New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock 7:15 pm, 6th July 2020

It gives me great pleasure to support the Bill, which is the product of input from all over the House, and all the better for it. I particularly welcome the definition of what constitutes domestic abuse and the emphasis placed on sexual abuse in the definition. We all know that sexual abuse is very much in the toolkit of any abuser and, just as domestic violence was a taboo subject in the past, the role of sexual violence has been, too. What is striking about the passage of the Bill is how it has been a game changer on that—the clause that deals with rough sex most certainly is. In that respect, the Bill makes a very clear advance in favour of the victims and against the abusers. We must ensure that we do everything we can to protect those who are most vulnerable and bring the purveyors of evil crimes to justice.

We must also consider how sexual violence can clearly take place in the domestic context not just with partners but with children. I would like to highlight the comments made by my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, who talked about the sharing of sexual imagery via phones, which again could be considered domestic abuse given that it comes from relationships. That example really highlights how normalised sexual abuse has become in some contexts. I feel strongly that we collectively in this House—male Members as well as female Members—must do all we can to ensure that women feel empowered to have control over their own destiny when it comes to their relationships. I fear that some of the pornography now available and so widely circulating is normalising sexual behaviour that is not in the interests of our women and girls. We must all collectively be vigilant about that.

I tabled two amendments to give added emphasis to the importance of considering sexual violence in the domestic violence context. I did so in consultation with Rape Crisis England and Wales, to which I have the great pleasure of giving so much support. It does so much work and is often considered the Cinderella for the reasons that I have described. The real issue for victims of sexual violence is that it never leaves them. It is one thing to bring a perpetrator to justice, but these women, these girls, these victims are not pieces of evidence; they are people, they are fragile, and they need our support—a lifetime of support. I am pleased that the NHS has recognised that with its lifetime support care pathway for victims of sexual violence, but, as with many things in public policy, we can talk the talk, but we do not always walk the walk.

I am pleased to see that police and crime commissioners regularly step up to the plate to commission sufficient services for victims of sexual violence, but all too often locally I see the NHS not doing its bit, and equally we expect more from local authorities. The amendments in my name are there to reboot the emphasis on sexual violence as an element of domestic violence in terms of the functions of the domestic violence commissioner and local authorities. I hope that the Minister in responding will articulate the very real need for holistic support for victims of sexual violence and an expectation that the domestic violence commissioner will do the requisite thing and encourage good practice throughout our public services.

In view of time being very short, I will say little more than that, but I want quickly to address the new clause tabled by Dame Diana Johnson on abortion. Much criticism has been made of it, which, frankly, is unfair. The real point is that the law is 50 years old and no longer fit for purpose, but, because it is seen as a free-vote issue, Governments do not look at it. I welcome, to a point, what my hon. Friend the Minister has said today, but we need to look more holistically at the safety of our abortion services. It is all very well to say, “Okay, we have had these regulations for covid. Let’s just extend them.”, but I do not think that is good enough. We are told nowadays that as many as one in three people have had access to abortion, so let us look at it more holistically.