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Violence Against Women and Girls

Volume 699: debated on Monday 12 July 2021

Violence against women and girls is thoroughly unacceptable—the House heard my comments earlier on—and there is no place in our society for such acts. My hon. Friend will be well aware, as I have said, that we are publishing in the next few weeks our strategy on violence against women and girls.

I was recently left horrified by a sexual assault that occurred just outside my constituency office. Tackling violence against women and girls begins to address the issue of female safety, but many women still do not feel safe simply walking home, so how will my right hon. Friend begin to rebuild confidence for women and girls to feel safe while walking the streets?

First, I am appalled and very sorry to hear of the offence—the sexual assault—that took place outside my hon. Friend’s constituency office. There is a range of work taking place across Government right now, but importantly, he addresses the point about the lack of protection and the way women do not feel that it is safe to walk our streets. Many women around the country have sensed that and we have heard that as well in the call for evidence; we had over 180,000 people respond to our call for evidence on the VAWG strategy. He will see in the next few weeks the details of our approach because we will announce it, rightly, through the appropriate measures and means. But this is not just about policing; it is about the criminal justice system, public attitudes and how women are treated and how women are respected, and there is a lot of work that we will need to do together on this.

Shockingly, I could not agree with the Home Secretary more. I am not sure that I will say that many times in my life, but she is absolutely right that the respect of women when they come forward is very, very important. The heartbreaking cases of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and Sarah Everard have raised serious questions about police handling of reported violence against women and girls. There is currently an ongoing investigation into claims that Kent police failed to look at the incident of indecent exposure linked to Sarah Everard’s killer in 2015. There is also a probe into the Metropolitan police’s alleged failure to investigate allegations of indecent exposure in February this year. I am afraid to say that there will be a similar pattern all over the country. Can the Home Secretary tell me exactly what the Government are doing to ensure that allegations such as indecent exposure are taken seriously by police forces and that cases involving police officers as perpetrators are not ignored in the future, as they have been in the past?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. First and foremost, there should be no aspect of anybody ignoring these cases whatsoever, particularly from a policing perspective. She has rightly highlighted, I am afraid, some incredibly tragic and harrowing cases. Those of us who have sat down with family members of those who have been involved in these cases know that they are absolutely awful at every single level, so it is right that there are various investigations. There are independent investigations taking place into the cases that the hon. Lady has raised directly, and rightly so, by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, but there is no place for anybody to hide and that applies equally to the police. While we always want the full force of the law to be applied to perpetrators of violence and the most abhorrent crimes, any police involvement must also be uncovered, and that means that the police must be held to account—commissioners, chief constables, those at the highest level of policing—and I can give her every assurance that we as a Government are making sure that happens.