Violence against Women and Girls

Part of Contamination of Beef Products – in the House of Commons at 2:20 pm on 14th February 2013.

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Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:20 pm, 14th February 2013

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—