Mary Macleod is MP for Brentford and Isleworth.
Over the weekend, Labour announced the appointment of Seema Malhotra as shadow minister for preventing violence against women and girls. It’s good to see they are taking the issue seriously. The more noise MPs on all sides of the House make about the horrific – and too often overlooked – crimes perpetrated against women, the closer we come as a nation to stamping them out. I feel really strongly about this issue, as Chiswick, in my constituency, started the very first refuge in the world for women.
Seema Malhotra’s opening message, published on the LabourList website, reiterated disturbing statistics. Over 12 million domestic violence incidents reported in the UK last year; 3,000 children a day witnessing violence in their own home; thousands of girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.
But it was disappointing that, in her eagerness to take a typical Labour political swipe at the Government, Seema Malhotra got her sums wrong. She claims that under this Government the number of rape prosecutions has fallen to its lowest ever level. This is simply not the case. According to the most recent figures from the Crown Prosecution Service, the number of rape prosecutions has increased over the past year – from 3,692 to 3,891 – and is higher than it was under Labour.
We need to keep on working to tackle this crime. We know there are too many incidents of rape that go unreported, or that do not result in prosecution and justice for the victims, who are left scarred for life. But Seema’s suggestion that we’re sitting idly in a “comfort zone” and failing to “step up action” is simply not true.
This Government has done more than any other to tackle violence against women and girls and, specifically, to protect them from rape.
Clare’s Law, which gives women information about potentially abusive and dangerous partners, is currently being rolled out nationwide. We have invested £4.4 million in 80 rape support centres, and funded independent sexual violence advisers and young people’s advocates to mentor women who have suffered gang-related violence and exploitation.
Our Home Secretary, Theresa May, has highlighted the unacceptable attitudes in some police forces and written to all Chief Constables to make sure they put new plans in place to tackle this. Meanwhile, the Crown Prosecution Service has drawn up a National Rape Action Plan to ensure the justice system is on the side of defendants in rape trials.
We’re also consulting victims and experts on the value of introducing a new, specific offence of domestic abuse – one that recognises that abuse can be both emotional and psychological, as well as physical. Under existing law, non-violent behaviour is categorised as stalking or harassment, which leaves some ambiguity as it doesn’t explicitly apply to intimate relationships.
Seema Malhotra wants more action to end to violence against women once and for all. She’s right to raise the alarm, but it’s a false alarm to suggest that nothing is being done.
Just last month, the Government announced an extensive package of reforms to improve the lives of thousands of girls and women in this country at risk of FGM and forced marriage. This included criminalising forced marriage; giving victims of FGM anonymity during court cases; consulting on making it mandatory for professionals to report cases of FGM; and raising awareness through schools, charities and community groups.
Violence against women comes in many shapes. It cuts across all cultural, social and ethnic divides. This Government is doing more than any before to tackle the violence inflicted on women and children, and no stone is left unturned as we explore ways to do this – through legislation, through education, through grassroots campaigning. And, while there is still more to do, it is a proud testament to this Government that progress is being made in tackling these crimes and helping more women live their lives in safety.