Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allocating me my first Adjournment debate in the Chamber. It is an honour and an excellent opportunity for me to raise this very important subject of Government support for organisations that support the victims of domestic violence. Tackling the problems associated with domestic violence is of great importance and interest to me and to my constituents who regularly speak to me at my constituency surgeries.
I hope today not only to discuss the general problem of domestic violence against women, but to lay out the particular problems that women from black and minority ethnic communities face. I will also address how central and local government can support women suffering domestic violence and deal with the organisations in the voluntary sector that provide support services.
Domestic violence still claims up to two lives a week, with around half of all female homicides being committed by a partner or ex-partner. About one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence. With those appalling statistics as a backdrop, we must all ensure that there is zero tolerance towards domestic violence and that we do all within our power to support individuals and organisations tackling this widespread and evil problem in our society.
The causes of domestic violence are well known: male chauvinism, poor parental role models, outdated and controlling attitudes of weak men, often fuelled by alcohol and gambling problems and added to by financial pressures, and a lack of condemnation and punishment from society. Victims find it extremely difficult to get support to escape a violent situation for fear of retribution and fear of testifying against their partner in court to bring about a conviction.
Fortunately, times are changing and I congratulate the Government and the Minister on the excellent work that is going on across government in tackling the causes, which is having a discernible impact on the problem. For example, the Government have introduced trained domestic violence prosecutors, specialist domestic violence courts and extra support for victims, which has resulted in the successful prosecution rate for domestic violence increasing from 46 per cent. in 2003 to 69 per cent. by December 2007. I endorse the Government's approach as recently laid out in the Government Equalities Office report "Tackling Violence Against Women".
The general challenges for women suffering from domestic violence are immense, but they are added to and intensified for black and minority ethnic women, who have to deal with a host of additional difficulties. Some of these are forced marriages, fear of honour killings and the social evils of the caste system, the dowry system, human trafficking, immigration practices and cultural pressures. For those coming from outside the UK, there is also the problem of language barriers and a lack of knowledge of the system. All these pressures can result in BME women being forced into exploitative cheap labour and, in extreme circumstances, prostitution. In my constituency, those women are the majority of sufferers and I hear tragic accounts almost daily.
I applaud the Government for the initiatives they are taking to support these women, such as through the joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office forced marriage unit, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 that comes into effect in October this year and provides civil protection for people threatened with forced marriages, the establishment of the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield and the £2.4 million allocated over the next two years to the POPPY project, which provides safe accommodation and support for victims of trafficking escaping from prostitution. The Government's Ethnic Minorities Innovation Fund is helping to fund a number of accessibility-related services on the ground, including a holistic service for south Asian victims of violence against women.
There is a lot of work to be done, but if the Government work in partnership with support organisations on the ground, a real difference can be made. We need to publicise, and raise awareness of, the help that women can receive and the support networks that exist.
Organisations such as the Southall Black Sisters are working in the BME community and are reaching women who would otherwise be suffering on their own. They speak to women in their own language and with cultural sensitivity and awareness. They have real expertise and have worked closely with the Government to help draft the 2007 Act, and they are the real voice of many women who are suffering from all kinds of domestic violence.
Copy and paste this code on your website