Violence against Women and Girls

Part of Contamination of Beef Products – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 14th February 2013.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 2:55 pm, 14th February 2013

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart on initiating it and on the work that she has done in this field.

The Government estimate that last year 85,000 women were raped or sexually assaulted. That is a shocking statistic. Clearly, this violence takes place in a cultural context. I want to build on the remarks of the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Devizes (Claire Perry) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and my hon. Friend Luciana Berger to suggest some concrete things that we might do to shift this culture which is portraying women in such a highly sexualised way.

During my adult life, women have made lots of progress in many respects. We have made progress at work, in education and public services, and in pensions and child care, but we seem to have gone backwards in the public portrayal of women and the impact that that is having on our self-esteem and on the way that men treat us. The all-party group on body image has looked into women’s attitudes to their bodies. That can appear to be at the soft and fluffy end of the scale, but it often drives into women’s sense of themselves and levels of self-esteem. People who have negative self-images can become extremely depressed and subject to mental health problems and eating disorders—so much so that 80% of women are unhappy with their bodies, 40% of children are concerned about their bodies, and 1.6 million people have eating disorders. People’s anxieties are strengthened by their being faced with a constant bombardment of images of perfection.

I thought it would be interesting to talk to two groups of young people about these issues. I went to a school in London to talk to a group of girls in year 10 and to a school in my constituency in County Durham to talk to a mixed group of boys and girls, also in year 10. They agreed that these were significant problems. The girls, in particular, drew a connection between the images portrayed in the media and the way they are harassed on the streets by complete strangers. They have now begun to airbrush their own photographs on Facebook—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Slough is groaning; I was appalled as well. There are some practical things that we can do about this. It is impossible to ban airbrushed photographs in advertisements, but we could label them as such.

The young people told me that they find such discussions valuable. As I said, they saw a clear link between sexualised imagery in the media and how they were treated in real life. The portrayal of such images should be covered in the PSHE curriculum. The Girl Guides have produced a fantastic pack about these issues. Another important aspect is that this is reducing trust between the genders. That is not a good thing, because obviously we want people to have happy, fulfilling long-term relationships, and they will not do that if they feel anxious and insecure.

The thing that most worried them was music videos that glamorise violence. They were particularly scathing of Eminem and of Rihanna’s video, “Love the way you lie”, which is about a woman who is apparently in love with an aggressive man. The girls were particularly alarmed by that.

We need to take some positive action, so I suggest that the Government consult urgently on introducing age-rating for music videos, which was one of the Bailey review’s proposals; that Ofcom look again at its rules for radio stations to keep sexually explicit and inappropriate lyrics to particular times of the day; and that we reduce the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it.

A further problem that has been brought to my attention by ATVOD—the Authority for Television on Demand—is that R18 material is available on on-demand online sites that are not out of the reach of children. A survey of mine on The Huffington Post website is gathering people’s views on these issues, so Members should visit it if they would like to take part.

I know that the Minister will not be able to commit to my suggestions this afternoon, but we need seriously to take some concrete steps and move the policy on.