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.