute to Jane Ellison and my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and for Luton South (Gavin Shuker).
We have also discussed the need to express international solidarity. Heather Wheeler talked strongly not only about forced marriage, but about how we need to tackle such issues across the world, as did Mary Macleod and my hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, who both spoke out for Jyoti Singh. Let us say her name and that we in the British Parliament stand on her side.
We have also heard many examples of how we could improve the way in which our criminal justice system works. Dr Whiteford mentioned Lindsay Anderson and the tragic case of Frances Andrade. I put on record my personal support for the work that the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, has done in challenging and calling for a change to how we deal with victims of sexual violence in our court system.
Mr Llwyd talked about his fantastic work on stalking. My hon. Friend Ann Coffey highlighted what the child protection system could do and the problems with the probation service’s lack of awareness of sexual violence among young people. My hon. Friend Luciana Berger gave the sobering statistic that one in five calls to our police is to report domestic violence. Something has to change in British society.
We have also covered broader cultural issues. My hon. Friend Helen Goodman spoke about the impact of body image. Caroline Lucas talked about the objectification of women in society. I will extend the hand of co-operation across the House
to the hon. Member for Totnes if she wants to run the “No more page 3 in the Tea Room” campaign. She is absolutely right.
Claire Perry, who unfortunately is not here, made a fantastic point this morning when she told the police that when so many women from the UK Parliament are standing up to say that they want change, they should not move them on. She has been a fantastic champion of tackling the changes that are allowed by online technology.
All of the points that have been raised are examples of a broader issue that we need to deal with. The fundamental problem is not technology or the practice of female genital mutilation; it is that we live in a society that is unequal. That impacts on the safety of women in our society. Even if the internet did not exist, women would still face the same scale of violence. That will continue unless we tackle the root cause of inequality, unless we tackle those attitudes and unless we take the stand that we are taking today every day to say that something has to change.
That is what the motion speaks to. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart, who has been a fantastic champion for this issue with the Backbench Business Committee. I also pay tribute to Members across the House who have supported the motion, including the hon. Members for Erewash (Jessica Lee) and for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), who cannot be here. I want to say why the Opposition think that the motion matters. We want to help the Minister if he is brave enough to listen to the arguments that have been made today about why compulsory sex and relationship education for both boys and girls is intrinsic to changing the culture in which we see violence against women in our communities.
Many Members have talked about the impact that is made by high-quality sex and relationship education. I accept the point that was made by the hon. Member for Battersea. The Brook advisory service has demonstrated the impact of poor-quality teaching. That is an argument for the use of expert guidance within schools rather than for having no guidance at all. I commend the work of Women’s Aid in that regard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North put her finger on it succinctly when she said that the Department for Education was the villain of the piece. I agree with her. As somebody who has campaigned for financial education be a key part of tackling debt within our society, I do not understand why we can teach our children about compound interest but not about consent. That must be a critical part of the process.
My hon. Friend Julie Hilling talked about the importance of youth work. She is right that we must deal with this issue not only in schools, but throughout our culture.
The hon. Members for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) and for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) made well-meant contributions in which they seemed suggest that this was a debate for women. Let me tell them very clearly that it is not the responsibility of women to avoid violence; it is the responsibility of society to stamp it out. We welcome them here to take part in the debate not because they care about women, but because it is for everyone in society to tackle these issues and to say that violence against women must not happen any
more. With that in mind, I hope that they will help us to challenge those who suggest that this issue is about what women wear. I urge the Foreign Secretary, as he is in his place, to look again at the advice on the Foreign Office website and to consider what message it sends out about rape in our world.
It is not acceptable to offer a caution as a penalty for rape in our society. We have to tackle the way in which we deal with rape. When only one in 30 rape victims in our society sees justice, it is an argument not for cautions, but for changing the criminal justice system. [Interruption.] That was actually the suggestion of the Secretary of State for Justice, so I hope that the Government Members who are heckling will take it up with him.
My hon. Friends the Members for Slough, for Kingston upon Hull North and for Bolton West and the hon. Member for Battersea have spoken about the importance of sex and relationship education. We know that children will get their advice from somewhere. We know that they will go to Google if they do not go to a quality-assured source. We know what impact that has not only on their sexual behaviour, but on how they deal with relationships and whether they have respectful relationships. I am mindful of the comments of the hon. Member for Luton South about the importance of respect in relationships.
That is why we cannot avoid this question any more. That is why we must challenge those who are trying to stop us. That is why I challenge the Secretary of State for Education when he suggests that all we need to do is to raise educational attainment, as though sexual violence is not happening in the highest performing schools in our country. Let me tell Government Members that we know that sexting takes place in the poshest and most expensive boarding schools that children can go to. So this is not about—[Interruption.]Members are barracking me, but the Secretary of State told the Education Committee that one of the best ways to get children not to indulge in risky behaviours was to educate them so well that they had hope in the future. He seemed to be suggesting that it was about improving standards in schools—we all agree with that—but not about taking on the cultural aspects of what sexual behaviour people think is acceptable.
I actually agree with the Prime Minister on the issue. He said that
“I believe that sex education, when taught properly, is extremely important. It should not be values-free. That must mean teaching young people about consent: that ‘no’ means ‘no’. At the moment, this is not even compulsory in the sex education curriculum. This has to change – and it will change with a Conservative government. This will be an important step towards encouraging greater responsibility and helping tackle one of the root causes of rape and sexual violence.”
The Prime Minister said that to the Conservative Women’s Organisation in 2007. We all know that in 2010, Labour’s efforts to change the situation were a victim of the wash-up, and that the other coalition partners supported putting compulsory sex and relationship education on the curriculum. Since then, there has been a vote about academies, and the Government voted against the motion.
Today, we have heard the support in the country for sex and relationship education in schools through the One Billion Rising Campaign, including from Government Members, and particularly the concern that if 50% of our schools become academies, they will be able to
avoid sex and relationship education altogether. I hope that there will therefore be cross-party consensus that the situation has to change, and cross-party support for the Minister if he chooses to say here and now that he will take on the Ministers from the Department for Education who could not even be bothered to come here today to talk about the issue and are not willing to support it.
That is key to tackling the root causes of these problems—we need to say that it is enough. It is time. We must not let those people get in the way of changing attitudes. One Billion Rising is because one is too many. The hon. Member for Battersea talked about solidarity and standing together. Let us stand up to the people in the Government who still do not take that line. I say to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister that to tweet about One Billion Rising is fantastic and sends a message, but we will hold them to account every single day if these issues are still not resolved.
I ask Members to vote for the motion, to give Home Office Ministers the clear support that they need. I ask Members to give the Home Office the evidence it needs to show that the situation has to change, so that Ministers can go to the Department for Education and say that they want to see sex and relationship education on the curriculum. Anyone who heard Jahmene Douglas talking today about the impact that it had on his sister and his family, and who saw such a brave young man come forward, will know that we cannot leave it to chance that schools will provide it. We have to ensure that it is a standard across British society.
I hope that Government Members will put their money where their mouth is, vote for the motion and support us in this effort. I hope we will say that One Billion Rising is not just for one day but is the start of something different in British society.
I congratulate the Members who bid for the debate at the Backbench Business Committee. It was an excellent idea, and well done to the Committee for setting aside the time for this debate and the one to follow, which is on the same theme of sexual violence. The House will shortly be able to hear from my hon. Friend Nicola Blackwood.
I thought that Stella Creasy rather spoiled the debate, frankly. It had been a good debate, and I had listened to powerful speeches from both sides of the House, including from Members on the Labour Benches and other Opposition Benches, but her tone at the end rather soured an excellent debate.
I am sorry that Diana Johnson finds my presence disappointing. I fear that may be the case for Opposition Members. I thought, though, that both she and the hon. Member for Walthamstow were rather churlish about the Department for Education. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Mr Timpson, found the time to come and listen to part of the debate, and he and I have spoken about these issues previously, including earlier this week. Some Opposition Members cling to the idea that there is somehow a divide in the Government, but it is a false idea.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said that the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr Browne, had not mentioned the teenage relationship abuse campaign when he answered a question in Women and Equalities questions. I may be wrong, but I listened carefully and the Minister not only referenced that campaign, but made the point that the Government are relaunching it today and are committed to continuing it because it has been so effective. On the basis that things said in the House of Commons are often the greatest secrets in the world, I will say it again: the teenage relationship abuse campaign “This is abuse” will be relaunched today with a focus on what constitutes controlling and coercive behaviour, and on raising awareness among teenagers of what constitutes abuse and violence. I have seen that campaign and think it rather effective. Evidence also suggests it is effective, and I am pleased the Government are relaunching it.
My point—I am sorry if I did not make it clear—is that the information was not on the Department of Education Twitter feed, which is obviously a place that young people might look to see what the Department is saying about these good initiatives.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, if a Minister speaks in the House of Commons, I as a Member of Parliament happen to put greater weight on that than on what—with greatest respect to the Foreign Secretary, who uses Twitter in an excellent manner—goes on the Twitter feed. If the Minister says something at the Dispatch Box as a statement of Government policy, that is important. The fact that the announcement was made in the House of Commons proves the saying that things said here remain great secrets.
In the limited time available, let me pick up a number of issues raised by Members across the House. My hon. Friend Claire Perry, who is not in her place at the moment, raised two issues that were taken up by others. She referred to the pilot scheme for domestic violence protection orders run by her constabulary in Wiltshire, and I am pleased to say that three pilot forces continue to operate those protection orders. The Government were asked to extend those powers, and we have done so. An evaluation of those pilots will be published this summer, and a decision will be taken about whether to roll the scheme out. The good news is that the pilots will continue in those areas.
My hon. Friend also mentioned sexting. That issue was taken up by a number of hon. Members, some of whom described concerning examples that either they or others had heard about. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre produces resources for teachers to use in the classroom, and my hon. Friend Jane Ellison gave a graphic example not just of sexting but of sexual offences taking place in the classroom, suggesting a more serious problem in some areas than sexting itself.
Ann Coffey referenced the St Mary’s sexual assault referral centre near her constituency, which is jointly funded by her local police force, the national health service and local authorities. Responsibility for those assault centres will remain with the NHS Commissioning Board, working with local partners to fund them. That partnership approach works well.
The hon. Lady also chairs the all-party group for runaway and missing children and adults and I pay tribute to her for that. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, who was present in the debate, said that he spoke with her yesterday at a conference on child sexual exploitation. That demonstrates that the Department for Education is alive to a number of these important issues.
Valerie Vaz demonstrated—as did much of the debate—that concern about this issue is shared by hon. Members across the House. We have had a good constructive debate and heard some excellent ideas. She, like Mr Sharma, raised this issue’s international dimension and mentioned recent events that have pushed it up the agenda, not only in the United Kingdom but elsewhere. The hon. Lady and others mentioned the impact of human trafficking. That is an issue I take very seriously as chair of the inter-departmental ministerial group on human trafficking, and I have engaged on the issue with Fiona Mactaggart, who so ably opened this debate. Together with fellow officers of that group, she will hold my feet to the fire as the Government make progress on that agenda.
My hon. Friend Heather Wheeler mentioned forced marriage, and I am pleased that the Prime Minister and the Government have committed to taking steps to criminalise that. The issue was raised by the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, and the Government have made their position clear. We have led the world in tackling that practice. We will criminalise it and make a breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal offence. It is not enough just to change the law; we need to change people’s attitudes and engage with communities to change people’s views. That point was made by the hon. Member for Slough and the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall.
My hon. Friends the Members for South Derbyshire and for Battersea (Jane Ellison), and hon. Members on both sides of the House, mentioned female genital mutilation. The Government have taken the lead on that. The Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, who has responsibility for crime prevention, has made it clear that FGM should be seen for what it is: child abuse. It is not acceptable. Karl Turner mentioned the importance of securing prosecutions. The Crown Prosecution Service wants to lead on that with its action plan on improving prosecutions. The Home Office will continue to work with the Director of Public Prosecutions to identify the barriers to successful prosecutions.
The declaration against FGM, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, sets out the law and potential criminal penalties. It is supported across the Government and has been signed on behalf of their Departments by the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, who has responsibility for crime prevention; the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Anna Soubry, who has responsibility for public health; and by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for
Crewe and Nantwich, who has responsibility for children and families. There is good evidence that Ministers from a number of Departments are focused on a range of issues and on delivering progress. The characterisation of the Department for Education is therefore unfair.
Mr Llwyd—I hope he will forgive me for mangling the pronunciation of his constituency—mentioned the stalking offences that he worked on with the Government, which came into effect last November. Police and prosecutors have been given special guidance and training on the offences, and I hope they make an impact on dealing with that incredibly serious offence, which was previously not dealt with well in the criminal justice system.
Is the Minister aware of the recent cross-party inquiry by the hon. Members for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and for Solihull (Lorely Burt) and me on unwanted pregnancy? We called for statutory provision for sex and relationship education. Will the Minister comment on that—it is relevant to the debate—before he takes his seat?
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will answer that intervention. I was not aware of the inquiry on which the hon. Lady worked, but I am now.
Let me come back to sex and relationship education, if I may. Sex education is a statutory responsibility. I listened very carefully to the points made in the debate. Interestingly, many Members said that sex and relationship teaching as a component of PSHE is in many cases not high quality. It is important to focus not just on teaching sex and relationship education. Schools must have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance, but it is important that it is well taught. That was the point made by Caroline Lucas—
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion referred to a charity in her constituency: Rise, which works in partnership with schools in her constituency. Partnership working with charities and non-governmental organisations can be important in effective delivery of high-quality education.
I appreciate your tolerance, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Minister will be aware that sex and relationship education is not compulsory in schools and that there is no requirement to teach zero tolerance of violence in relationships. The legislation available before the election, which the current Secretary of State for Education personally blocked, would have made it possible for him to require zero tolerance of violence in relationships to be taught in our schools. Can the Minister give me any reason at all why he opposes that today?
I have just said that good teaching in schools is essential. I am not sure the route the right hon. Lady sets out is a valid one. I will take no lectures from her on the urgency of the task. She was in government for 13 years. She is now complaining about failing to legislate in the wash-up at the tail-end of 13 years of Labour government. If she meant what she said, she would have done something about it. I am afraid that her strictures are rather hollow.
This has been a very good debate. I think I am being glared at by Mr Deputy Speaker, and am being urged to bring it to a close. I am sorry that I have not been able to reference everyone who has spoken in this excellent debate. I think it will be followed by an equally excellent debate, with which Mr Deputy Speaker is keen to proceed.
For no more than two minutes, Fiona Mactaggart will sum up.
I will be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to thank everybody who has contributed; it has been an excellent debate. I am grateful to hon. Members for pointing out that sex and relationships education based on zero tolerance to violence might be part of the solution. However, it is by no means all of the solution. We have had many excellent contributions about the other issues that need to be taken on board to bring to an end to violence against women and girls—we need to bring this violence to an end. We have made progress on some of these issues. We have to make practical progress now, and that is why I tabled this motion.
I want us to vote on the motion, because we have heard one voice against it, and I will speak to Philip Davies. In my political life, I have campaigned strongly for all victims of violence. In the past year, 109 women have been murdered by the people they loved. Domestic violence, the violence we have talked about in this debate, and the control that goes on inside ostensibly loving relationships, terrorises all of women. That is why this is a specific issue, and that is why we need to deal with it. Unless we can teach young men and young women that wherever we go, however we dress, no means no and yes means yes, we will not have a society in which women are safe.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes the One Billion Rising Campaign, and the call to end violence against women and girls; and calls on the Government to support this by introducing statutory provisions to make personal, social and health education, including a zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships, a requirement in schools.