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Violence Against Women and Girls

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2021

What steps his Department is taking to improve support in the justice system for the victims of violence against women and girls. (901948)

We are investing in vital victim support services to the tune of more than £150 million this year. The forthcoming victims Bill will enshrine victims’ rights in law and explore the provision of domestic abuse and sexual violence support. We are also working with the Home Secretary to develop new violence against women and girls and domestic abuse strategies to help to drive a step change in response to these crimes.

During this pandemic, we have seen an unprecedented rise in domestic abuse cases in the UK. In my constituency, the Broxtowe Women’s Project has worked tirelessly to support many victims of domestic violence. Will the Minister outline what the Government are doing to ensure that they are tackling domestic abuse? Will he also set out their plans to provide long-term support, both to those who are directly affected and to their children, who often do not receive the support they need?

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that organisation to prominence; I am grateful to it for the valuable work that no doubt it has done, alongside others, during these dreadful past 16 months or so. For our part, we have boosted funding for specialist services by £51 million to support victims through the covid-19 pandemic and beyond. That included £20.7 million for local community-based sexual violence and domestic abuse services and a £27 million investment over two years to recruit more independent sexual and domestic violence advisers. The landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 contains new measures to protect victims and will be followed by new violence against women and girls and domestic abuse strategies, while the victims Bill will further transform victims’ experience. I hope that that will have an impact in Broxtowe, along with the rest of the country.

Mr Speaker,

“Domestic abuse victims have to be taken seriously and listened to”.

That is a direct quote from a letter to me from a constituent who suffered physical, emotional and financial abuse at the hands of her now ex-partner. She came to my surgery not to talk about him, but for help with dealing with the police, who she says mishandled her case and have not taken her seriously. Instead of believing that the red marks on her neck were from an attempted strangulation, they responded that the marks were too thin and did not look serious enough. They also did not follow up on the spy camera in her home.

Victims of domestic violence and abuse have told me that the burden of proof is on them. Can the Minister tell me what steps he is taking to bring about a culture change in the police so that victims of domestic violence are believed from the outset?

Obviously, I am very alarmed to hear about that incident. I hope that the hon. Lady will advise her constituent, if she is unhappy, to pursue a complaint about her treatment through the provisions available to her, both through the Metropolitan police and through the Independent Office for Police Conduct. As part of our work over the next few months towards a new violence against women and girls strategy, we will be engaging the police to ensure that, as the hon. Lady says, every victim who comes forward to the police and makes allegations of such a serious nature is taken into account.

I have to say that, while I am sorry to hear about that experience, I have witnessed some very good and important work by the police, not least the Metropolitan Police Service. I recently visited its predatory offenders unit, which specifically targets those who commit domestic violence and abuse where the victim is too afraid to pursue a prosecution, and looks for other ways to apprehend the perpetrator and put them behind bars.

Henriett Szucs and Jan Mustafa were brutally murdered, and their bodies were found in the freezer of a known violent sex offender. Their deaths were avoidable, had it not been for a catalogue of failures within the justice system—failures that allowed this man the freedom to repeatedly commit horrifying crimes—and the collapse in victim safeguarding. Two women each week are murdered by a current or former partner, and apologies simply are not enough. I do not see the necessary action being taken to prevent the next Henriett or Jan. Labour has a ready-to-go plan, including a review of domestic violence and homicides; new progress indicators, as we have in Wales; more sustainable funding; and better access to specialist support services. The Minister has the power to stop violence against women being an afterthought in the justice system, so will he work with us to achieve it?

I obviously reject the assertion that violence against women—or, indeed, anybody—is an afterthought for this Government. I do not think anybody could look at what we have done over the past two years and think that we have done anything other than throw our entire weight behind the fight against violence. Specifically, the hon. Lady will have noted that one of the five key priorities set by the National Policing Board for the whole of the criminal justice system, including the police, has been the suppression and reduction of murder, a third of which are domestic. She will be interested to know that I am now entering the second round of homicide murder roundtables with police forces across the country and looking at their murder prevention strategies to ensure that they get ahead of exactly the kind of heinous crime that she points to. We know that the perpetrators of murder in this country have, on average, seven previous offences. That means that we should be able, as she rightly says, to identify them before they commit that catastrophic and appalling act, and that is exactly what we are trying to do.