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Violence against Women and Girls

Part of Contamination of Beef Products – in the House of Commons at 12:24 pm on 14th February 2013.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough 12:24 pm, 14th February 2013

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.