Strategy for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:13 pm on 21st July 2021.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:13 pm, 21st July 2021

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and I am pleased to hear that she supports much of this strategy. Perhaps I can just help her understand one or two of the policy areas that we have announced today.

The hon. Lady referred to the national policing lead and to the policing leads in the National Police Chiefs’ Council. She is absolutely right that those officers sit in those roles but, as she knows full well, they are not specialist full-time officers working on those areas; they are assistant chief constables or, indeed, chief constables doing their day job as well as vital work for the National Police Chiefs’ Council. This national policing lead, which incidentally was recommended by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, is a full-time role that will be focused solely on tackling violence against women and girls. This is a great policy announcement, and I very much hope the hon. Lady will come to support it.

The hon. Lady asked whether the helpline will be open to all victims historical and current. Of course it will; just as with any of the other helplines that we as a Government fund, whether to do with domestic abuse or perpetrators or the revenge porn line, it will be open to all victims 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That message came through loud and clear in the survey; we have acted in this strategy.

In relation to non-disclosure agreements, we have specifically referenced universities. The hon. Lady will know that there are legitimate reasons for non-disclosure agreements in workplaces. It continues to be a line of work that we look at, but we wanted to send the message out loud and clear to universities that they have got to sharpen up their act and ensure that we have consistency and quality of standards in dealing with these serious cases of sexual harassment in universities and on their sites.

The hon. Lady asked about street harassment. Again, I refer her to the communications campaign. It became clear as we read the responses that it was felt that if only it were the case that passing a law on street harassment would eradicate street harassment, but that in fact it is much more complex than that. We need to look at, for example, why women are not reporting cases to the police: is it because they do not know that what they are experiencing is in fact already an offence, are there gaps in the law, and how can we help them have the confidence to report to the police? That is why later this year we will be launching a public communications campaign; I understand it will be welcomed by those who work with victims and survivors of violence against women and girls, and I hope it will be welcomed across the House, because this is the campaign through which we can tackle perpetrators’ behaviour and also, importantly, give victims the confidence they need if they wish to report such behaviour to the police.

The hon. Lady asked about the online tool. That actually came from a lady called Lucy, who emailed me with it as we were having the national conversation about the terrible tragic events earlier this year, and it has met with a great deal of support from the public. We will be piloting it and will be working closely with those who work with victims and survivors and the police to ensure that there is the appropriate safeguarding framework around it. It is meant to be an anonymous reporting tool where we can pinpoint where we feel unsafe, and then that information can be shared with local commissioners, both local government and indeed the police, to ensure that these messages are getting through to the police in a way that does not, as I have already set out, mean that women do not always feel confident or able to report.

The hon. Lady asked about support for services that support victims. Again, in that specific pillar of the strategy we set out our commitment to specialist services. She will know, for example, that we have underlined in the Domestic Abuse Act alone our commitment to specialist services for victims of domestic abuse who have had to flee their homes and are living in safe accommodation. She also knows, because we have had this conversation before, about the £27 million that we are investing to create 700 new independent sexual violence adviser and independent domestic violence adviser roles. These are all important steps that will help us support victims.

What I want by the end of this decade, because I genuinely want us to seize the moment that this year and the public conversation that we have had presents, is for us to be able to point to real changes in the attitudes, misogynistic and otherwise, that underpin so much of this offending behaviour. That is how we are going to make real change, alongside the support and the pursuit of perpetrators—that is how we will make a real change and help ensure women and girls are safer in our country.