Skip to main content

Crime: Domestic Violence

Volume 743: debated on Thursday 14 February 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support the campaign One Billion Rising, which aims to draw attention to the level of domestic violence worldwide.

My Lords, preventing violence against women and girls is a top priority for the coalition Government. The Department for International Development has significantly scaled up its efforts to tackle this issue overseas. The department is also supporting the One Billion Rising campaign by working with partners on the ground to raise awareness of the campaign and highlight work to prevent violence against women and girls.

I thank the Minister for her reply but does she agree that the 1 billion women who are raped and beaten is a truly horrific figure? In the light of that, would the Minister agree to work with international agencies such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations, as well as the devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom, so that a comprehensive programme could be organised to eliminate the violence against women on a global scale?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right that the figures on this are appalling. Globally, one woman in three is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime, which is utterly unacceptable. We are working with all international organisations, and nationally as well, to try to raise this issue. It is a focus, as the noble Baroness will know, of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March. My honourable friend Lynne Featherstone is leading the delegation from here; that commission is focusing on violence against women and girls. The Foreign Secretary is focusing on this as part of our leadership of the G8 this year and, of course, it forms part of the discussions on the MDGs as we take them forward. It is extremely important. It is about time that it is on the agenda and we seek to tackle it.

One of the cruellest and most insidious forms of domestic violence is that among young girls, some as young as four, who are subjected to female genital mutilation, or FGM, as it is known. There are more than 100 million women in the world suffering from the effects of that, mostly in Africa, and as many as 3 million young girls a year are at risk from this form of mutilation. Can my noble friend the Minister say whether the Government, in their development programme, are helping NGOs such as AWEPA on the ground—in the villages and at the grass roots—to try to stop this rather revolting and dangerous form of mutilation?

My noble friend is right that this is a terrible practice, which we seek to counter both in the United Kingdom and overseas. We are funding civil society organisations which are working to end the practice in Ethiopia and Kenya, and my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone is developing a major new programme to address FGM. We know that work with communities, as my noble friend says, including affected women and girls is key to ending the practice. Organisations such as AWEPA, which engage parliamentarians, are crucial in bringing about the change that we all need to see.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that when one in two boys and one in three girls in the UK think that there are some circumstances when it is okay to hit a woman, or to force a woman to have sex, it is essential that sex and relationship education is made statutory in our schools? That must include free schools and academies.

It is clearly unacceptable when children in our society hold these points of view, and I know that it is prevalent. The noble Baroness will be pleased to hear that today we are putting increased effort into a teenage relationship abuse campaign, because it is extremely important that we get across to teenagers—girls as well as boys—that this is unacceptable and what actually constitutes abuse so that it does not then lead on into domestic violence. That campaign will need to be targeted in every possible place.

Does the Minister accept that there is every reason to believe that only a fraction of very serious cases of domestic violence find their way to the courts, due very probably to the fear of reprisal, the consideration of the situation of children and so on? Does she accept that in a criminal situation where domestic violence is proven, there is every reason why sentencers at all levels should regard such conduct as being worthy of condign punishment?

The noble Lord speaks from a lot of experience. Of course, this is very complex. Relationships are very complex. Quite often, people are unwilling to come forward. If one were to apply the same kind of test to another group—say that it was an ethnic minority that suffered in that way—it would be crystal clear that something was unacceptable. I think there has been something of a sea change in the attitude of the judiciary and the police, but we need to see that go much further. We are seeking to support those changes.

My Lords, were we not here in the Chamber now, I am sure that my noble friend and I would be joining many colleagues from the other place who, as we speak, are rising up in Parliament Square to support the campaign. I will resist the temptation to dance on the Benches. As the Prime Minister says:

“I want to see an end to violence against women and girls in all its forms”,

and I am proud to add my voice to all those who stand up and oppose it. Does my noble friend agree that because of changes to the law, which include the criminalisation of forced marriage, widening the definition of domestic violence and making stalking illegal, it is far more likely that those who perpetrate those crimes will now be punished than in the past?

I agree with my noble friend. I also support the campaign that is occurring today, and DfID is supporting the campaign that will be seen in Cape Town today—which, in the light of the news this morning, is perhaps particularly relevant. My noble friend is right to highlight the way that we have taken this forward; there are, for example, two specific criminal offences of stalking that came into effect in March 2012, and the DPM announced in September the widening of the definition of domestic violence to include 16 to 17 year-olds and coercive behaviour. We are working very hard to bring greater protection for victims and to bring more offenders to justice. It is also important that we work with criminal justice professionals to ensure proper guidance and training so that we can support these changes in the legislation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that domestic violence is a major cause of women in this country ending up in prison? With which organisations in this country are the Government working to eradicate this drastic harm to all these lives?

I am well aware of the importance of domestic violence in bringing about women being in prison, and all the other challenges that women in prison face. We are very keen to carry forward the work that the noble Baroness did to try to ensure that we address the reasons why women end up in prison, which is often not in their interests or those of the family. We are working across the board with a number of different organisations. I myself have been at various meetings where these organisations have put their case, which is a very cogent one. We will continue to do that. Anything that the noble Baroness wishes to feed in to me, I would be very happy to receive.