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House of Commons Hansard
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Victims of Domestic Abuse
14 January 2020
Volume 669

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4. What steps his Department is taking to support victims of domestic abuse. [900153]

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22. What steps his Department is taking to support victims of domestic abuse. [900173]

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We are committed to doing everything we can to end domestic abuse. It is an appalling crime that ruins far too many lives. It is vital that we better protect and support victims of abuse and their children and bring more perpetrators to justice. That is why we introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill in July last year and set out a comprehensive action plan of non-legislative measures directed to this end. We reaffirmed our commitment to this Bill in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December.

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County lines drug gangs are involved in the largest exploitation of our children that this country has ever witnessed. Children from all walks of life are being groomed by these gangs. Given that women and girls are particularly at risk of being abused and exploited, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the criminal justice system is doing more to protect our women and girls, particularly using the Modern Slavery Act 2015?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I know that she brings a huge amount of expertise in this area, which is to be welcomed. This Government recognise the risks to girls and young women who are exploited by these ruthless gangs. That is why the Home Office provided £400,000 this financial year for young people’s advocates in London, Manchester and the west midlands, to work directly with gang-affected women and girls, especially if they have been victims or are at risk of sexual abuse by gangs, including county lines gangs. I can assure her that colleagues in the Home Office are also working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to take full advantage of powers in the Modern Slavery Act.

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It takes courage to leave an abusive relationship. Living in fear of the next punch or being told that you are worthless, stupid or cannot cope alone destroys confidence. When people find the courage, they often turn to frontline workers and great charities such as the Stroud Women’s Refuge. Will my hon. Friend explain what the Department is doing to ensure that the people at the frontline of supporting domestic violence victims are prepared to adapt in order to assist victims as the new legislation comes in?

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My hon. Friend makes some powerful points. She brings to the Chamber experience in legal matters, particularly divorce and family law. Our ambition is to build a society that has zero tolerance of domestic abuse and actively empowers victims, communities and professionals to confront it. We know that the legislation we are introducing will need to be supported by all those on the frontline, and we have started implementation planning for the Bill with all those who will be affected by the provisions.

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The previous Government implemented an independent review of the family courts’ treatment of domestic abuse survivors. Domestic abuse survivors across the country will be watching with interest to see how that review is taken forward. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how that review can make the impact that is necessary?

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I have a very simple answer: absolutely. I know that the hon. Lady takes an interest in that matter. We made a manifesto commitment in this area. We are determined to improve the family justice response to vulnerable victims and witnesses, including victims of crime. It is worth noting that in May 2019, we announced a public call for evidence, led by a panel of experts, to gather evidence to help us better understand this. I look forward to meeting her.

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There is significant evidence from domestic abuse charities and police forces across the United Kingdom that during major sporting events, the number of domestic abuse cases increases. With the Six Nations in a few weeks’ time, what work is the Minister doing with the rugby unions across the UK, from the stadiums to television programming and working with the rugby players themselves, to explain that domestic abuse is clearly wrong and that there is never an excuse for it? There needs to be more investment to tackle the causes of it, which includes these sporting events.

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The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, highlighting the fact that domestic abuse is out there in so many different areas, and not always where we expect. With regard to rugby, I would need to go away and ask a few questions, but I thank him for raising that in the Chamber and for highlighting the importance of bringing forward the Domestic Abuse Bill, to see an end to these abhorrent crimes.