Although we welcome the moves by the Secretary of State for Education, it has taken the Government five years to recognise that sex and relationship education

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guidance needs to mention the internet. We are concerned by the announcement of what we understand to be non-statutory guidance for schools, which is just not good enough. Despite being urged by the Opposition, by charities, by parents, by young people and by the Education Committee, the Government have not taken this opportunity to make sex and relationship education compulsory in schools.

This has been an important and valuable debate. We face a real challenge, and not just in responding to the rising demand for services and support. I have talked to rape crisis centres, and they are dealing with not only historical but new reports and disclosures of rape and sexual assault. Some of that service needs to last a lifetime, and resources must be made available to do that.

The Government must commit to a long-term strategy for the effective prevention of violence against women and girls in all its forms, and we must play our part on the world stage to ensure that that work happens not only here but across the world. We must ensure that women and girls are safe not just in their own homes but wherever they work and wherever they are in society.

4.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on securing this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. The Committee showed great foresight in granting a debate on violence against women and girls, an important subject, on today of all days: we have seen so many young women coming to Parliament to see what we do here and to learn about the debates we have on such important issues that rightly concern us all.

There is no doubt that violence against women and girls ruins lives and has a devastating impact on victims and their families. The Government have taken strong measures to tackle all forms of violence and abuse, including domestic violence, sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and stalking. Too many women have been subjected to unacceptable violence. We have heard in contributions to this debate some powerful examples of the sort of violence that women endure, both here and overseas. The Government have been unequivocal that such violence must stop, and I am proud of the progress we have made since 2010 to realise our vision of a society where no woman is subjected to violence and abuse.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) made the point that the issue is wider than raising awareness among women and girls; we need to educate boys and men and ensure that people understand social media. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her tireless work on revenge pornography. That is the sort of work and those are the sorts of measure that will make tangible differences for women and girls here in Britain. She should be incredibly proud of what she has achieved.

We have made significant legislative changes since 2010 and ensured that more forms of violence and abuse are explicitly enshrined in law as criminal offences.

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The Government understand that domestic violence and abuse are more than just physical. To quote one victim who responded to our consultation last summer,

“my bruises faded, but the psychological scars didn’t”.

Last week, the Serious Crime Act 2015 received Royal Assent, and with it we created a new law that will ensure that manipulative, controlling perpetrators who cause their loved ones to live in fear will face justice for their actions. The new law captures coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate or family relationships and is a significant step forward in improving the protection available for victims of this sinister and pervasive form of abuse. The right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) asked what approach we would take to ensure that it works on the ground, and in my intervention I specified what action we are taking to make that tangible difference.

Within the same Act, we also introduced a requirement for mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire, who has done such incredible work on that issue. I will say more later about our work on it but in terms of legislative change, it is another significant step forward. We introduced two new offences of stalking in 2012 to reflect properly the seriousness of that insidious crime, and I am pleased that in 2013-14, more than 700 prosecutions were brought under the new legislation. We criminalised forced marriage last year, and the possession of realistic depictions of rape and revenge pornography both became offences under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

Protecting those at risk is fundamental to reducing violence. We rolled out the domestic violence protection order and domestic violence disclosure scheme, or Clare’s law, nationally last year. Those innovative measures are about stopping violence in its tracks, and there is clearly a demand for them; more than 2,500 domestic violence protection orders are now in place across England and Wales.

The orders sanction the perpetrators of violence and lay the culpability exactly where it should be. Victims are able to stay in their own homes, as they should be able to, and the perpetrator is the one who must stay away. More than 1,300 disclosures have already been made under the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which allows people to make an informed decision about their relationships. Women are absolutely entitled to know whether the person whom they have met has a violent history and to get out of the relationship before it is too late.

These crimes are often hidden and under-reported, but positive indications are emerging from data sources. I am particularly encouraged to see that the prevalence of sexual assault against women has fallen to its lowest ever level since the data began to be captured in 2004-05. At the same time, the reporting of sexual offences has increased by 19%, showing that more victims have the confidence to come forward. The Office for National Statistics has said clearly that the increase in reporting is due to more victims coming forward and better recording by the police. We must continue to do everything that we can to ensure that the victims of those terrible crimes have the confidence to come forward and that the criminal justice system does all in its power to support them through the difficult journey to justice.

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Criminal justice outcomes for violence against women and girls have improved, with rape referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service increasing after swift Government action to tackle a fall-off in referrals last year. In addition, the Director of Public Prosecutions anticipates that the number of rape cases going to trial this year will be about 30% higher than in 2012-13, meaning that there will be about 550 extra jury trials this year and 650 extra decisions to charge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth made an important point about body-worn cameras. We want them used to ensure that we have appropriate evidence and to make the criminal justice process as painless as possible. For women and girls who have already suffered horrendously at the hands of perpetrators to go through the criminal justice system without the support that we can give them through body-worn cameras is not acceptable.

Prosecutions for domestic abuse have increased. In 2013-14, there were just over 78,000 prosecutions nationally. Current projections estimate that the figure will increase to nearly 90,000 by the end of this financial year—by far the highest number ever—while out-of-court disposals for domestic abuse at the pre-charge stage have reached their lowest levels. “No crime” rates for rape have fallen year on year since 2010. More adult sex offenders are currently in prison—11,119 in 2014, compared with 8,980 in 2010—and the average sentence length has increased from 50 months in 2010 to 60 months in 2013. The number of sexual offenders with multi-agency public protection arrangements charged with a serious further offence has dropped from 162 in 2009-10 to 143. The conviction rate for domestic violence and abuse is also at its highest ever level: almost 75% in 2013-14, up from 72% in 2009-10.

Those figures are encouraging, but as we know, criminal justice and legislation are only one part of the picture when it comes to an effective strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. That is why we have taken a wider-ranging approach in our work—for example, by launching our “Body Confidence” campaign to challenge media representations of women and the highly acclaimed “This Is Abuse” campaign alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth, to encourage teenagers to rethink their views of violence, abuse, controlling behaviour and what consent means within their relationships. Since we first launched the campaign in 2010, the website has had more than 2 million unique visitors to the website, and we have spearheaded groundbreaking awareness campaigns within communities affected by forced marriage and female genital mutilation, which, as numerous contributors have said clearly, is child abuse, with no ifs or buts.

Seema Malhotra: The Minister is highlighting the effective work of the “This Is Abuse” campaign. Have the Government any plans to rerun the public campaign to raise awareness through marketing?

Karen Bradley: There are a number of plans to ensure continuing awareness. I could not tell the hon. Lady definitively about that specific campaign, but may I write to her on the Government’s plans to ensure that we continue to raise awareness? She is right that we need to keep hitting it home. We cannot let up now; we must ensure that we get the message across.

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Ending those terrible forms of child abuse within one generation has been an ambitious vision of this Government. Through our work, public and media awareness of those crimes has rocketed. Our work to tackle FGM is an example of how the UK has provided global leadership on issues of violence against women and girls. My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) made the point that there have been no prosecutions to date for FGM. Legislation was first introduced in 1985, but not even a single referral was made to the CPS until 2010. Raising awareness is key, and we all hope that the measures in the Serious Crime Act 2015 and other legislation will prompt more prosecutions and convictions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned protection orders and their wording. We had lengthy discussions about the wording of the orders, but I assure her that protection orders are meant specifically to protect girls at risk of FGM; there is no doubt or ambiguity about that. The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduces statutory guidance that will make it clear to all front-line professionals what indicators they should look for and how to ensure that we protect girls, including those being taken abroad who are at risk of FGM. We have played a significant role, as have my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire and others, in pushing hidden, sensitive and neglected issues into the spotlight—not only FGM, but sexual violence in conflict and the need to address violence against women and girls in humanitarian emergencies.

We have hosted three major international summits on violence against women and girls: the call to action on protecting women and girls in emergencies; the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict; and the Girl summit, on eliminating female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage in a generation. By doing so, and by driving forward the agenda for change, we have cemented our standing as a world player in relation to this important issue.

However, if raising awareness leads to increased reporting of these crimes, then we need to ensure that the systems are in place to manage that increase—not only in the criminal justice system, but across the board. Broader recognition of violence as a public health issue, and specific training on domestic and sexual abuse, means that at every point of contact—whether in A and E, or with a midwife, health visitor, teacher or police officer—there is a greater chance that abuse will be spotted and stopped.

Sadly, I myself had to visit A and E last weekend with my little boy, who was not very well. However, I was very impressed by the way that the health care professionals there treated us as a family and asked what I now consider—with the knowledge I have about this issue—to be really appropriate questions, to get to the bottom of whether there was any risk of abuse within the family relationship. I am pleased to say that they did not think that there was any such risk, and clearly there is not. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the way they handled matters, and I pay tribute to the A and E professionals whom I encountered last weekend.

We have invested more than £600,000 since 2010 to provide training programmes for independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers, an FGM e-learning package and stalking training for professionals. We have also supported enhanced training on VAWG for health visitors and general practitioners,

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with more than 6,500 professionals having been trained in recognising domestic violence and abuse.

Our investment has had an impact. For example, following intervention by a multi-agency risk assessment conference and an IDVA service, up to 60% of domestic abuse victims reported that there had been no further violence against them. For victims who had engaged with an IDVA following the charge of a perpetrator, 72% reported a complete cessation of abuse, compared with 59% of victims when there was no charge following a report to the police.

We have taken steps to ensure that every agency, including the police, responds to VAWG crimes to maximum effect. In 2013, the Home Secretary commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake a comprehensive review on how the police deal with domestic violence, because she was concerned that the response was inadequate. HMIC’s report, published in March 2014, exposed significant failings, including a lack of visible police leadership and direction, poor victim care, and deficiencies in the collection of important evidence.

The Government have been determined to ensure that HMIC’s recommendations are implemented across all police forces, with the establishment of a national oversight group chaired by the Home Secretary. Every police force has now published its own action plan, setting out how it will address the findings of HMIC in its own area.

The Government have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of funding up to the end of 2015 to provide stability for specialist local support services, such as IDVAs and ISVAs, and for national helplines. Of course, that money is for England and Wales. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran talked about the situation in Scotland, where this matter is, of course, a devolved issue. Last week, we confirmed that that funding for England and Wales will continue at the same level into 2015-16 for those services, with an additional £10 million up to March 2016 for the funding for refuges.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth talked about the Chiswick refuge. Of course, that was the starting point for the Refuge charity, one of the leading charities in this sector. I was delighted to visit its head office recently and to learn about so much that they are doing to protect victims of sexual and domestic abuse. We have also announced an uplift of £7 million in additional funding to support victims of sexual abuse during the next two years, which will provide a critical bedrock of support to victims.

Of course, we have to get things right locally. We need to support local areas to get their responses to violence and abuse, and their provision of services to victims, right and correct on the ground. We have devolved power, resources and accountability to local areas, which is the right thing to do. Local areas are best placed to make decisions about local need. However, we need to ensure that they deliver those services in a consistent way.

In conclusion, we have made significant progress during the course of this Parliament and we have seen some encouraging outcomes. However, when it comes to violence against women and girls, we can never be complacent. There is always more to do to ensure that no woman ever suffers in silence or lives in fear of violence.

4.44 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).