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Violence against Women and Girls

Volume 749: debated on Monday 25 November 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent rape and violence against women and girls.

My Lords, as we have already said, this Government are committed to preventing these appalling crimes. Earlier this year we published, and we continue to deliver, a cross-government strategy called Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, and a supporting action plan that goes with it. This includes our successful national campaigns particularly targeted at teenagers to prevent rapes and abuse, which we will be rebuilding with a relaunch early next month.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I refer specifically to the rape crisis centres that I know the Government have given some support and funding to, which of course is appreciated. However, the money which has been given is short-term money. What plans do the Government have, and what is in their strategy, to guarantee that they will give the funding to ensure that these rape crisis centres can continue—not least because local commissioning has changed, which has put them in jeopardy? The Government really have to take some responsibility for ensuring that these rape crisis centres can stay open. Alongside that, are they giving any support for the training of the specialists who provide support services within the rape crisis centres?

Again I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s interests and to the way in which she is pursuing these matters. It is true to say that the Government want to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system wherever they interface with it, and to assure victims of these terrible crimes that they will get the support that they need. That is why the Government are currently providing £4 million for 77 rape crisis centres across England and Wales. We hope that we are helping to build the support which the noble Baroness seeks for the victims of sexual assault and rape.

My Lords, as millions of people seem very reluctant to believe that millions of women are being brutalised in this country, have the Government considered adopting the policy of the Spanish Government, who have distributed notices throughout Spain which simply state, “If you’ve hit a woman, you’re not a man”?

I concur with the message that my noble friend suggests, although I have to say that we have not considered that particular campaign. None the less, it will be interesting to see how it works in Spain.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that perhaps what we really ought to focus on is prevention? By prevention, I mean that we should educate young men and boys not to use violence against women and to learn how to honour and respect women. Could not our national curriculum possibly be improved by having such lessons?

A lot can be done in schools and, of course, a lot can be done outside schools by those people fortunate to live in parental custody, and by parents themselves treating each other with mutual respect. The Home Office has had—and I alluded to it earlier—a very successful national teenage rape prevention campaign, which was extended into a teenage relationship abuse campaign, because it was recognised that rape was only one aspect of the abuse that young females might suffer from young men. The figures and responses show that these campaigns have struck home and have had a real impact on young people’s relationships. That is why we are intending to relaunch the campaign on, I think, 5 December. We feel that that is the right way in which to go about it.

Would the Minister not acknowledge that, while we have campaigns, they are not a replacement for education? This is a cultural problem. We hear on the radio that women cyclists are being harassed by men, not only for being cyclists but for being women. We know that young men brought up in difficult households are more likely to see domestic abuse, and that those who see domestic abuse are, according to the research programme from Arnon Bentovim, more likely to be engaged in rape and the harm of women. Surely it goes back to the noble Baroness’s point that, unless we tackle this in the school curriculum at the educational level, no amount of campaigns will make any difference.

Again, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s commitment to making sure that professionals are properly oriented towards dealing with this. She rightly draws attention to an answer which I think that I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, earlier, and I hope that she agrees that I recognise the important role of schools.

Would the Minister agree that creating a safe atmosphere whereby women are encouraged to report to the police violence and rape within the home in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously and treated sympathetically is key to tackling the problem and reducing the incidence?

Yes, indeed. One feature of the current scene post-Savile is that women are much more confident now about going to the police and knowing that these things will be taken seriously. So I could not agree more with my noble friend.

My Lords, following a debate that I was able to secure on a related issue back in March, more than 60 bishops around the country are today supporting the campaign to end gender-based violence, and are visiting on this day a large number of projects up and down the country to support the cause. I apologise that, in the rush to get here, I have no white ribbon. Could the Minister inform the House what additional action the Government are taking to implement the agreed conclusion from this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women, which focused on the ending of violence against women?

I congratulate my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on his role in ensuring that 135 countries have signed up to the agreement on the use of rape as a weapon of war. This is a significant development, and shows that these arguments are not just confined to this country. Discussions that we are having here have raised awareness throughout the world.