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

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.