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Violence Against Women and Girls

Volume 712: debated on Monday 25 April 2022

Tackling violence against women and girls is a top priority for this Government. Since publishing our cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy last July, we have launched a communications campaign to challenge perpetrators and to drive rejection of these awful crimes. We have supported the introduction of a new national policing lead and provided more than £27.5 million for 79 local projects to improve women’s safety in public spaces.

Violence against women and girls is both horrific and, unfortunately, endemic. It must be stopped. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming our plans such as the tackling domestic abuse plan, which, alongside the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will play a vital role in stamping out these horrific crimes?

I thank my hon. Friend for his astute observations and strongly agree that that Bill is absolutely vital as part of our package of measures to respond to violence against women and girls. The House will like to be reminded, no doubt, that it contains measures to ensure that serious criminals, including sex offenders, will be punished more harshly and spend longer in prison. It strengthens management of sex offenders, introduces more electronic tagging, and ends the automatic halfway release from prison for serious and violent sex offenders. It is therefore a shame that Labour Members persist in voting against the Bill. I very much hope they will change their stance at the next opportunity.

The Home Affairs Committee recently published its report on rape investigations and prosecutions. We very much welcome the Government’s making male violence against women and girls a strategic policing requirement. However—following on from the news today about sexual offences taking record times to get to court—we also recommended that all police forces should have specialist rape and sexual assault units, as there is clear evidence that they investigate better, make better decisions and, very importantly, communicate with complainants far more effectively. When will the Government make sure that all police forces have specialist RASSO—rape and serious sexual offences—units within their constabulary?

I thank the right hon. Lady for all the work that she is doing, across the piece, on tackling violence against women and girls. She is right to say that this is a huge priority for the Government. On training for police forces, she will know of the work that we are doing in the end-to-end rape review. We are taking a forensic look across the whole system, including through the work of Operation Soteria across all the police forces. That includes a strategic and comprehensive approach to training police officers. We want to go further than ever before in training and equipping our fantastic policemen and women to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes.

In the Home Office’s violence against women and girls consultation last year, viewing violent pornography was linked to aggressive attitudes towards women. What action is my hon. Friend taking to address that really worrying issue, particularly given the Online Safety Bill that is currently going through the House?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her continuous involvement in and advocacy on these issues. She will know that the Online Safety Bill includes a range of measures to make the internet much safer for everybody. Everybody should have a right to view the internet without coming across this disgusting material. In addition, our domestic abuse plan and our tackling violence against women and girls strategy include significant funding for tackling the perpetrators and deterring them from entering into these forms of behaviour in the first place.

Shocking new figures today show that sexual offence victims face the longest ever wait for their day in court, with some rape victims waiting four years. The Conservatives seem to have given up on law and order and given up on victims. That is because their leader has given up on obeying the law. Of the 300 rapes committed today, fewer than three perpetrators will make it to the inside of a courtroom, let alone the inside of a prison cell. Is it not the case that under the Tories dangerous perpetrators are being let off and vulnerable victims of this awful crime are being terribly let down?

This is exactly why we have introduced to the House the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. If the hon. Lady was listening to my earlier remarks, she would have heard me setting out the stronger sentences, the increase in electronic tagging for these perpetrators and the raft of protections to keep women and girls safer. She will also know through the many exchanges that we have had in this House of the work that we are doing on the end-to-end rape review across Government. This is a cross-Government effort bearing down on the very challenging issue of rape prosecutions. We are determined to return those prosecutions to a much better rate and we are working across Government to do that.