Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons on 26th April 2023.
What recent steps the Government has taken to help tackle harassment and violence against women and girls.
Tackling violence against women and girls is an important Government priority. We are supporting the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill of my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, which will make public sexual harassment a specific offence. We also provided more than £160,000 of funding last year to the National Stalking Helpline, run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which I have met. It responded to 7,440 calls and emails from or relating to victims of stalking between last April and March this year.
As the Minister will know, 71% of women have experienced harassment in public spaces, yet too many people continue to accept these patterns of violence or harassment, or do not have the confidence or resources to confront such behaviour when they see it. The Northumbria police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness recently launched a fantastic initiative for active bystander training to prevent assault and the behaviours that lead to it. What will the Government do to encourage similar positive action to tackle the root of misogyny in other places across the country?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight the work of the Northumbria police and crime commissioner. We have provided £3.6 million to the safer streets fund and the safety of women at night fund. I was surprised to read that one in six adults—not only women and girls but men and boys—has been stalked. That is horrendous. The Government are funding projects in that area through substantial funding of millions of pounds.
I call the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.
Violence and harassment of women and girls takes place not just in this country but across the world, particularly in places such as Iran and Afghanistan. What work is going on across Government to ensure that the UK is not a bystander when it comes to global violence against girls? In particular, what are we doing about proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran?
My right hon. Friend knows that this issue is the responsibility of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which leads the Government’s support for human rights, particularly matters pertaining to women. This Government, through the Home Office and the FCDO, do a lot to promote women’s rights. It is important that political systems in other countries are able to protect those rights. The main thing we do is sanctions, which are very important in this area. They send a clear message to all sorts of political organisations across the world, including the Iranian authorities. They will be held accountable for the oppression of women abroad.
Last year, nearly 5,000 spiking incidents were reported to the police in England and Wales, but the real number is likely to be far higher. Spiking is endemic in the night-time economy. Women and girls should be able to go about their business and enjoy nights out without fear. While the Government pay lip service, cases across the country are rising, yet we have no actual reporting system for this heinous crime. When will the Minister do the right thing by victims and make spiking a separate criminal offence?
The Government are looking carefully and speaking to stakeholders about spiking. There are adequate criminal offences for this sort of behaviour, and we have had some quite high-profile convictions. However, the hon. Lady is right to highlight the issue. The Government will review it. Specific funding has been given, and there is better testing. Evidence is important, but we need to get women and girls, and men and boys, to come forward when they have been spiked. Spiking also affects older people; I read a case the other day of someone in their 40s who was spiked. It is essential that we work in this area.