Many of the drivers that lay at the heart of the epidemic of violence against women and girls in our country exist as a result of deep-rooted and toxic societal attitudes which are engrained within our institutions, education, and culture. They are further perpetuated by outdated stereotypes and misogynistic attitudes which prevail and often go unchallenged within our national media, on our streets, in classrooms and workplaces, and online.
The epidemic of violence against women and girls is not new, it has transcended through the ages, but it is receiving far more attention and prompting far greater action from the streets up through to government. Increased reporting and recording of data (we still have much further to go on this front) means we are now only seeing the truer extent of the crisis behind closed doors, on our streets, and online. I am horrified the number of female homicides has risen across the past decade, the number of victims of domestic abuse has skyrocketed and further exacerbated by COVID and lockdowns, and the prosecution and conviction of rape and sexual assault is in freefall.
The broken justice system epitomises the challenges society and our institutions must tackle. From defence counsel using a victim’s sexual history as an appalling justification for a defendant’s crimes, the re-traumatisation of victims during trial proceedings, mounting court delays, cuts to police, to the scandalously fragile support services for victims and survivors – the system is failing to protect women and girls, failing victims more broadly, and failing to deliver justice and act as a robust deterrent.
Labour’s Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy is a starting point, but by no means the end destination. It is a response and blueprint for the urgent reforms within reach if the Conservatives muster the willingness to enact them. Reforms within the justice system will spark action within society, it is an important point with which to focus our immediate attention. But you are right, we need societal change, and Labour has set out a number of other reforms we need to see such as tackling online abuse and harassment and making service providers accountable, challenging perceptions around stalking as a clear early indicator, making misogyny a hate crime, and criminalising street harassment and kerb-crawling.
There is much more to be done in education, the media and beyond to influence attitudes in homes and streets up and down the country. Labour are exploring these themes further, and I am looking forward in my new role to advocating for greater support services via a Victims’ Bill of rights and greater prevention.
Whilst has progress has been made, action from this Conservative Government has been slow, lacklustre, and hypocritical. Labour on the other hand is committed to pushing forward the rights of victims of crime and anti-social behaviour, of restoring and reforming our justice system after a decade of disastrous Conservative cuts, and challenging the toxic and unacceptable societal norms, attitudes, and inequalities which underpin the abuse women and girls face.
As you rightly point out, no woman or girl should have to have to plan travel to minimise risk, cross roads or move seats on a bus ride home or clench their keys between their fingers to feel safe, or be have their actions, their clothing or their history used to justify crimes committed against them. Men need to take more responsibility and call out the behaviour of their male counterparts, and we need to properly educate boys about acceptable behaviour, but the change we need must be more widespread. Language, representation, actions, and gestures matter, we need to see leadership and commitment to change from the top down, just as we are witnessing from the bottom up.
Rest assured, as your Member of Parliament and as a Shadow Minister, I will do everything in my power to advocate for that change and action.