The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult for women across the country. Sarah Everard’s death is utterly tragic. My thoughts are with her family and friends, as well as with all those who have lost a loved one to male violence.
It is clear to me that Saturday evening in Clapham was supposed to be a peaceful vigil, not a protest. I have spent the last few weeks speaking to women overwhelmed by their feelings of grief and anger. I have spoken to those who feel a little less safe on our streets, those who worry about the world in which their daughters will grow up, and those for whom recent events have brought back their own experiences of trauma, harassment and violence. Campaigns such as the #MeToo movement have ensured that conversations on abuse and violence are finally reaching the mainstream discourse, yet women are not under any illusions. We have spoken out against male violence in all its forms for decades, and I am frustrated and appalled that only now are we being listened to. What is in the Bill for us? How does it protect us? How does it address the scandalous prosecution rates for rape and sexual assault? How does it make women safer on the streets? The simple answer is: it does nothing. Increasing sentences for serious crimes is important, but there is little point if criminals never get to court to be sentenced, as is the case in 99% of rapes. Instead of prioritising victims, the Bill curbs our rights. It makes it harder for us to protest when the Government get things wrong and put the protection of statues above the protection of women.
While I welcome the measures in clause 45 that will extend the existing positions of trust offences, some alarming gaps remain. I am hugely concerned that those provisions will not be applicable in all the circumstances in which they have the power to make a difference. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on wrestling, I am hugely disturbed that the provisions set out in clause 45 will not protect those in the wrestling industry. Colleagues may not be aware that wrestling was devastated by the #SpeakingOut movement, which documented horrific tales throughout the industry, including threats of rape and sexual abuse. Some of the victims facing abhorrent abuse have been children as young as 13.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that we do not want perpetrators of sexual offences to fall through a loophole in this legislation, yet because professional wrestling is not classed as a sport and as such does not have a governing body, it is at risk of doing just that. I urge the Minister to commit to meeting me and my colleagues in the APPG on wrestling to talk about the potential avenues to include appropriate protections for young wrestlers in this Bill.
Actions speak louder than words. To quote a heroine of mine, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on what would have been her 88th birthday:
“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
The Government need to recognise that we need to take that step, and that we are at a crossroads with a real opportunity to change the lived reality for women and girls in this country. I plead with the Minister to work with the Labour party to ensure that women and girls are safer on our streets and in their homes, to work with us to ensure that the right to protest is not reduced and that voices across the country are not silenced—to work with us to finally do the right thing.