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Sexual Violence against Girls and Women

Volume 760: debated on Thursday 5 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to foster greater public understanding about the prevention of sexual violence against girls and women in the light of the publication of the What is Consent? toolkit by the Crown Prosecution Service.

My Lords, the new consent guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service supports the Government’s aims that every report of rape be taken seriously, every investigation conducted professionally and every victim given access to the support they need. It complements the Home Office’s teenage relationship abuse and prevention campaign, “This is Abuse”, and the materials developed to support better teaching of sex and relationship education in schools.

My Lords, I commend the Government for introducing these new guidelines, on the back of some very high-profile and unpleasant cases. Does the Minister agree with me that there are some very depressing surveys that show that one in three boys still think it is okay to hit a girl and to force her to have sex? Even more revealingly, a student survey in the colleges of Cambridge showed that 77% of students there had experienced sexual harassment and violence. Is it not time to have a consistent approach to educating boys and girls in what the law is and what is acceptable behaviour, and to try to combat sexual violence against women and girls in this country?

My noble friend is absolutely right in that regard. Of course, that is the purpose of the website, “This is Abuse”, which is targeted at young people. It has been viewed by some 2 million young people. That is the purpose behind the new campaign, What is Consent?, which sets out what is involved: the capacity to consent, the freedom to consent and the steps taken to obtain consent, which must be present in all relations of a sexual nature. The noble Baroness is also absolutely right that more needs to be done.

My Lords, part of the problem is that young girls who are manipulated and sexually abused have been groomed to believe that they are in a consensual relationship. While there can be legal arguments about what consent is when a case gets to court, surely it is even more important to protect those young girls before any such abuse takes place. Let me press the Government again: given that the value of sex and relationship education is widely understood and known to be effective, why are the Government refusing to ensure that it is compulsory in all schools?

I think that best practice is happening in most schools. It is certainly compulsory in all state schools. There was a case related to certain freedoms being given to academies, which covered this. However, the expectation is not that academies can somehow disregard this, but that they will use their freedom to improve on the minimum standards for the teaching of sex and relationship education that were set out by the Secretary of State in 2001.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to develop programmes for parents? One issue I have come across in my work in this area is that parents are very confused about what their children can and cannot do and what kind of advice they themselves should be giving. Do the Government want, or does the Minister know of any, support programmes from which parents can get help and education in this area?

There is a range of helplines and support services, as well as rape help centres, but I totally accept that the role for parents is very strong and profound and that parents need to be aware. As the noble Baroness said earlier, much of this grooming takes place online. That is something that parents need to be especially vigilant about, not just in the context of rape but of all kinds of child sexual exploitation.

My Lords, will my noble friend accept on behalf of the Government the recommendation made by two all-party groups on refugees and migration, under the chairmanship of Sarah Teather MP, that women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be held in immigration detention?

The Home Secretary is looking very closely at that very important report, which came out just two days ago, particularly in the context of the very disturbing allegations made about Yarl’s Wood. We take that very seriously and will be responding.

My Lords, will the Minister undertake to talk to his noble friend Lord Nash about what I believe is a widespread concern that this is treated as a freedom in some schools? Does he not agree that the time has come to ensure that all girls are protected and all boys receive the proper education to help prevent violence?

That is something that should be done. Of course, the quality of that education is monitored by Ofsted as well. It is something that should happen in all schools. It is a crucial part of this, and schools, along with parents and the wider community, have a vital role to play in making sure that young boys in particular are educated about the limits and the need to obtain consent.

My Lords, perhaps I might raise a matter that is, in many respects, a background to this Question. Will the Minister tell the House, with regard to the last available period for which data are kept, first, what percentage of complaints of rape actually led to trial in court and, secondly, what percentage of those trials ended in conviction?

I am very happy to set those details out. Up to September 2014, there were 72,977 recorded criminal offences. The number of rape prosecutions was 3,891 in the same period. There is a lot of detail behind that. I do not have the time to go into it at this point but I am happy to write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, several of your Lordships have drawn attention to the importance of early education in sex. Will my noble friend tell us what the arrangements are for the initial training of teachers in this subject, how consensus on what is appropriate at different ages is identified, and what INSET—in-service training—is also available in this?

The guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Education sets out that age-appropriate education must be provided to young people. There are steps that could be taken to improve on that. There are a lot of examples of best practice around the country, which schools have to draw on.