Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls.
Last year, 76 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners, the lowest number since this data was recorded but still 76 too many. The Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that 1.2 million women were victims of domestic abuse and over 300,000 victims of sexual assault.
These are truly shocking figures. When so many women are victims of assault by their partners there is something seriously wrong with our society. I am proud however that this Government is doing all it can to protect women and girls and to help survivors rebuild their lives.
Domestically, we have provided funding of £40 million over the spending review period from 2011 to 2015 to provide a critical bedrock of support to victims, including funding for 86 rape centres across England and Wales like the excellent Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre we have in Croydon for which I recently raised money.
We have introduced new laws and law enforcement tools to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice including the criminalisation of forced marriage, the introduction of new stalking laws and the national roll-out of Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. We are currently criminalising revenge pornography and strengthening the law on female genital mutilation (FGM). In the New Year we will be commencing new civil orders to manage sex offenders, which will give the police and the National Crime Agency greater flexibility in placing restrictions on people who cause a risk.
We are also trying to improve the response of frontline agencies to these crimes. We are driving a culture change in the police by ensuring the recommendations from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s review into domestic abuse are acted upon and applied to all areas to promote a culture of victim belief. We are improving the quality of social care and have introduced new guidance and training for healthcare professionals. Partnership approaches have also been promoted through the Troubled Families programme and support for multi-agency safeguarding hubs.
But extra money and new laws alone are not enough. We also have to change attitudes within society as to what is and what isn’t acceptable - and we have to focus on the period when these attitudes are formed during adolescence. Our acclaimed This is Abuse campaign, aimed at 13- to 18-year-old boys and girls, encourages teens to rethink their views of violence, abuse, controlling behaviour and what consent means within their relationships and we have provided good quality teaching materials to schools to help them promote healthy relationships.
The Government is also trying to provide international leadership on this issue - if things are bad in this country, they are even worse in many other parts of the world.
William Hague’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in June cemented the issue of sexual violence in conflict firmly on the international policy agenda. The Girl Summit, hosted by the Prime Minister and UNICEF in July, was an international event to shine a spotlight on the importance of ending both FGM and child, early and forced marriage. It saw 41 governments signing a Charter calling for greater attention towards ending these practices.
The Department for International Development (DFID) flagship programme to support the African movement to end FGM, with total funding of £35 million over five years, aims to see a reduction in cutting by 30% in at least 10 countries in five years, with an ambition to end FGM in one generation. And Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for International Development, has committed up to £25 million to scale up DFID’s work on child, early and forced marriage in 12 priority countries working closely with UNICEF.
This work is delivering tangible results for victims of these crimes. All elements of violence against women and girls show increases in reporting – a critical strategic objective for what have been hidden crimes. There has also been a series of improvements in criminal justice outcomes. Latest data published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) showed the violence against women and girls conviction rate was at its highest ever level reaching 74.4% successful outcomes in 2013/14. Police referrals to the CPS for charging decisions have also reached their highest ever levels and prosecutions and convictions have both risen by over 10% in the last year. Sentence lengths for rapists have increased and ‘no crime’ rates for rape have fallen year on year since 2010.
Over the 16 ‘days of action’ which follow International Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls Day, the Government will be making a number of announcements including:
- the launch of a new specialist FGM Unit to continue to drive action to tackle FGM in communities;
- publication of a consultation on mandatory reporting of FGM;
- additional funding for community groups to raise awareness of and prevent FGM; and
- the publication of the Government’s response to its consultation on whether to create a new offence of domestic abuse.
When it comes to child abuse and exploitation, domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, FGM or forced marriage, we are determined to support victims, equip frontline services with the tools they need to tackle these crimes and most importantly changes attitudes in society towards the shocking level of violence directed at women.