Thursday 4 February 2016
[Mrs Cheryl Gillan in the Chair]
Preventing Violence Against Women: Role of Men
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the role of men in preventing violence against women.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan.
I am proud to be an ambassador for the white ribbon campaign, which was started by men to help to end the scourge of violence against women by encouraging men to take responsibility for the issue. I am proud that this is the first debate held in Westminster looking specifically at what men can do to end violence against women. I am not proud that in the 21st century, in this highly developed country of ours, a woman suffers an incident of domestic abuse every 22 seconds.
Some 1.4 million women were abused by a partner in 2013-14, and the vast majority of those cases were not reported to the police. In addition, 28% of women report that they have suffered abuse in the home since turning 16. The horrific scale of those figures highlights the size of the problem, so I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting us the opportunity to bring this important issue to Westminster Hall. I also thank the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) for supporting the application.
My contribution to the debate will focus largely on male violence against women. I do not wish to imply that men are not victims of domestic violence; they are. However, the vast majority—about 80%—of domestic violence cases are perpetrated by men on women. All of us in the House should be concerned that the incidence of male victims of domestic violence in Scotland is on the rise, increasing from 11% of all victims in 2005-06 to 18% in 2014-15. Parliament may want to debate that important subject in the future, but today we are debating violence against women.
There have been significant positive legislative steps both north and south of the border, and the Scottish Government currently have an open consultation on establishing a new domestic abuse offence. It is hoped that the offence will be similar to, but wider in scope than, the new law recently enacted in England and Wales. Alongside physical abuse, the offence may include acts that are not currently viewed as criminal in the eyes of the law, including abusive behaviour that is likely to cause a victim to suffer psychological harm. That behaviour includes the deprivation of liberty and autonomy; isolating an individual from friends, family and wider society; withholding or controlling access to resources, including money; psychological control and manipulation; threats and the creation of a climate of fear, including threats towards children; and controlling or withholding access to healthcare, education or employment opportunities. The move would be welcome, and it follows on from the introduction of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill and of Clare’s law, which allows people to contact the police and request information on a partner’s background if they suspect him of a history of domestic abuse.
I have been asked by some why I am so interested in the issue. The truth is that until a few months ago, I was not. I had not realised that the statistics were so shocking, and I had not even heard of the white ribbon campaign. In September last year, I was playing rugby for Parliament’s Commons and Lords team. I actually only played for three minutes before I was carted off to A&E for what was eventually diagnosed as a bruise, which is quite embarrassing in rugby. When I eventually went back to the ground, we were posing for pictures and someone put a lapel badge on me. I did not know what it was, but it was put on my shirt by a team mate. If I were allowed to say that that team mate is now sitting in the Public Gallery, I would, but I am not allowed to say that so I will not. He put the badge on me and we all smiled for the pictures, but I thought, “I’d better look this up.” I was a new MP, and the Daily Mail does not need any excuses to write stories about Scottish National party MPs so, just to make sure I researched the badge straight away and was pleased to discover the white ribbon campaign.
In further research, I discovered the shocking statistics. Like many others, I had just assumed that domestic abuse was on the decrease, but I was shocked to discover that it was not. The fact was, I had been involved in politics at an activist level for such a long time and I had played rugby—where the white ribbon campaign is fully active—for 17 or 18 years, yet I had not heard of the campaign, so I thought I would use my voice as a new MP.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, and I am delighted to be working with him on this important campaign. I am sorry to hear of his experience with the Commons and Lords rugby team, and I apologise for having to leave the debate early because I am going to the start of the super league season in the other code—rugby league. Does he agree that sports stars such as Ikram Butt—the Leeds, Featherstone and England rugby league star—and strong sporting heroes from all sports are ideal role models for showing that strong men are absolutely against violence against women in all its forms?
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Later in my speech, I will call on sportsmen, celebrities and MPs—men of all persuasions—to support the white ribbon campaign.
I am a father of two young girls, and I always worry about their futures—about how they will grow up and who they will settle down with when they are much, much older. As a father and as a citizen, I want to do all I can to stamp out the abhorrent use of violence and bullying that puts down and disempowers women, and I will work with anybody from any party in trying to achieve that.
In Scotland, the stark economic cost of failing to address domestic violence is said to amount to £1.6 billion. A 2009 study completed by Sylvia Walby of Lancaster University suggested that in England and Wales, domestic abuse alone costs society more than £15 billion a year in costs to services and economic output. However, regardless of the sums involved, failure to tackle domestic violence is simply not an option. The figures that I have just read out do not quantify the human and emotional cost that arises from violence against women.
At the very heart of it, this debate revolves around the premise and reality of equality. Some argue that we live in an equal society, that men and women are treated equally and that young girls are provided with the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Those people are sadly wrong. We are not living in an equal society, and still today, in the 21st century, too many men think they are in a position to overpower women and treat them as they see fit.
In England and Wales, abusive partners cost the lives of two women every week. Back home, Police Scotland spends 20% of its operational time dealing with instances of domestic violence. Domestic rape almost doubled in 2013-14, with an increase of 81%. Politicians are known to bandy about figures and statistics, and I do not intend to use too many more, but these are not just numbers; they are horrific and often life-changing experiences suffered by women across the country. The statistics show that we do not live in an equal society. They indicate that for too many women, this is still a broken society. With one voice, this Parliament should say, “Enough is enough.”
If there were any doubt that this debate is needed, by chance it falls in the week in which we have witnessed an angry outcry across the UK about the ridiculous and attention-seeking pro-rape blogger Roosh V. This small, pathetic excuse of a man has some of the most abhorrent views that I have come across, and is endangering the lives of women to further his own career. The views he expresses highlight the long journey that we still have to travel to ensure real, not perceived, equality for women.
A lot of good work is being done to tackle the effects of domestic violence and to enable authorities to charge and convict offenders. Efforts to prevent it from occurring in the first place have also increased. Both the UK and Scottish Governments are committed to eradicating domestic violence from our society and have adopted preventive strategies in combating it.
In 2010, the coalition Government launched their strategy entitled “A Call to End Violence against Women and Girls”, which committed to challenging the attitudes and behaviours that cause many women and girls to live in fear. The strategy is aimed at providing the authorities with the tools that they need to bring perpetrators to justice. The desire behind it is to adopt a partnership approach to preventing violence from happening in the first place. That is the correct approach to take—working across organisational boundaries to achieve a common goal. We need to intervene early, preventing violent acts against women from becoming the norm and working with all bodies to help eradicate domestic violence from our society. I will come back to the subject of prevention work.
The UK Government are providing funding to local groups that perform services that help to tackle violence against women. However, earlier this week Women’s Aid informed me that the current crisis funding for women’s refuges in England will come to an end on 31 March. The Minister sidestepped this question in the Chamber this morning, but when she responds, will she commit to a long-term, sustainable funding solution for women’s refuges?
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. He talks about cuts to services. Does he agree that the Government are often clever in defraying those cuts on to local government? In my borough, Southall Black Sisters does very good work for black and minority ethnic communities on issues such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and the impact of religion and culture. The organisation is being stifled at the moment because the grant to Ealing Council has been cut drastically, which is affecting its ability to deliver those services.
Absolutely. It is often the people who need such services the most who suffer as a result of cuts. I will return to funding, but the hon. Lady’s remarks are welcome.
I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government share the approach of seeking to intervene early and to work with others to help create a society in which women and girls are free from abuse. The “Equally Safe” strategy, launched in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, is aimed at preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls, and creating a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected. One positive aspect of the strategy is that it not only sets out to prevent violence against women from ever occurring, but seeks to address the daily inequalities and injustice that women face.
The Scottish Government have supported the strategy with sizeable financial support. In March 2015 the First Minister announced that £20 million would be invested in a range of measures to address all forms of violence against women and girls, in addition to the £11.8 million provided as part of the Scottish Government’s equality budget for 2015-16. More than £2 million of that funding has been allocated to prosecutors and the courts service to ensure that cases involving abuse are heard more quickly. Some £1.8 million has been awarded to Rape Crisis Scotland over the next three years to allow it to expand its advocacy services across the country, including by having rape crisis services in Orkney and Shetland for the first time. Less than a week ago, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, Alex Neil, announced a further £0.5 million to help build stronger and more resilient women’s support groups across Scotland by helping to improve their infrastructure.
That investment by the Scottish Government amounts to a 62% increase on the previous Administration. Last week, during a hearing organised by the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence, many groups raised concerns about funding for the services that they provide. Can the Minister assure those groups that not only will their funding not be cut but that they might see similar uplifts to the ones their Scottish counterparts have received?
I have spoken about prevention and about adopting a joined-up approach to addressing the issue, and I have said that eight out of 10 cases of domestic violence are committed by men on women. That basic premise is what led me to secure this debate. For the past few months I have been proud to be an ambassador for the white ribbon campaign, a worldwide organisation with active groups both north and south of the border. The campaign concentrates on working with men to speak out and challenge male violence against women. It urges men and boys to wear a white ribbon and sign a personal pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. Some 25,000 men have signed up to that pledge, and last year I tabled an early-day motion calling on all Members to support the work of the white ribbon campaign. I make that call again today and urge all MPs to sign the pledge, but this is not just about increasing the number of pledges; it is about creating positive male role models.
Other MPs have been long-standing supporters of the white ribbon campaign, including the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), who tabled an early-day motion in November welcoming its 10th anniversary. As MPs, we need to show leadership on this issue. As public figures and representatives, we have a duty to lead by example. Not only should we sign the pledge ourselves, but we should recruit others to the cause. I urge all MPs to go back to their constituency and draw up a list of 20 male figures who are influencers in their local community. They could be faith leaders, community activists, business owners, teachers, sportsmen or celebrities. Target those individuals and urge them to support the white ribbon campaign and to pledge to challenge violence against women in whatever form it takes.
Unfortunately, unlike in Australia, Ireland and Scotland, where central Governments have helped to fund the white ribbon campaign, the UK body receives no state funding. The Government might be interested in learning more about the white ribbon campaign’s work, and I invite the Minister to meet me and representatives of the campaign to learn more about its campaigns and to look at ways in which the UK Government might be able to support that work.
Other organisations are working with young boys to prevent violence against women. That is the key battleground in prevention, and one project that I want to spend time talking about involves going into schools and working with pupils on the issue of violence against women. It might shock Members—it certainly shocked me—to learn that police figures suggest that between 2012 and 2015, more than 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in schools, including 600 rapes. That is an appalling state of affairs and underlines the point that much more preventive action is required.
We need to understand the reasons why a young boy grows up to commit such violent acts. I believe that no one is born a violent person, but along the way something happens that makes them become a violent individual. Working with schools is one way that we can help to address that issue. In 2012, the End Violence Against Women coalition published a schools guide to address violence against women and girls, which includes a factsheet setting out the different forms of abuse that women and girls disproportionately experience. The guide helps parents, students and local women’s groups to work with their schools to promote girls’ safety. The coalition also accepts that we need to intervene early to prevent violence against women from ever occurring and, in addition to producing its schools guide, it has called on the Government to commit to long-term investment in public campaigns to change harmful attitudes and behaviours; and to ensure that all survivors of abuse have specialist support, whether or not they report it.
The End Violence Against Women coalition’s young people’s service focuses on interventions with young people who use violence and abuse in close relationships. That work targets young people aged between 10 and 25 years old and focuses on relationship abuse, parent violence and abusive behaviour within the family. That is an important area of work as it helps to change young people’s attitudes and behaviours and create more positive relationships between young men and their peers.
Some fantastic work is being done in schools by teachers and by groups such as Respect, which goes into schools to intervene when there are signs of abusive behaviour. However, a lot of that necessary work is interventional in nature. We should be looking to use the expertise of groups such as Women’s Aid, the white ribbon campaign and others by letting them go into our schools early and often to speak to young children about relationships, respect and domestic violence. There is evidence to suggest that boys’ attitudes harden when they reach their teenage years, so to get through to them, engagement needs to be either early in high school or later on in primary school, or in my opinion, both.
Will the Minister expand on some of the other work going on in schools that is aimed at preventing violence against women? That is an important area, as we want our boys to treat girls with respect and as equals from a young age. Can she assure us that she will consider implementing a formal national programme of engagement, rather than the current fractured localised work? I would also like her to respond to the calls from Women’s Aid and others for the Government to make sex and relationships education and personal, social, health and economic education a statutory part of the national curriculum. That would help to ensure that all boys and girls had the opportunity to learn about healthy, mutually respectful communication and the meaning of consent, and to be encouraged to develop broader, more flexible gender roles.
The Government have made progress and have done reasonably well in some areas, but they need a helpful shove in others. If we are to achieve the success that we all want in ending violence against women, we need an effective justice system that truly understands the issue and punishes those who commit such atrocious acts. That includes working with those who are serving time in the justice system as a result of committing violent acts against women.
Respect works with perpetrators of domestic violence, and as well as running an advice service for male victims of domestic violence, it runs a series of specialist domestic violence prevention services. Those services focus on changing perpetrators’ behaviour and managing their risk, and the safety of victims, including children, is at their heart. Such services help to prevent repeat cases of domestic violence and help us gain knowledge of why people resort to violence in the first place.
A four-year study conducted in the United States evaluating a similar service to Respect’s specialist domestic violence services showed a clear de-escalation of re-assault and other forms of abuse over time, with the vast majority of men reaching sustained non-violence. The services that Respect provides are extremely important, and I urge the Government to work with it, because we need to do more work with perpetrators. We need to help change their behaviour to prevent repeated abuse and to gain knowledge of the causes of domestic violence. All perpetrators of domestic abuse should be encouraged to enter rehabilitation programmes during and after their incarceration.
My final point is about the ratification, or lack thereof, of the Istanbul convention. The Government signed that document on 8 June 2012. Three and a half years is a long time to delay ratifying something to which they have already agreed. This morning, the Minister reassured us that the convention will be ratified once the one remaining issue with the devolved Administrations is resolved. What is that issue, and is she in a position to give Members an indication of when it will be resolved so that ratification can take place? The convention is important as it argues that no single agency or institution can address violence against women alone. The legally binding framework stresses the need for partnership working, intervening early and having a series of integrated policies that stretch across all Government Departments and across sectors. Ratifying the convention will send a clear and strong message about the UK Government’s commitment to eradicating violence against women from our society.
Tackling and defeating violence against women is one of the rare issues that unifies this Parliament. However, we should not allow that consensus to foster complacency. There are still too many women who are afraid of doing or saying anything at home in fear of violent repercussions. There are still too many young teenage girls in abusive relationships who are too afraid to get out of them. There are still too many children who go to bed at night and cannot sleep because they hear the violence that is poisoning their home. I for one have had enough. I pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about men’s violence against women in all its forms. Today, as Members of this House, we must resolve that we can, should and must do more combat the abhorrent violence inflicted on women in homes across our constituencies and across the UK. It is an inexcusable shame and a national scandal that these violent acts persist in our society. We have a duty to fight back and eradicate this scourge once and for all.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I intend to call the other two movers of the motion now, starting with Mr Andrew Percy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I apologise that I must leave this debate early. I mean no discourtesy to the House, but I am chair of a governing body and we are discussing the new school uniform this evening, which is somewhat controversial, so I must be there.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands); I agreed with much of his speech. Given the time constraints and the fact that I am leaving early, I shall endeavour not to repeat much of it. I pay tribute to him and to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who also sponsored the motion. I have been a member of and an ambassador for the white ribbon campaign for two or three years now; it is great to see them here at this debate. The issue is important.
Having said that I would not repeat what the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, I will now do so. We are aware that domestic violence does not affect only women; in fact, sadly, sometimes when I have posted on social media about this particular campaign, I have been instantly attacked by people saying, “Ah, but what about the men who are victims?” Nobody involved in any of these campaigns is trying to brush that under the carpet. We know that it is not the case that all women are victims, or that all men are perpetrators, but it is a fact that the majority of people who suffer domestic violence are women, and the campaign seeks to address one particular element of that: the role that men can play in tackling violence against women.
Actually, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, it is about men and boys, because boys are an important part of the campaign. I know as a former high school teacher that unfortunately, teenage boys in our communities sometimes have views of women and girls that are entrenched from an early age. It used to sadden me often in the community where I taught. It was a difficult community; we had considerable social problems. Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems that we had to deal with was boys’ views of women and girls, often because the person they came up against most in their lives, such as their primary caregiver, was a woman. Their behaviour towards them became unacceptable, and their view of women was concerning. We used to deal with that quite a lot.
I am open-minded about personal, social, health and economic education—I used to teach it—but I am not sure that it has a particular impact or value in schools. As a result of the new workload agreement, it is often not taught by teachers but delivered by others within the school. Unfortunately, when a subject is not examined—even when it is statutory, as religious education is throughout the English curriculum—the priority given to it by the school and the quality with which it is delivered are sometimes questionable. I would argue that equality should be embedded throughout the school curriculum, in both the pastoral role that tutors play and through delivering the curriculum. That is the most effective way to deliver on a theme across schools.
We heard from the hon. Gentleman about the cost of domestic violence, which is estimated at about £23 billion to the United Kingdom and £3.1 billion to employers. Of course, putting a figure on it does not do justice to the real cost of domestic violence, which is human and emotional suffering by the victims and their children. We also heard from him that one in four women will experience physical abuse, and almost half will experience some form of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. As he said, two women a week in the United Kingdom are killed in that context.
Although progress has been made, and in many respects it is encouraging that women now feel able to report far more than they used to, it is worrying that back home in Yorkshire, one in five cases of reported domestic violence are not pursued any further. Public interest issues are sometimes claimed, as are other reasons. That is a major concern, but progress has undoubtedly been made. The hon. Gentleman talked about that, so I will not repeat it, but domestic violence has more repeat victims than any other crime in the United Kingdom, and we should bear that in mind.
The hon. Gentleman also outlined much of the Government action that has been taken. I am pleased that this is the sort of debate that unites people across the House. We all want to go in the same direction. We may debate and discuss how to get there—comments have been made about local government funding and all the rest of it—but I think that the issue unites us politically, and we should pay tribute to this Government and the previous Government for the progress that they have made and the action that they have taken on the issue, some of which he reported.
I will not repeat what he said, but I will mention my local authority. The reason why I became a white ribbon ambassador involves Steven Marshall, the South Australian Liberal leader, of all people, who is a good friend. I noticed that he was involved with the white ribbon campaign in Australia. I thought that it looked like a thoroughly good thing to do. He signed up on behalf not only of his constituents and his party but ultimately, if his party forms one, of the Government, to support the campaign. I thought that that seemed sensible, which is why I approached the white ribbon campaign a couple of years ago to ask how we could engage in it better in my own area. My area is served by two local authorities: the East Riding of Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.
I approached our leader—Baroness Redfern, as she now is—in North Lincolnshire and asked if she would sign up the council to become a white ribbon council and Scunthorpe to become a white ribbon town. She was pleased to do so. I encourage other Members to ask their local authorities to do the same. Local authorities are already undoubtedly spending a lot of money and engaging a lot of time and effort to tackle domestic violence, but what the white ribbon campaign can bring is important, including getting councils to rethink how they view the issue.
We have engaged Scunthorpe United, which I am pleased to say has now hosted us for two signings. However, it is not just about signing up, getting an award and all the rest of it; it is about what the local authority is actually doing. My authority is now rewriting all its policies, and there are some progressive examples that would read across to other authorities. The entire domestic violence policy is being reviewed in light of the white ribbon campaign.
Importantly, the council is also reviewing its code of conduct for employees. The current code of conduct states that employees must not behave in work or outside work in a way that calls into question their suitability to work for the council. We do not think that that is tightly defined enough, so the local authority is seeking to make it absolutely clear by writing it into the code of conduct that any employee who engages in domestic violence is never suitable to work in North Lincolnshire. I would say that they are not suitable to work anywhere, particularly if they deal with other vulnerable people.
When commissioning and procuring services, the council will ensure that the principles of the white ribbon campaign are written into new contracts as much as possible, so that anybody with whom the council contracts is aware of them too. The council is also considering a youth engagement strategy, which is important. I agree with what the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said. I know what it is like, as a former teenage lad and a teacher of teenage lads. The people they look up to are, frankly, not Members of Parliament. I am sure that the public generally look up to and respect Members of Parliament, but a really good way to teenage lads is their role models in sport—in the local football team, in rugby and, I hope, increasingly in American football, a proper sport. That is how to engage lads of a particular age, which is why a youth engagement programme run by the local authority with sports teams—not just football, but other sport clubs—is important.
There is no doubt that in northern Lincolnshire, we have a big ethnic and minority population who can be difficult to reach on this issue. We have teams operating in those communities, and the council is looking to engage them to find role models there as well, which will be important. Getting the local leaders to take a stand is important, so we have engaged with people in business and local solicitors, and we are encouraging all the elected members in the cabinet to sign up and become ambassadors for the campaign. Then, of course, there is the training for staff and all the rest of it, which is so important.
There is a lot that the council can do. I am really interested to see whether one idea comes to fruition. It is to consider a graduate placement or apprenticeship opportunity in this field, specifically to promote the white ribbon campaign in North Lincolnshire, which I think would be really innovative.
A lot is being done; there is a lot more that could be done. Local authorities have a really big role to play in this area, as do schools. The NHS is also important, because one issue that still comes up repeatedly is whether or not the training on domestic violence provided within the health system is as widespread or as sufficient as it should be.
I will not say much more than that, Madam—Mrs Gillan. It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I believe that this issue unites the House. As I have said, a lot is being done. I pay particular tribute to the white ribbon campaign. If we can get Government working more closely with campaigns such as that, it will be all for the better. I agree that we need to look at the Istanbul convention and consider where we are with that.
There is a real leadership role here for Government, but we will never tackle this problem from the top down; we will tackle it from the bottom up. That means men taking a stand and making it absolutely clear that we will not remain silent whenever there is domestic abuse or violence perpetrated against women, or tolerate it. We have a responsibility. Those of us who are not involved and never will be involved in domestic violence have a responsibility to make it absolutely clear to those of our gender who are involved that we will not stay silent if they engage in that sort of behaviour.
I call the other sponsor of the motion, Jess Phillips.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mrs Gillan—Madam Gillan—the many variations on what you have been called today—
Order. Madam Chairman or Mrs Gillan will do.
Madam Chairman, Mrs Gillan, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship.
When we look at the fight to stop violence against women in the UK, we see protest after protest by women: reclaiming the night; laying down red shoes to signify the women murdered at the hands of their partners; and women with banners and signs. I know from all my work and from endless academic studies that tackling women’s rights issues here and around the world is always best organised and best realised when women self-advocate. We will not be given a break; we will have to take it. I know that men should not lead this fight, but we women will achieve nothing without the world’s men joining in and helping us.
It is a shame that I have to say this, but I am glad that, as a man, the previous speaker—the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy)—also felt he had to say it. Time and time again, people with egg-faces on Twitter accuse me of thinking that all men are rapists. So, for the record, I will say that I do not think that all men are rapists. I am sure that it is strange for many people out there to hear that I am married to a man, and I have never said that I think all men are rapists, regardless of how many times it has been quoted as something that I have said.
I do not think all men are sexist and I do not think that all men commit violence against women, or against anyone for that matter. Most men are absolutely smashing. Most men would gladly stand up, shoulder to shoulder with their sisters, and demand better. In fact, in a recent Survation poll undertaken by the Fawcett Society, nearly nine in every 10 men surveyed said that they wanted women to have equality in all areas of their lives, which was a higher proportion than the proportion of women who said that. The truth is that men out there want equality, and now we have to help them to act on that.
Unfortunately, a very tiny minority of very vocal men are not like that. A tiny minority of men rape women; a minority of men hit their partners. In any group, there is a tiny minority who let the majority down. It is the same tiny minority of men who get incredibly defensive when women speak up about this issue. I am here to say to them, “Dude, don’t always assume that we’re talking about you.”
It would be fair to say that sometimes I can be clumsy with my words. Sometimes, my emotions and frustration pour out in words that perhaps I should consider just a little more, but I get angry because it is an unpalatable truth that women are sexually harassed and assaulted and physically abused hundreds and hundreds of times every day in this country, and always have been. For every man who has tweeted me, emailed me and called my office this week to say that that is total rubbish, three times as many women have sent me messages telling me their experiences. The most wonderfully heartening messages this week, and I think they were the messages that I received most frequently, were those from hundreds of men showing their support for the women in this country.
Violence against women is not something that just happens on a TV drama or in one section of society; it is everywhere. I have worked with women who have the most horrific tales to tell and I have tried to retell their stories; stories of rape as a weapon of war, and stories of a life of torture and fear. This violence exists—it happens—but the reality of violence against women is far less bombastic, and far more pedestrian and everyday, and that is what people find so hard to believe.
Here are some of the stories from my life, and from the lives of others who have been in touch with me this week. I will start with my own story.
When I was 19, I was having a drink in a bar and a man pinned me against the wall, and stuck his hand up my skirt and inside my knickers, in full view of all of his mates. I slapped him in the face, as I am sure everybody in this room today would expect me to do, and I was thrown out of the bar, even though I told the security staff what had happened. The man and his mates laughed at me as I was ejected. I was terrified, and I am sad to say that that was the not the one and only time that I have been terrified by a member of a tiny minority.
Following my recent outing on “Question Time”—an occasion when my words could possibly have been chosen better—I received hundreds of messages from around the country. Here are just some of them:
“I was dancing on the dance floor. A group of lads started to lift up my skirt and try to pull down my pants. I just walked away.”
“I am a beautician and I was in a consulting room with a client. He asked me if I offered extra. I said no, he exposed himself to me and started to masturbate. I asked him to stop, he said sorry, he couldn’t control himself. I am visibly pregnant. It didn’t stop him. He’s been in since as if nothing happened.”
“I was on the tube this week. A man kept putting his hand on top of mine on the rail, every time I moved it he did it again. I moved my hand, to tip-toe and reach the handle above me. I’m not tall so it was difficult. He then stood so close behind me that his groin rubbed against me. I couldn’t do anything.”
“I stopped going to clubs because I was fed up of being touched inappropriately by strangers. Now, as a barmaid, I just have to deal with ‘banter’ in a work context!”
“I first got my bottom groped in a pub when I was 15. I thought nothing of it. When I was 20, I woke up from a nap on a long-haul flight to find the man in the neighbouring seat with his hand inside my blanket. I was too shocked to respond.”
She said she just sat there with him the whole way. She continued:
“At 21, I was on a train when a man knelt on the floor in front of me and ran his hands up my legs—again, I did nothing.”
This story is from a teacher:
“Last week in the corridor at school, I overheard a girl tell her boyfriend to wait while she just went to the loo. After she walked off, the boy’s two mates laughed at him. One said to another, ‘Don’t let her order you around, keep that bitch on a leash.’ They were 14.”
My story and every one of the hundreds of stories that I have read this week have one thing in common—the victim never mentioned the incident to their parents, their partners and certainly not the police. Figures will never show the reality; this is just part of our everyday normal life. Women shrug it off—“Just one of those things.” For most women, this is an accepted part of life; we think of it as an annoyance. Having to tell a man, and I have done this repeatedly in my life, “No, I don’t want to get into your car”, is a pain but no biggie.
I have met girls who did get in the car. Certain men know where to look for the vulnerable girls who will get in. They are the girls in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and—before we congratulate our own areas—pretty much every town and city pretty much everywhere in the country.
Violence against women is everywhere; on every street, a woman is taking a beating, or just keeping quiet and waiting for the ordeal to be over. In every nightspot in the country, some teenage girl is being groped and shamed. Every school in the country has a kid whose time there is respite from what they see at home. When a problem is everywhere, we need everyone to join in the fight to stop it.
The first part of this fight is for us to ask the question a lot more. I ask every person in this room, both men and women, to ask the women in their lives—their daughters, wives, sisters and friends—if they have ever been frightened by the behaviour of a man. You will be shocked and surprised by what you hear.
We need action. We need every man who sees his mate touching a woman’s bottom to speak up—don’t laugh; it is not just one of those things. We need every man who hears another man referring to a woman as a worthless bitch, a whore or a slag to speak up. No man should ever let the statement, “She was asking for it”, pass without comment. If men think their mates, their sons or their dads are being a bit lairy, tell them to pack it in. Most of all, when a woman says, “It happens,” do not tell her she is wrong. Do not think that it means she thinks all men are like it or that it means she thinks you are like it. Just listen.
The white ribbon campaign is brilliant. It gives a space for men to pledge to fight against violence. If every man who was on our side spoke up, it would drown out the very loud minority who do not support women’s rights. As I am speaking, hundreds of the noisy men are taking to the internet right now to shout at me and say things like, “She wishes someone wanted to rape her”. Let us not let them be the voice that stands out.
Here in Parliament, I have been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with men in the fight to protect refuge funding. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) have fought valiantly to protect domestic violence refuges across the country. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) dedicated much of his previous life as the Director of Public Prosecutions to improving the harrowing situation for victims of domestic and sexual violence in the criminal courts. He now stands shoulder to shoulder with me and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and many of our female colleagues from all parts of the House in trying to improve how women and children cope with the family courts.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. She referred to the courts. Last week, the Court of Appeal found against the bedroom tax for discriminating against domestic violence victims. Does she agree that it beggars belief that the Government seem more intent on fighting that decision than protecting those victims and compensating them?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. There is one particular man seemingly fronting up the case to take the issue back to the courts and to try to damage women who have been put in specialist supportive accommodation. I ask that particular man, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to stand with me and pledge, as part of being a white ribbon ambassador, to do his bit to stand against violence against women. Unfortunately, I fear that that request will fall on deaf ears.
Our network of specialist services is under threat, and I ask everyone in this place to stand with us and fight for them. I ask Ministers today, as my colleague from over the border, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, asked, to answer how we can make our safe spaces and refuges sustainable for the future so that they are not merely living hand to mouth every year. I ask all the men in Parliament and Parliament itself to sign up to the white ribbon pledge. How councils have done that and the definite beneficial effects have been outlined.
This is not an us and them issue for women and men. Women fighting for their rights to live free from violence are not attacking men; they are defending women. The more men who join us in the fight against violence against women, the less it will happen. More women will speak up and more women will be free to go out dancing, to settle down with a partner and to live full lives. We must encourage every women who suffers violence to report it to the police. I wish I had. All I ask of every man is simple: please just tell us that you believe us. Otherwise, we will just keep keeping it secret; just taking it as if we deserve it. I want to give a massive thank you to the men in the Chamber and especially to my colleague the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North for calling the debate. Men are brilliant, funny, kind and caring. We do not just want them in our lives, we want them in our fight, too.
I want to speak about one specific issue: the need for this country to have a sex buyer law. Sex buyers are a key reason why vulnerable young women are lured by traffickers into Britain to be brutally exploited in the sex trade. They are a key reason why sexual slavery is worth at least £130 million annually in the UK. They are a key reason why in 2016 we must continue our fight against human trafficking. One way to do that would be to criminalise paying for sex. At this stage, I pay tribute to the Minister for all the work she has done in the fight against human trafficking, and I know she continues to work on that and that she will be listening carefully to what I have to say.
Even if they do not agree on many other issues—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and I have smiled about such disagreements on more than one occasion—no one of fair mind could fail to be moved by the heartrending accounts of young girls lured to the country by the promise of work in a nail bar or a hairdresser, only to have their passport confiscated by the person who accompanied them through passport control. Often that person is an apparently charming young man who suddenly changes once they reach this country. He takes her to a place where she is effectively imprisoned, and then she is repeatedly, horrendously abused. She is often fed with drugs and often raped by several men until she is broken down. She is then told that to repay the debt she owes for having entered this country, and effectively to gain her freedom, she must service countless other men for an interminable time. I say countless; one anti-trafficking organisation that I know well and does excellent work supporting such victims told me of one girl who decided that she would count the number of men she was forced to service with sex in one day. It was more than 100.
Most men do not pay for sex, but most of those who do pay for sex are men. Many men recognise that transaction—paid-for sex—for what it is: sexual exploitation. Sex buyers are the critical link in the human trafficking chain, so far as these women who are exploited are concerned. If we can break that link, we can do so much to change their situation and the lives of countless other young women who otherwise will continue to be exploited and brought into this country in that way.
Right now, paying for sex in this country is legal. As Alan Caton, a former detective superintendent of Suffolk constabulary, said:
“Sex buyers feel the current law gives them licence to exploit vulnerable women—and they are right.”
We have to remove that licence to exploit. The legality of paying for sex is a crucial factor in whether a country is an appealing destination for sex traffickers. An analysis of up to 150 countries found that reported human trafficking inflows were bigger—much bigger in some cases—in countries where prostitution is legal. Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany which have legalised paid-for prostitution now face the challenge of continued exploitation and high rates of trafficking. A retired police detective from Germany has described the country as a traffickers’ magnet and a
“centre for the sexual exploitation of young women from Eastern Europe, as well as a sphere of activity for organised crime groups from around the world.”
In a moment, I will explain why there is such a contrast between such countries and countries where paid-for prostitution has been criminalised.
Britain needs a sex buyer law: a three-pronged legal framework that criminalises paying for sex, decriminalises selling sex—we have to recognise that these women are victims—and supports those who are exploited through the sex trade to exit. When Stephen Harper’s Government introduced that approach in 2014, Peter MacKay, Canada’s former Justice Minister, explained that those who are paid for sex are decriminalised
“not because it authorizes or allows selling it, but rather because it treats sellers as victims of sexual exploitation, victims who need assistance in leaving prostitution and not punishment for the exploitation they’ve endured”.
Such a law here in the UK would send out a strong message, backed by legislative sanctions, that to exploit a person by trafficking them for sex is totally unacceptable and that those who do so will face consequences.
Sweden was the first country to adopt the sex buyer law in 1999. Under that law, by which it is an offence to buy sex, there have been approximately 3,000 convictions. The message has gone out loud and clear that there is no point trafficking people to Sweden to sell sex. Conversations between traffickers have been intercepted in which they have said, “Don’t bother sex trafficking to Sweden.” An official evaluation of its impact noted in 2010 that,
“according to the National Criminal Police, it is clear that the ban on the purchase of sexual services acts as a barrier to human traffickers and procurers considering establishing themselves in Sweden.”
Norway followed suit by adopting the sex buyer law in 2009. Again, an assessment of the law’s impact, which was commissioned by the Norwegian Government, concluded:
“A reduced market and increased law enforcement posit larger risks for human traffickers. The profit from human trafficking is...reduced due to these factors. The law has thus affected important pull factors and reduced the extent of human trafficking in Norway in comparison to a situation without a law.”
The nation to most recently adopt the sex buyer law was Northern Ireland. Proposed by Lord Morrow in his Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, it entered into force in June 2015. At a parliamentary event that I chaired to mark its introduction, I had the privilege of listening to the powerful testimony of prostitution survivor Mia de Faoite, who had testified before Northern Ireland’s Committee for Justice during their deliberations on the legislation. She very movingly told us that
“prostitution is the systematic stripping of one’s human dignity, and I know that because I have lived and witnessed it.”
Mia spent six years in prostitution on the streets of Dublin. The sex buyer law, she said,
“is about the protection of human dignity”
“the protection of freedom”.
As a member of the Modern Slavery Bill Committee in 2014, it was clear to me that to end sexual slavery we must end the demand driving it. That requires adopting a sex buyer law. Although the Modern Slavery Bill did not offer the legislative vehicle for this reform—the Committee did discuss it—it is crucial that we now move quickly to provide one. As I said in Parliament when speaking on that Committee,
“the majority of people who sell themselves for sex are incredibly vulnerable and subject to real exploitation.”
Whether or not they have been trafficked, they are
“often homeless, living in care and suffering from debt, substance abuse or violence. They have often experienced some form of coercion either through trafficking or from a partner, pimp or relative.”––[Official Report, Modern Slavery Public Bill Committee, 4 September 2014; c. 203.]
In adopting this reform, we would bust a business model for pimps and stop Britain being a lucrative destination for sex traffickers.
I welcome the Home Affairs Committee’s current inquiry into prostitution laws. It is possible to obtain a consensus across parties on this issue, and I hope that MPs of all parties will support the proposed sex buyer law and take this opportunity to stand up for vulnerable women from across the UK and, indeed, the world.
It is genuinely a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship here today, Mrs Gillan. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) for securing this debate.
The debate is timely, given all that has transpired in Scotland over the past week and the media coverage that has focused on a certain individual whom we have come to know as Roosh V: a name that many people would not have been aware of until this week. Judging by the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to his media coverage, I can confidently declare that the vast majority of men are appalled at his suggestion that rape should be legal on private property. Roosh V’s views are clearly abhorrent, but the events organised in his name offer us an important reminder. No matter how much progress we have made or continue to make on preventing violence against women, we can never become complacent.
Unfortunately, the views of too many men remain stubbornly fixed in the ancient past, and sometimes such views will become uncomfortably apparent to us. We have all been there when—some day, some place—a person makes a joke that we find offensive. When we do not laugh or we perhaps express our dismay, the response is usually the same: “It’s just a joke”. However, we know better; it is not just a joke. It is a reflection of something deeply hidden: a misplaced and perhaps unintended view against a person, situation or aspect of life that we believe is not suitable to be mocked or laughed at.
Why is it, though, that I believe one thing and another person can be comfortable believing another? You may think in this Parliament that we might have a greater understanding of a person’s views and how they originate. After all, we as parliamentarians spend practically all our waking moments expressing our views, opinions and beliefs. But dissecting an opinion into its constituent parts to find the root cause is not an exact science. And so we all go on, stumbling in the dark, trying to understand the human condition.
What makes a man violent? What makes a man violent against a woman? Is it nature or nurture? Is violence a fundamental part of the male psyche? Does it emanate from prehistoric times when the leader of the tribe felt that violence was an acceptable tool at his disposal? If that were a simple truth, all men would be violent against women, and we know that that is not the case. So, rather than making excuses for the unforgivable behaviour of a minority of men, we need to address nurture and the reasons why some men are violent.
Violence is a choice. It is something undertaken by some men who continue to accept outdated views of women: views that should never have been tolerated in the first place. Other factors undoubtedly contribute to this choice, whether that is mental health issues, stress or substance abuse. Studies also suggest that exposure to domestic violence as a child increases the likelihood that an individual may be violent within their own family. We should be adamant, however, that while it is important to understand these factors, they can never be used to excuse or justify violence against women. Equally, we must recognise the scale of the problem, and the ramifications for individuals, families and the country if we fail to take effective action.
The white ribbon campaign reports that one in four women in the UK will experience physical abuse in their lifetime, with almost 1 million children in the UK witnessing domestic violence every year. Across the EU, it is estimated that around 62 million women have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.
A consultation on a specific offence to tackle domestic abuse across Scotland was launched last December. The consultation is a significant leap forward in tackling domestic abuse in our communities. It will make Scotland world leading in responding to this most heinous of crimes and protecting those who are some of the most vulnerable in our society. Scotland will be one of only a handful of countries across the world to introduce dedicated legislation that will not only capture types of conduct that are already criminal, but other forms of psychological abuse and control that cannot usually be prosecuted under the existing criminal law.
There is also Clare’s law, which is being implemented across Scotland. Clare’s law allows people to contact the police and request information on their partner’s background if they suspect that they have a history of domestic abuse. The scheme was trialled for six months in Ayrshire and Aberdeen, with a total of 59 applications received and 22 disclosures made. Each case is considered carefully by Police Scotland and other agencies to determine whether disclosure is lawful, necessary and proportionate to protect the individual from their partner. The initiative was named after Clare Brown, who was murdered by her violent ex-boyfriend in Greater Manchester in 2009. She was unaware of his history of violence against women. The initiative was brought about as a result of a campaign led by Clare’s father, Michael Brown. It is a powerful example of men’s constructive role in preventing violence against women.
At a national level, the Scottish Government have shown a firm commitment to tackling domestic abuse. Between 2012 and 2015, more than £34 million has been invested in a range of measures to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls. Although this financial support is welcome, if the Scottish Government, or any Government, are to achieve its long-term goals of bringing about social, cultural and attitudinal change, men need to take a more active and positive role.
The role models of our young men should not be those who threaten and attack women. It must be those who are caring and take their family and community responsibilities seriously. Men are in a unique position to speak out and step in when male friends or relatives insult, abuse or attack women. By doing so, we can create a culture of zero tolerance and a culture that reflects the position of those who think that domestic abuse can never be justified.
Roosh V and his handful of supporters want us to regress to an earlier age. I stand alongside the vast majority of men who reject his views. It is encouraging that a growing number of men are finding their voice on this issue. With effective action, we can permanently change attitudes and ensure that violence against women is consigned to the past for ever.
My delight at serving under your chairmanship is absolutely undiluted, Mrs Gillan—unless you intervene in some way that I do not like very much. I apologise, because I know it is unusual for a member of the shadow Cabinet to take part in a debate such as this, but I remember that when you were in the shadow Cabinet you used to do so occasionally, so I am following in your footsteps. Indeed, I remember that you took forward a private Member’s Bill at one point.
Mr Bryant, I have called you to speak, and we are looking forward to hearing what you say.
I wanted to speak in this debate for the simple reason that in my constituency, the Rhondda, probably the single biggest issue that takes up the most police time and causes the most damage to the individuals and the community I seek to represent is domestic violence against women. Every Thursday, Friday and, in particular, Saturday night is a tough night for the police in the south Wales valleys, and certainly in the Rhondda. They often have to deal with issues for many days afterwards. Sometimes things are very complicated because somebody makes a complaint and then wants to withdraw it. There are many complicated issues relating to whether and how the police should pursue such matters, let alone how the Crown Prosecution Service acts. In my 15 years as an MP, the majority of murders in my constituency have involved one partner killing another, and there have been several cases in which the man has killed both his girlfriend, wife or partner, and the child or children. There is no issue that is more important to my constituents. Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen a dramatic rise—by some 23%—in violent crime in Wales, particularly south Wales.
Some weekends are far worse than others for domestic violence in Wales. It is not because of the sport that we all love in Wales, rugby—I do not think there is a direct causal relationship—but it is a simple fact that when there are big international rugby matches on, and sometimes football matches as well, the number of domestic violence incidents rises dramatically. That is why we in Wales in particular have to look deep into our souls when it comes to domestic violence in our country. I am a great rugby fan. I go to matches and I enjoy it—I broke my leg playing rugby at Twickenham once—but we need to look very hard at the cultural issues in Welsh life that affect violence against women.
Some public attitudes in the valleys do not help, such as the attitude towards alcohol—that it is best to drink lots and lots and get absolutely blotto on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and if you can do it all day Sunday as well, so much the better. Then there is the belief that young people prove themselves by drinking large amounts of alcohol. Not everyone participates at all. In fact, I recently surveyed all 16 to 18-year-olds in my constituency, and the percentage of youngsters who drink alcohol to excess is lower in my patch than in many others. None the less, that strong attitude is imbued in many people from an early age.
There is a similar attitude towards the perfect male shape, which is often influenced by anabolic steroids. The use of steroids in many gyms is well documented. Successive Governments have found it difficult to deal with the problem, which perpetuates the image of what a real man should look like: physically strong, silent, not necessarily very good at communicating, but good at communicating with their fists and prepared to take physical action if they want to. That whole concept of being a real man—of manning up—is a serious part of the problem. It is bad for men as well, and not only because of the fights outside pubs on weekend nights, some of which have led to deaths in my constituency; it is also bad for them on the rugby pitch. All too often, when someone has a concussion, they are determined to go back on. We need to change that attitude to concussion in sport. It is not the manly thing to go back on or to force somebody back on. The manly thing is for people to be responsible about their own health and take sage advice: if ever in doubt, sit it out.
I raise all those points because there is one issue that particularly troubles me. The six nations starts this weekend, and that is wonderful, but when there is a rugby match, we on the Welsh terraces will all sing “Delilah”. I know that some people will say, “Oh, here we go, he’s a terrible spoilsport,” but the truth is that that song is about the murder of a prostitute. It goes right to the heart of the issues we are discussing. There are thousands of other songs we could sing. We Welsh know every song in the book—we even know some of the words. “Cwm Rhondda” is a pretty good one to start with. I have sung “Delilah” as well—everybody loves doing the “She stood there laughing” moment—but if we are really going to take this issue seriously in Wales, we have to change how we do things.
In some years, the Welsh Rugby Union has been involved in really effective campaigns. Last year’s was called “Not In My Name”, and I am glad to say that several Welsh rugby clubs have signed up to the white ribbon campaign, but it is a shame that it is not every year and throughout the year. The decision about when the big internationals should be played is made entirely around money and broadcasting. Perhaps it should also be made taking into account the effect on people’s drinking habits and what they will do to their partners when they get home.
I am enormously grateful to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and the other Members who have secured the debate, who are from different parties. I should also mention bullying in schools towards not only girls as a whole but lesbians and trans people. I have tried so many times before, but I want to say to the Government that we will never be able to address these issues unless we have proper sex and relationship education. I know that some people will think, “That means you’re going to teach kids how to have sex.” It is quite the reverse. It is about making sure that every young person has the self-confidence to make good decisions for themselves—whether about alcohol, or friendships, or when they want to have their first sexual experience.
All the evidence from every country in Europe and around the world suggests that where there is good sex and relationship education, kids delay their first sexual experience, the number of boys who are violent towards girls is cut, relationships between boys and girls are improved and bullying is cut. I cannot see why we are prepared to continue with a situation in this country where some schools do it brilliantly and many schools do it abysmally; and where it is the one class that a teacher dreads having to teach and kids dread having to go to. We have to have a whole-school approach, and it has to be on a statutory basis. Of course individual parents should be able to say that they do not want their kids to engage in it, but no schools or set of governors should be able to say, “Sorry, we are just not going to do that,” because in the end, when that happens we are consigning kids to bullying and more girls and women to violence in their lives. It is about self-confidence and respecting one another.
I have never wanted to live in a tolerant society, because that always sounds like people are simply tolerating those who are different from them. I want to live in a society of respect, where we respect one another’s sexuality, one another’s right to say no, and one another’s right to say yes. We will never have that unless we look deep into our souls when it comes to these cultural issues. I am deeply grateful to have had this opportunity speak, and I am glad to stand with others who seek to end the violence that has been perpetuated through the centuries, with women and children being called chattels and treated as things to be thrown around and used and abused. One day, we will put a stop to it.
Like all the speakers before me, I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and the other Members who were involved in securing this debate.
Gender-based violence is a function of gender inequality and the abuse of male power and privilege. It takes the form of actions that result in physical, sexual and psychological harm or suffering to women and children, or of affronts to their human dignity, including the threat of such acts. It is men—not all men, but a tiny minority—who predominantly carry out such violence, and it is women who are predominantly the victims of it.
Talking about gender-based violence highlights the need to understand violence in the context of women’s subordinate status in society. It cannot be understood in isolation from the norms, social structures and gender roles in the community, which greatly heighten women’s vulnerability to violence. For far too long the issue has been confined to the shadows, and what has gone on behind closed doors has remained private. Violence should never be considered private. An attack on one woman by a male perpetrator is an attack on all women, because it goes to the heart of how the perpetrator views women and their relation to men. How we recognise and respond to such violence goes to the heart of the kind of society we seek to build. Violence against women should never be confined to the shadows, and it is shocking that it ever was. Thankfully, times have changed and our society is beginning to shine a bright light on the issue. No woman should ever feel trapped in a cycle of violence, and no man should ever feel that perpetrating violence against his partner is a private matter.
Shamefully, in 2013-14 almost 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by the police in Scotland, and that figure increased by 2.5% in 2014-15. As we know, the real figure is likely to be much higher, because domestic abuse is under-reported for a variety of reasons. The latest figures show that women make up the overwhelming majority—80%—of victims of domestic abuse. The overwhelming majority—94%—of serious sexual assaults are carried out by men, 83% of victims know the offender and 54% of victims identify the perpetrator as their partner. That is a matter of deep concern to all of us, because violence against women—indeed, violence against anyone—is a fundamental violation of human rights.
We must recognise the role that men can and must play in preventing and countering violence, particularly violence against women. It is important to acknowledge, as other hon. Members have pointed out, that the vast majority of men are not violent towards women, but the evidence shows that such violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men. Although it is important to deal with the aftermath of such violence, we must confront its root causes and reflect on the role of men. Specifically, we must address the attitudes, behaviour, identities and relationships of men who exhibit violence. Many men understand that it is important that we engage them in this debate, and we must underline the fact that they have a positive role to play in helping to prevent violence against women.
It is heartening that so many men across Scotland, the UK and the globe support the white ribbon campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness among men and boys, promote discussion and provide information and resources to support personal and collective action by men. I am delighted that my local authority, North Ayrshire Council, participated in and supported the white ribbon campaign’s 16 days of action. It joined millions across the world in that international crusade. North Ayrshire Council has its own comprehensive violence against women strategy.
Several Members have referred to the importance of teaching positive relationships and personal, social, health and economic education in schools. Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to think seriously about the process of the socialisation of young men—particularly those who grow up without a role model, those with violent or serial fathers and those who have no access to information and no role models other than people who are violent in relationships? We must concentrate on that crucial area if we want to make a sea change.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point. In Scotland we are trying to recruit more male primary school teachers to provide positive role models for young boys who lack them at home and in their wider family circle. I understand that that is happening across the United Kingdom, and it is to be encouraged and supported. There other social outlets, too. For example, schools can identify children who do not have positive male role models and direct them towards activities such as football clubs.
Our ultimate goal must be to create a society in which women are equal to men and feel safe and respected. I am proud that the Scottish Government have committed to achieving that goal in Scotland. They have provided record levels of funding and introduced legislation to ensure that Scotland works towards the prevention and eradication of all forms of violence against women. I will not go over the ground that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North covered, but there have been many funding initiatives in Scotland to tackle the issue. The Caledonian system works with men convicted of domestic abuse offences to address the underlying causes of their behaviour and to further protect women. Only a few days ago, the Social Justice Secretary in the Scottish Government, Alex Neil MSP, announced more funding for women’s support groups across Scotland, but there is clearly much more to do.
If a mother is not safe in her own home, it is extremely unlikely that her children will be. Children frequently come to the attention of agencies when the severity and length of the mother’s exposure to abuse compromises her ability to nurture and care for her children. Make no mistake, living with domestic abuse is a form of emotional abuse for children. Many children can vividly describe incidents of violence in the home and their feelings of terror, powerlessness and fear. Children may also witness coercive, intimidating or manipulative behaviour, or direct threats. Such behaviour is as frightening and harmful as physical violence, and its long-term effect on children cannot be measured.
Although some women manage to escape from their violent partner, that can have a profoundly damaging effect on their children and can leave them distressed and confused. That deep sense of loss can cause lifelong emotional scars. Therefore, when men inflict violence on their partner, they harm people other than the woman against whom the violence is directed.
The Scottish Government are committed to Clare’s law, which my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North spoke about. I will not go over that ground again, but that is a powerful example of the constructive role that men can play in preventing violence against women. In Ayrshire—my neck of the woods—interesting things are happening. Individuals who have committed domestic violence are monitored by the police. At times when spikes in domestic violence are anticipated, such as the festive period, the police deploy domestic abuse cars manned by officers dedicated to dealing with domestic abuse. Visits similar to interventions are paid to those known by the police to have a history of committing domestic abuse, to proactively let them know that such behaviour will be pursued and to divert them from it.
I urge the Minister to reflect on the fact that to escape from domestic abuse, women need to be financially independent from their partner. Women experiencing domestic abuse face many barriers when trying to escape from that situation. Universal credit will replace benefit payments that are paid separately to each member of a couple with a single payment to one claimant in the household. That will increase women’s financial dependence, prevent them from leaving abusive homes and increase the risk of harm to them and their children.
It is essential that we engage positively with men—our important allies in tackling the problem of men who exhibit abusive behaviour. Rather than imposing a sense of guilt and shame on all men, we must make every effort to ensure that men understand that they are able to play a crucial part as positive role models in the prevention of violence against women. By challenging the attitudes of peers, by teaching our children from a young age about equality between the sexes and by refusing to condone the objectification and commercial sexual exploitation of women at any level, the prevention of violence against women can be achieved through the positive engagement of non-perpetrating men, who make up the vast majority of men out there.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) on securing this debate, which is timely given the urgent question earlier today about the visit by the rape apologists from—
I don’t know where they’re from.
When we consider violence against women, we always look at the woman and the family, but there are wider implications. As someone whose mother served time in prison for killing an abusive partner and as a woman whose own forced marriage is well documented, I want to provide a cultural narrative to the debate from a BME perspective and to enlighten people about the issues around women in prison. In this country, two women a week are murdered by their partners, but some women are driven to kill because they see no other way out and have nowhere else. Services are not responsive due to language barriers or a lack of understanding. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) mentioned, some women are still not believed. My experiences happened over 23 years ago, but many women face the same issues and obstacles. Language barriers and cultural differences are a double whammy, leading to more hurdles to overcome to access services. We must be mindful of the barriers that women face.
I am pleased to see Ikram Butt, the first Asian rugby player to play for England, present today. He is a white ribbon champion and has come all the way from Yorkshire. He has canvassed me many a time about wearing my white ribbon, which is important because he is a role model for Asian people and Asian young men in sport. Sport is one way in which we need to engage with young people and young men in particular.
I had a natural hatred of men and of my own community because of my experiences, but my hatred was alleviated by the good men whom I came across and worked with, who taught me that our communities do contain decent men. However, that fact does not take away from the inequalities that women suffer. Turning to women in prison, the majority—nine out of 10—of women incarcerated in our prisons committed a crime because they were a caregiver or because they suffered some form of abuse. When women with children are imprisoned, the system not only incarcerates the woman but punishes the whole family. The entire family, including the children, are set up to fail because services are not geared correctly towards children. I was lucky that I was 18 and not in the care system and was able to look after my siblings, but the experience of prison affects young people as well. When discussing violence against women, we should not talk only about the woman who has been violated. Whole families and communities are affected. When a man commits violence, he is perpetrating a crime against a whole community or people. It is not just about the woman who is physically hurt or controlled, whether financially or mentally.
I am disheartened by the Government cuts that have affected charity organisations. Last year, I led a debate on cuts in the voluntary sector in this very room. Since my election, Bradford has seen the closure of two local charities that helped women. Both the Blenheim Project, which was a refuge, and the Manningham Mills Community Association, which was a place for women to come together and seek support, have closed. In addition, more than a third of the women who go to Women’s Aid are unfortunately turned away because of the cuts since 2010. There has been an increase in reports of rape this week in my local area alone. We need to address the cuts to local authorities, police forces and organisations such as Women’s Aid. It is fantastic that we are empowering men, and it heartens me to see so many men taking part in this debate and that the debate was led by a man. However, we are setting our communities up to fail if we do not address the wider issues of the funding that should be available to communities.
I urge the Minister to consider the implementation of the Istanbul convention, which has been signed by the United Kingdom but has not yet been ratified. I also advocate making awareness of gender-based violence the focal point of our school curriculums. I am unsure whether we are doing enough to address children’s anxieties about the role of women and power and control. If we are to address the matter, we cannot just address what is currently happening; we need preventive work for the long term. Young people have even more issues now, such as body image, and I have an 11-year-old daughter, so I am familiar with the pressures that young people face and I am exasperated by them.
Social media has a massive part to play in violence against women. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley has been persecuted, and such action is unacceptable. I have experienced Twitter trolling, but nowhere near that of some of my colleagues. I stand by my hon. Friend and I retweet things, as do many others, but we need more men to do that. I encourage the men in this room to troll the trolls. I would like the Minister to commit to embed such issues in our curriculum, so that we can empower young people and teach them that the way to get real power and control is not through the persecution of others but through being comfortable and by empowering women. Like my hon. Friend, I thank the fantastic men out there. I have two sons of my own. Men are wonderful, but we need more of them to help us. Be the majority, not the minority.
[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I am trying not to be a paranoid politician, but the previous Chair left just as I was about to speak.
I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on granting this debate. All the Members who have contributed have made really powerful speeches. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah). Her life experiences and the comments made in earlier speeches tell us everything that we need to know about today’s debate. I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) for his commitment to the white ribbon campaign.
One of my senior caseworkers used to work for Women’s Aid and I pay tribute to its work and that of similar organisations. We cannot forget that some situations are so grave that support workers actually put themselves at risk in their quest to help others, which is a forgotten consequence of violence against women. My final tribute is to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) who has worked in this field and continues to campaign on the subject and for women’s rights in general. She made another strong speech today, but her contribution on the impact of housing benefit was really powerful and the lack of response from the Minister that day was shameful. I hope that we can get that addressed today.
Everyone here abhors domestic violence, no matter who the perpetrator or victim, but I must admit that I sometimes wonder in these days of heightened equality whether we should differentiate between genders in domestic abuse. The blunt facts speak for themselves: 80% of domestic violence perpetrators in Scotland are male. Clearly, therefore, for a significant reduction in this abhorrent crime, or to break what can be a vicious circle of repeat behaviour with different partners or perpetrators’ children becoming future offenders, we need to tackle men’s attitudes and behaviours.
In fairness, society has come on leaps and bounds since the time of such oft-used phrases as “a woman’s place is in the home” or “a woman’s place is in the kitchen”, which perpetuated women’s status as second-class citizens, fuelling bad behaviour in the demands of men. Equally, although we have not completely eradicated such views, we have to remember that it is not even 100 years since women were first deemed worthy of a vote. Without doubt, we have come a long way.
We politicians have a real job to do on women’s place in society, in particular in international relations. One of our big middle east allies, Saudi Arabia, has a poor attitude towards women’s rights—women are not even allowed to drive. I have mentioned that before, in a human rights debate in the main Chamber, but we have to keep the issue to the forefront, because too many people have blind spots when dealing with Saudi Arabia.
In the UK, to change attitudes and prevent violence against women in a domestic situation and men’s role in that, education is clearly the most important tool. With education, we need to remember that most men have grown up to see hitting a woman as disrespectful or even unmanly—in Scotland it is often said, “You never hit a woman”—but we know that it happens. So there is a bit more to education—it is about getting people to understand how they change their moral compass and justify things. Vigilante mobs can justify their violent actions, but cannot see the irony in them doing violence.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I was talking about men and changing their attitudes. That is why campaigns such as the white ribbon one are so vital—it is about making men see what domestic abuse is, as well as what the figures for it are. In that, I commend previous adverts from the Scottish Government that highlight how domestic abuse can be not only about violence but about controlling behaviour. Phrases such as “You’re not going out dressed like that”, or suggesting not meeting so-and-so or not going to a certain place, are controlling behaviour, which is a form of abuse that erodes self-esteem and can even lead in the end to domestic violence. As men, we need to recognise such behaviours and speak out against them.
To give an example of controlling behaviour, one of my constituents ended her marriage early due to domestic abuse but, some years later, she still has not managed to get a divorce settlement, because her ex-partner is deliberately dragging matters out, preventing her from truly moving on. He is now seeking an unrealistic settlement with regards to her property, towards which he has not paid one penny. We need a better support system in terms of the law and to assist women to move on. I realise that that is an “after the event” scenario, but it would help victims, confirm that they are the injured party and, importantly, put down a marker about unacceptable behaviour.
In terms of general court support, I pay tribute to the Scottish Government, who have allocated nearly £2.5 million to increase court capacity, reduce delays and expand access to legal advice as well as £1.85 million to Rape Crisis Scotland. We have heard that the Scottish Government are committed to rolling out the disclosure scheme known as Clare’s law. The need for that law underlines what we as men have to do to bring about social, cultural and attitude change in the coming years.
We must get to the heart of gender equality and engage in and support equality issues. Women being seen and treated as equals might not eliminate violence, but it will go a long way to changing the behaviour of many men. We also need to stand against people who use the derogative term, “That’s just the PC brigade” when we speak out. Those who use and hide behind such phrases are demonstrating that they have the wrong views and attitudes in the first place.
We must also speak out when misogyny occurs on social media. I welcome the general abhorrence of the Return of Kings event and I must put it on record that for Roosh V to advocate that rape should not be defined as such when a female willingly enters a property beggars belief. We cannot allow the spreading of such views, which tie in with some men seeing women purely as objects, which we must resist at all costs.
We also need to ensure that women do not feel that they have caused themselves to be victims. Over the years we have heard horror stories of court rulings in which judges have ruled that the way women dressed or the fact that they had had too much alcohol were mitigating factors. We need to fight those attitudes at all costs and, frankly, those judges need to be flushed out of the legal system.
As politicians, we must support initiatives such as the Scottish Government’s desire for gender-balanced boardrooms, recognise Scotland’s gender-balanced Government and understand why we have women-only shortlists in politics. We need a proper, equal society.
On governance, we need to understand wider policies and strategies and how they are interlinked, such as the Scottish Government’s proposals for minimum unit pricing for alcohol. We know that alcohol cannot be used as an excuse for violence, but no doubt it is a contributing factor. In Scotland, we have too big a dependence on alcohol—I feel a slight hypocrite as I was at the bar last night—so we should commend the Scottish Government for trying to tackle the subject head-on. The UK Government should think about that, because that is another subject on which the Conservatives have done a U-turn in the past.
Another unintended consequence from policy is the state pension equalisation fiasco, which in some cases has caused women to be more dependent on their partners as they struggle financially. That is clearly unhealthy, creates tensions and limits the choices women can make in controlling their destinies. I have touched on the housing benefit limit and the cuts imposed by the Government. The effect that that policy may have on women’s refuges means that it needs to be rethought or, as a minimum, that some form of exemption needs to be made. We cannot possibly tackle the scourge of domestic violence if the safe havens are at risk of closure. That is wrong from both a moral and a long-term financial perspective—the proposals do not make sense.
To return to Scottish statistics, there was a 2.5% increase in reported crimes in 2014-15 compared with the previous year. Increases are often attributed to the fact that victims are more likely to come forward, so I hope that that is the main reason for the increase, but we need to be careful not to use that as a comfort blanket. We need to understand trends fully and ensure that we keep on top of them if we are to make true inroads into ending violence against women. I am confident that continuing education, the calling out of misogyny in social media, listening to women and encouraging them to speak up, and having better joined-up Government policy will help us get there and eradicate violence against women.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the Members on bringing forward this important debate, which is the first of its kind, from the Backbench Business Committee. Considering the number of years this place has been dominated by men, it is refreshing that the debate was led by a man. None the less, the fact that domestic violence continues to occur both here and internationally highlights that Governments of all nations must make a strong statement.
The white ribbon campaign is a prime opportunity to give men that voice and allow those such as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) to have their say. It will take positive male role models such as Members of Parliament, sportsmen, celebrities and other high-profile figures in public life to condemn violence against women and girls and make a strong statement about what men’s role is in preventing and eradicating violence against women.
This conversation is not new. For years women have been speaking out loudly, and feminists have been condemned as outspoken, radical and extremist simply for saying something that should be common sense to all of us: violence against women and girls should not and cannot be tolerated. Men and boys need to take an active role on their contribution to violence, but we also have to accept that it goes the other way. Many Members have mentioned that there are occasions—they are few—where women are the perpetrators of violence, so it is about educating girls and boys, and men and women about their role and their relationships with one another, because as we have heard this is not a women’s issue; it is a human rights issue. I am glad that this debate is happening today.
The first priority is to ensure that our educators and local figures are making that strong statement condemning violence in all forms. One of the most alarming statistics I have read has been touched on but not covered. The title of the report published by Women’s Aid this year is “Nineteen Child Homicides”, which brings home the wide range and impact that domestic violence can have on women and girls and children. Violence does not happen just to women; it affects fathers, husbands, sons and brothers. In fact, perhaps no member of a family is untouched by violence, and that is why it will take all voices across the community to advocate the removal of violence in all forms.
We have heard a lot about different laws and policies as well as the law of unintended consequences of some of the policies that are affecting women’s lives, which needs some acknowledgment from the Government. While much of the debate has centred around heterosexual relationships, statistics show that there is the exact same level of violence in same-sex relationships. Broken Rainbow has sought to highlight in its campaign that domestic violence is not unique to one relationship. It happens across all relationships and across all genders and sexualities.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and for Brigg and Goole for securing the debate and highlighting this truly important issue. I hope that we will go some way towards eradicating violence.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for securing this debate.
I would like to particularly mention the comments made my hon. Friend, whose experience is unrivalled in this House in terms of the work she has done year after year with women who have been victims of domestic violence. I thank her for her contributions on everyday sexism, which highlighted the experiences to which even we, as MPs, are not immune. The story of a man reaching to touch a woman’s hand on the tube when she grabbed the rail sounded very familiar. Like my hon. Friend, I experienced an incident of groping not that long ago. Unlike her, I did not go for physical violence, but I certainly gave it quite a bit of verbal.
It is clear that violence against women remains a hugely significant problem in Britain, with 900,000 calls relating to domestic violence made to the police in the 12 months up to March 2015. That equates to a staggering 100 calls every hour of every day. Recently released figures show that 33% of crimes involving violence against the person were linked to domestic abuse, as were 12% of sexual offences. Women are overwhelmingly more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, and it is vital that we work to tackle violence against women and girls. I welcome the opportunity today to discuss the role that men can play in that.
I would like to ask the Minister some specific questions. If she does not feel able to answer them today, I am happy to receive answers by letter. What measures is she taking to ensure that community rehabilitation companies fulfil their contract requirements to provide better offending behaviour programmes, and in particular the Building Better Relationships programme? What steps will be taken to hold them to account if that provision is not made available to all men who require it? What assurances will she give to the courts and the judiciary that any sentence they impose on a perpetrator of domestic violence will be delivered in full and will involve attendance on the Building Better Relationships programme if they choose to impose that sentence?
The campaign to end violence against women has historically been led by women. Women have campaigned energetically for many years for improved legal protection from gender-based violence and have been largely responsible for the delivery of support services, including women’s refuges and rape support services. The leadership role of women in ending gender-based violence is vital. For a subject so intricately linked with female disempowerment, it is crucial that women are at the forefront of those efforts.
However, the leadership role of women does not and must not preclude the involvement of men in the campaign. Gender-based violence has been recognised by both the United Nations and national Governments as a human rights issue. Violence against women is almost always perpetrated by men. Those harmed are men’s wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. Violence against women cannot for a moment be considered an issue only for women.
There is an unfortunate tendency to seek to deflect from discussions of violence against women and girls by pointing to statistics on male victims of domestic abuse. That often presents an obstacle when discussing the role of men in ending violence against women and girls. It also decidedly misses the point. There are, of course, a significant number of male victims of domestic violence. That group, like any other, needs and deserves our support and attention. We can and should support victims of domestic violence, whatever their gender or sexual orientation, but we must also not ignore the substantial imbalance between male and female victims of domestic violence.
The full involvement of men and their active engagement with the campaign brings significant benefits. Men are best able to challenge the attitudes of their peers, who may condone or even engage in violence against women. Unless men are encouraged to speak out, we cannot hope to confront the attitudes and cultural norms that underpin gender-based violence.
Challenging negative gender attitudes also benefits men directly, as articulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). The negative stereotype of a “real man”—tough and emotionally distant—is as damaging for men as it is for women. The suggestion that for a man to be open about his emotions is somehow unmanly can cause real harm. That attitude is pervasive and can be a significant barrier to men seeking help. The benefits of men’s involvement in ending violence against women requires productive engagement. Rather than impose a sense of guilt or shame or resort to a view of men as only perpetrators, we must instead help men to understand the important role they can play as allies and role models. Organisations such as the white ribbon campaign have made real strides in that area, but work remains to be done.
So how best can men help to confront this insidious problem? First, as I previously alluded to, men can challenge the attitudes of other men and confront their peers. Where anyone—man or woman—witnesses abuse or harmful attitudes, they must not remain silent or offer excuses. As Members may be aware, the virulently misogynist organisation Return of Kings had planned to hold events in the UK on 6 February. The group has called for women to be banned from voting, described a woman’s value as dependent on her “fertility and beauty”, and claimed that women with eating disorders make the best girlfriends. Articles posted on the group’s website have included “5 Reasons to Date a Girl With an Eating Disorder”, “Don’t Work for a Female Boss” and “Biology Says People on Welfare Should Die”. Furthermore, the group’s founder has publically advocated legalised rape.
Those views will be abhorrent to the vast majority of men and cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. It is welcome that in the face of vocal and sustained objection to those events, the group was forced to cancel its plans. That shows clearly the difference we can all make when we make it clear that misogyny will not be accepted. I thank the Minister for her response to the urgent question in the Chamber this morning on that topic.
Sexist attitudes can be seen as harmless, and some men may remain unaware of the impact of destructive attitudes they may hold or of their behaviour. Gender-based violence is often underpinned by sexism. Where sexism is challenged, it frequently elicits the same response: “Get a sense of humour.” Let us be clear: sexism is not harmless and it is not funny. It is deeply damaging and must be confronted. It is important that we all—men and women—learn to recognise abuse when we see it. Physical violence may be the most visible form of abuse, but emotional violence and coercive control can be just as damaging. If we learn to spot abuse in all its forms, we can make a real difference.
We must also introduce compulsory and universal education programmes on healthy relationships. There is currently no statutory requirement for all children to be taught about what a healthy relationship is and what abuse is. Current provision is piecemeal at best, and that cannot continue.
Men should also have the courage to look inwardly and confront their own attitudes. That can of course be problematic, and many men may become defensive or feel under attack, but if we are to truly end gender-based violence, we must address the mentality that allows it to be perpetrated or ignored. We must encourage men to understand themselves and to work to change attitudes that may knowingly or inadvertently perpetuate violence.
Unfortunately, where men express sympathy for or an understanding of what are perceived as women’s issues, they are often met with questions about their own masculinity. That can prevent men from speaking up. We must challenge damaging assumptions about men as much as we must confront negative attitudes to women. We must encourage men to have the confidence to speak out.
What role can politicians play? We can lead by example, as men and women who are not afraid to speak out on gender-based violence or confront the attitudes that allow it to continue. We desperately need role models to make it clear to men that they should never stand idly by or condone violence. Influential men in all walks of life, including MPs, can play a part in that by pledging their support.
Men can and should play a full role in ending gender-based violence. We must ensure that we do not resort to inflicting a sense of guilt, but instead encourage men to become involved and help them to understand that they can play a crucial part in securing real change. If we work together, we can consign violence against women and girls to history.
May I start by saying what an honour it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and what an honour it was to serve under the chairship of your predecessor, Mrs Gillan? I congratulate the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate all Members on the thoughtful and constructive points raised.
I want to start by saying that any form of violence against women or girls is absolutely unacceptable. The physical, psychological and emotional impact of domestic and sexual violence on victims cannot be overestimated. As the Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime, I have the ambition to end those terrible crimes. We owe it to victims of domestic and sexual violence to do everything we can to afford them the protection and support they need. I will work closely with victim support services and police and criminal justice agencies to ensure that we are doing just that.
Many points have been raised today and I will do my best to address as many as possible, but if I fail to address any I will endeavour to respond in writing, as the shadow Minister invited me to do, and particularly as some of her questions were about technical criminal justice matters and are probably better addressed in correspondence.
It is important to reflect that—the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North started with this—both women and men may be victims of domestic or sexual violence, forced marriage or stalking. It is also important that the response for all victims is as good as it can be. The hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) talked about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships. We realise that there is abuse in all forms of relationship and the measures we have in place are available in all forms of abuse in all relationships. However, we need to say that women and girls are far more likely to be victims of such crimes and we recognise that inequality and gender play fundamental roles in violence against women and girls. We all have important roles to play in challenging the cultural norms and stereotypes that underpin violence against women and girls.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) talked about women being used as chattels. When I was training to be a chartered accountant and filling in tax returns, women’s earnings were her husband’s. There was an extra column on the tax return. Only in 1990 did women have their own taxation system. It is unbelievable that I am standing here having filled in tax returns when a woman’s income was her husband’s. She was her husband’s chattel and that was how she was treated in law.
Gender inequality manifests itself in ways that can limit women’s and girl’s aspirations and life chances, and put pressure on men to act in certain ways, as the hon. Member for Rhondda said: to be physically powerful, emotionally detached and in control. The relationship between gender and violence is complex, but we must never forget that in the most extreme cases we are working to save people’s lives. It is a sad fact that over 80 women a year still lose their lives to domestic homicide. We must never think about the matter just in terms of numbers, as the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and for Rhondda both said. We need men, women, girls and boys to work together to end violence against women and girls in all its forms.
Before responding to the contributions to this debate, particularly those on the role of men in ending violence against women and girls, it is important to address some of the concerns about increases in domestic abuse and sexual violence. We all want the prevalence of these terrible crimes to fall and ultimately to end, but we know that they are hidden and under-reported.
At least in the short to medium term, we want increased police recording of crimes of violence against women and girls. The Office for National Statistics clearly states that increases in police recorded rape, sexual offences and domestic abuse are due to greater victim confidence and better recording by the police. We should all welcome that. That these increases are a positive development is reinforced by our best measure of the prevalence of all crimes or how many people experience domestic and sexual violence, which comes from the self-completion module of the crime survey of England and Wales. That data show both the general downward trend in sexual assaults since 2005-06 and the fact that 8.2% of women were the victim of any domestic abuse in the last year. That is the lowest estimate since these questions were first asked in the 2004-05 survey.
We need more of the increased number of reports leading to effective police and criminal justice action. Again, while there is undoubtedly more work to do to bring perpetrators to justice, it is important to reflect that the number of police referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service, the number of prosecutions and the number of convictions for all crimes were all higher in 2014-15 than ever before. For example, prosecutions for domestic abuse have increased from just over 30,000 in 2004-05 to over 90,000 in 2014-15. That is the highest level ever. However, let me make it clear that 1.4 million women experiencing domestic abuse every year is still unacceptably high. Over 300,000 victims of sexual assault is unacceptably high. We need collectively to do more to prevent these terrible crimes from happening, and the role of men is critical.
I met the white ribbon campaign—many of us are wearing our white ribbons—with my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice. We heard about its inspiring work with boys and its programme of actions to challenge abusive and violent behaviour by men and boys, as well as its continuing work to increase the number of organisations accredited with white ribbon status. The Government will continue to promote the campaign’s work and to support greater co-ordination between existing groups of men and boys who act as change agents, develop evidence of what works to engage men in challenging violence against women and ensure full understanding of appropriate, safe and effective action to give men the confidence to speak out and challenge unacceptable behaviour.
When I was on the Select Committee on Procedure, we looked at introducing iPads in the Chamber. I am pleased to have my iPad in the Chamber because it has given me the chance to look at the white ribbon campaign’s latest figures; 24,377 pledges have been made and I hope that that will start to go up as people watch this debate. I want to make a few points about the website. The hon. Member for Rhondda and others talked about the importance of sport to young boys and men. I know from my two young sons that if a footballer says something, they tend to listen, so it is great to see that Juan Mata has signed up. A comment on the website states:
“Most men are not violent towards women, but many of us ignore the problem, or see it as something which doesn’t have anything to do with us.”
That sums up what we have been talking about in this debate. I congratulate the white ribbon campaign. We will continue to work with it. It is great to see so many women wearing the white ribbon, but I want to see more men wearing it. I am sure that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, as great champions of the campaign, will make sure more of their colleagues wear it and make the point.
I want to touch on the Return of Kings group, which was raised by a number of Members and was the subject of an urgent question today. I repeat that we condemn in the strongest terms anyone who condones rape and sexual violence or suggests that responsibility rests with victims. Responsibility for such crimes always, unequivocally rests with the perpetrator. The shadow Minister and many others have made the point that the vast majority of men do not share the views of the group, which are laughable. If the individual concerned did not take them seriously, we would laugh at him because they are utterly ridiculous.
The point has been made that we need to engage with young men. Our “This is Abuse” campaign was talked about during discussion of the urgent question and included specific messages to boys about abusive behaviour. It is an approach informed by research into what works in changing boys’ behaviour, like the Boys to Men project of Professor Gadd at Manchester University. It is vital that those of us in a position to speak out about violence and abuse do so, but we also need to realise that, sad as it may seem, teenagers may not listen to politicians. We must engage credible voices that young people will listen to.
Our previous campaigns accordingly used vloggers—video bloggers—to produce online video blogs to reach thousands of young people through social media and online platforms, and to help young men to understand what constitutes abusive behaviour. I will talk later about some of the other work we have been doing to deal with perpetrators and to change that behaviour. We have also worked through the campaigning partnership with MTV to develop adverts with a wide range of high-profile celebrities to act as a counter narrative within the sometimes highly sexualised environment of music TV.
Evaluation of the campaign’s impact showed that 67% of boys who saw its adverts were more likely to seek consent as a result, 70% said they felt more likely to recognise if someone does not want to have sex and 80% agreed that the videos made them understand that abuse is not always physical. We have invested £3.85 million in the next phase of the campaign, which will continue to build teenagers’ awareness of key issues, such as consent and healthy relationships, including engaging with boys and young men.
I also want to make the point about young women. One thing that we have been working on through our ending gang violence and exploitation programme—that is the new stage of our original ending gang and youth violence programme—is about the exploitation, including sexual exploitation, of young women by gangs. It is incredibly important that we educate young women that they should not expect to be treated in that way. Being part of a line-up is not acceptable. They should not be made to perform sex acts on boys. That is something they should say no to.
It is also important that we treat the young men and make them understand that. Last year, I had a powerful visit to one of the London gang charities. A young man who had been in a gang said that until he was spoken to by that charity, he had never understood that such behaviour was wrong. No one had ever told him that it was not the way to treat women. No one had ever said to him, “Women need to be respected.” That was because unfortunately he had grown up in a household where domestic abuse was the norm. It was what he had seen all his family and friends do. He thought that it was normal. Only when there was an intervention did he understand that it was not the way to behave. It is so important that we do all we can to educate both young girls and young boys, and I will say more about education shortly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who I know cannot be here now because she is taking part in the debate in the main Chamber, talked about prostitution. We debated that topic at length during the passage of the Modern Slavery Bill last year—we are approaching the 12-month anniversary of that becoming an Act—and of course we now have new measures to protect victims of trafficking and criminalise those who traffic them. We are looking at the evidence that is available. My hon. Friend referred to, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley is a supporter of, the Nordic model. There is no unequivocal view on that; there are different views on it, and we need to understand how it works. Northern Ireland is a Province that we will be looking at carefully—because it has a very similar legal system to the UK—to see how it works, but there are conflicting views on the Nordic model. I will also be taking a great interest in the inquiry by the Select Committee on Home Affairs on this topic, because I know that many hon. Members are very interested in it.
How can we effect change? How can we change people’s views? In every area of life, we need to see everyone, including men, playing their part in challenging violence and abuse. I am encouraged by the many promising initiatives to engage professionals, friends, family and the wider public in tackling what is unacceptable and criminal behaviour.
These are just a few examples of what is happening. Citizens Advice has trained front-line staff to ask about violence and abuse. I visited Citizens Advice in Harlow recently. The volunteers are asking questions of people who have come in to talk about debt problems, because the debt problem could be the result of domestic abuse. It is very powerful to be able to see the training that volunteers at Citizens Advice have had to enable them to recognise what might be a domestic abuse situation.
Public Health England and the University of the West of England have been working on a bystander programme to help to challenge sexual abuse on campus. Housing providers can play a critical role in identifying those carrying out domestic abuse and those at risk, including children, and a nationwide alliance is working to improve the housing sector’s response. The alliance is arming professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills to support residents to live safely and free of abuse.
I am pleased that, as this debate has definitely demonstrated, our understanding of what constitutes abuse is becoming more sophisticated. For example, the new offence of domestic abuse, which was commenced on 29 December 2015, not only addresses a gap in the law to tackle controlling or coercive behaviour but can be used as a vehicle to build wider public awareness that domestic abuse extends beyond episodes of physical violence, and that patterns of psychological manipulation and control can be just as harmful. I am interested to hear that the Scottish Government are looking at introducing a similar measure.
Refuge, in partnership with the Co-operative bank, has launched a powerful new campaign called “My money, my life” to raise awareness of financial abuse in intimate relationships. Its research found that one in five people in the UK report that they have experienced financial abuse within an intimate relationship. That campaign is informing those experiencing financial abuse about their rights and empowering them to make positive choices about their own financial future.
A number of hon. Members raised the Istanbul convention, and we also discussed it during the urgent question today. The UK Government signed the Istanbul convention in 2012 and have since been putting in place all the measures that are required in order that we can comply in full. There is one article—article 44—that we are not yet in compliance with. That is the extraterritoriality measure, which basically means that the criminal law in the UK would extend to conduct abroad. I hope that hon. Members from Scotland and other devolved Administrations will understand why there may be some problems in ensuring that the two jurisdictions’ legal systems work with that particular issue. We will need to introduce primary legislation in the UK to put that in place, but when we have done that we will be able to ratify the Istanbul convention. We do not wish to ratify a convention until we are absolutely confident that we comply with it 100%.
A number of contributors raised the topic of PSHE, and it is fair to say that there were slightly different views about whether it should be on a statutory basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole perhaps disagreed with the hon. Member for Rhondda as to whether—
Well, he was wrong, and he left.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole is a teacher with great experience of such things.
We do need there to be education. The Government have made it clear in the introduction to the framework for the national curriculum that all schools should teach PSHE, and we are committed to working with schools and other experts to ensure that young people receive age-appropriate information that allows them to make informed choices and stay safe, but the point is that it must be good-quality PSHE across the board and not, as my hon. Friend said, the add-on that no teacher wants to do.
It is probably worth mentioning the tools that we have introduced for prevention and protection, which, as I have said, apply to all relationships—LGBT, men to women and women to men. Domestic violence protection orders and the domestic violence disclosure scheme were rolled out across England and Wales from March 2014, and those tools put the responsibility for violence and abuse squarely with the perpetrator.
DVPOs can prevent the perpetrator from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days. Latest figures show that magistrates have granted more than 2,500 DVPOs. The domestic violence disclosure scheme, also known as Clare’s law, which a number of hon. Members have referred to, enables the police to disclose to the public information about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner where that may help to protect them from further violent offending. The latest figures show that more than 1,300 disclosures have been made. The Government will build on those achievements by evaluating Clare’s law and DVPOs to identify how we can strengthen those important tools.
We have also strengthened significantly the law on female genital mutilation, including through FGM protection orders, and last year we introduced two new measures—the sexual harm prevention order and the sexual risk order—to make it easier for the police and courts further to restrict and monitor the activities of individuals who pose a risk, including when they have not been convicted of a previous offence.
I want to touch on the issue of stalking. Being stalked by a stranger can have terrifying consequences, so we are consulting on the introduction of a stalking protection order. That will explore whether positive requirements can be placed on perpetrators at an early stage, to help to stop their behaviour. By that we mean a perpetrator being forced, for example, to attend mental health sessions so that we can try to stop the behaviour before it becomes criminal. We are ensuring that new measures include a focus on the perpetrator—disrupting their activity, removing them from the home where necessary and ensuring that they engage with appropriate interventions to help to stop their offending before it escalates.
Hon. Members have made a number of points about the right approach to take. The question is, what is justice for a victim of domestic abuse? What will help that person to get control of their own life, and what is the right outcome for that individual? There are many different ways to tackle the problem, and it is clear that one size does not fit all.
Refuge provision has been discussed at length. The Government are committed to refuge provision. We have announced £40 million between 2016 and 2020 for domestic abuse services including refuges, and a £2 million grant to Women’s Aid and SafeLives to support early intervention, but refuge is not the answer for every victim. The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) talked about victims being turned away from refuges. I have spent time with refuge providers, who have told me that often a victim has such complex needs and so many difficulties that the refuge they go to is not the right place for them, and they may need different provisions and support.
I am committed to ensuring that refuges provide the appropriate safety net for people. However, for some families a better outcome might be achieved if a woman can stay in her home with her family, and if the perpetrator is removed from that home and is not just allowed to move in with the next partner to start the cycle of abuse all over again. I do not pretend that that will always be possible, but it is a better outcome for some victims. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley knows better than anybody that there are many different needs, and I have enjoyed our conversations on the matter. We need to think about how we can tackle the problem and break the cycle, and that means dealing with perpetrators.
The Minister is saying that refuges are not the only answer, but they are important and required just now. Given that the local housing allowance cap is a threat to refuges, does she support protecting them from it?
As I said, the Government have committed £40 million to provisions, including refuges. I want to ensure that refuges are available to victims for whom they are the right answer. Organisations have told me that victims sometimes do not feel that they can come forward because they do not think the services are there. We want victims to have the confidence to come forward, and we need to tell them that they will be supported and looked after so they can get the support they need and we can break the cycle.
Preventing abuse depends on changing the attitudes and behaviours of perpetrators. Addressing the root causes of violent offending forms an integral part of our refreshed strategy. There is evidence that experiencing adversity, including violence and abuse, can have serious consequences. We need only consider that 41% of the prison population have witnessed or experienced domestic abuse to understand the wider social harms such crimes cause. We are working with agencies and in local areas to ensure the availability of appropriate perpetrator programmes, prison and probation rehabilitation approaches and, where needed, mental health interventions that may lead to a reduction in offending and sustainable behaviour change.
National organisations SafeLives and Respect have formed a partnership to create a new type of intervention for perpetrators of domestic abuse. The model, referred to as the Drive project, will involve working with perpetrators of domestic abuse on a one-to-one basis to reduce their offending, using support and disruption where appropriate, and ensuring that victim and family safety is embedded within the response.
The troubled families programme that we ran in the previous Parliament worked with 120,000 families. We found that a high proportion of families in the programme had experienced domestic abuse, even though that was not a reason for families enter the programme. Domestic violence is therefore now a specific criterion for identifying families for support in the next stage of the programme. For families who suffer domestic violence, it is seldom the only problem affecting them. The “Understanding Troubled Families” report showed that 39% of families who experienced domestic violence included a young offender, 37% had drug or alcohol dependencies, 62% had a truanting child, and 60% included an adult with a mental health problem, compared with 40% in families where there was no domestic violence.
In the light of the Minister’s comments, will she specifically address the changes to universal credit? Given the statistics she just mentioned, the changes will only increase a woman’s financial dependency on her partner, because the payment that is made will be changed to a single payment to one person in the household, which we know will usually be the man.
I was a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions when universal credit was being discussed, and that point was made at the time. I am sure that changes to the benefit system will not cause a reduction in levels of support for victims of domestic violence and abuse, and they will provide help towards housing costs. Those living in supported accommodation that meets the definition set by the Department for Work and Pensions will receive funding outside universal credit, and we will continue to provide flexible funding to help to meet the higher costs that sometimes arise from providing refuge to women escaping domestic abuse. I understand the hon. Lady’s point about financial control. It is important that we make people understand, through the work of Citizens Advice, Refuge and the Co-operative Bank, that they can have control of their money and that they should not be controlled by their partner when it comes to financial matters.
The hon. Member for Bradford West talked very powerfully about her own experiences. If she would allow me to, I would like to sit down with her at some point to talk about the work we are doing, particularly on the forced marriage unit, which the Home Office runs jointly with the Foreign Office. Perhaps we can learn from her experiences and her knowledge what more we can do to help women in that situation.
I am proud of the progress we have made in getting to grips with complex offending behaviour, the effects of which can be deep and long-lasting for victims, but there is more that we can collectively do. The Government are working closely with experts on violence against women and girls to develop a refreshed strategy later in the year. Today’s debate has been timely, helping to inform what more can be done to engage men and boys in the agenda and to support their crucial role in preventing violence against women and girls. I congratulate the hon. Members who secured the debate, and I congratulate the white ribbon campaign on its work. I assure Members that, as the Minister responsible for preventing abuse, exploitation and crime, I am determined to do everything I can to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank the Minister for her thorough response, but there were a few holes in it, which I will come back to at the end of my contribution.
I thank all hon. Members who have contributed today, and I thank the white ribbon campaign for attending the debate. It has been a good debate that has included many varied points. To highlight the breadth of the debate, I will touch on a few of the contributions that were made. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) made strong points about local authorities and the power of sport in getting the message across to young men. My hon. Friend—I will call her that—the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) spoke about her undying love for all men, perhaps bar the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). She also gave us a powerful account of her own experiences and those of others, reminding us of how far we have to go.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) made a powerful point about subconscious misogyny and whether violence against women is nature or nurture, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) spoke of abuse as a fundamental abuse of human rights, and of the good work of her local council.
The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) gave her own deeply personal story, giving us a different cultural perspective by talking about misogyny and abuse in the black and minority ethnic community. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) paid tribute to Women’s Aid for its work and shared his concerns about our relationship with countries such as Saudi Arabia, whose record on gender equality is atrocious.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) spoke about the importance of education and the powerful Women’s Aid report, “Nineteen Child Homicides”, and highlighted the fact that the issue exists just as prominently in the LGBTI community. The shadow Minister reminded us that the UN views tackling violence against women as a priority and listed a number of detestable posts by Roosh V, who has been renamed in Scotland as Sssh V.
The Minister, in her lengthy response, spoke about the “what’s hers is his” nature of tax collection as recently as 1990. She spoke about promoting the white ribbon campaign but stopped short of promising any funding. Will she look at that again, and will she meet me to talk about a national prevention strategy in every school? She spoke about the Istanbul convention, which the Scottish Government are keen for the Westminster Government to get on with ratifying.
On refuges, nobody said that they are the only answer, but I ask the Minister to give the groups involved some certainty. The funding ends on 31 March, and they would like to know whether they will have any funding thereafter. It is clear that, despite some small differences, we can and will move forward together to end violence against women.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the role of men in preventing violence against women.