Thank you for contacting me about the murder of Sarah Everard and violence against women and girls.
Like many across the country, I am deeply shocked and saddened by the developments in Sarah Everard’s case. My thoughts continue to be with Sarah's family and loved ones at this devastating time. The Prime Minister has been clear that all the answers to this horrifying crime must be found and I send my support to all those who are investigating.
I have always been clear that protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims is of the utmost importance. I was glad to stand on a manifesto which pledged to continue the fight against the perpetrators of violence against women and girls.
I am proud that this country is built on the historic values of unity, inclusivity, tolerance and mutual respect. Hate crime, in all its forms, goes directly against these values and it is completely unacceptable that anyone in our society should live in fear of intimidation or violence. As such, we must stand up for diversity and face down discrimination wherever we see it.
I very much welcome the progress of the Domestic Abuse Bill in Parliament. The Bill will create a legal definition of domestic abuse to provide clarity that domestic abuse can be financial, verbal and emotional as well as physical and sexual and that critically it is about patterns of abuse over time.
As part of this definition, children will be explicitly recognised as victims if they witness abuse. It is good news that the controlling or coercive behaviour offence will be extended to include abuse where perpetrators and victims no longer live together.
This change follows a review which highlighted that those who leave abusive ex-partners can often be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation.
Measures in the Bill also include the introduction of new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders. I particularly welcome the fact that the Bill will invalidate any courtroom defence of consent where a victim suffers serious harm or is killed.
A Domestic Abuse Commissioner has also been appointed to stand up for victims and survivors; raise public awareness; monitor the response of local authorities, the justice system and other statutory agencies; and hold them to account in tackling domestic abuse.
I note the Government has continued to take action to combat these abhorrent crimes by significantly strengthening our laws and introducing new tools to protect victims. This includes the criminalisation of forced marriage, new stalking offences, an offence for failing to protect a girl from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), lifelong anonymity for victims of forced marriage and FGM, a mandatory reporting duty on FGM, the national roll-out of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (also known as ‘Clare’s Law’), making Domestic Homicide Reviews mandatory and a new offence of domestic abuse covering controlling and coercive behaviour.
I was encouraged by the Budget announcement of an additional £19 million funding towards tackling domestic abuse.
This includes £15 million in 2021-22 across England and Wales to increase funding for perpetrator programmes that work with offenders to reduce the risk of abuse continuing. £4 million of funding between 2021-22 and 2022-23 will trial a network of ‘Respite Rooms’ across England to provide specialist support for homeless women facing severe disadvantage.
This £19 million of funding announced comes on top of the £125 million for local authorities to deliver the Domestic Abuse Bill’s new statutory duty to support victims announced at the 2020 Spending Review, £76 million pledged by Ministers in May last year to help the most vulnerable in society during the pandemic and the £40m funding boost for specialist support services announced in February.
By the time the Domestic Abuse Bill comes into force, we will have legislated for the following since 2010:
- Outlawed ‘upskirting’
- Created offence of coercive control
- Strengthened ban on “rough sex” defence
- Outlawed non-fatal strangulation
- Created offence of stalking - and then doubled maximum sentence
- Criminalised sending of revenge porn images, and threatening to do so
- Introduced measures to make it easier for victims to give evidence in court
- Passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015
- Increased funding for Rape Support Centres by 50%
- Created a new Victims’ Code, setting out twelve key rights for victims from complaint through to trial and sentence.
You will probably have also noted the very significant cash uplift for Domestic Abuse Helplines during the pandemic, a boost for refuge spaces, and the #itstillmatters and #youarenotalone Government campaigns to help spread awareness of support services for domestic abuse victims.
Women's Health Strategy
You call for the Government to consult directly with women organisations and women about their needs and lived experiences to help improve women’s health services. I am pleased that the Government are currently calling for evidence to inform their Women’s Health Strategy. You can feed into the consultation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/womens-health-strategy-call-for-evidence
The consultation closes on 30 May 2021.
It is right that the most serious offenders, including those who have committed violent and sexual offences should spend more time in prison to match the severity of their crimes. The Prime Minister has been clear that the Government he leads will strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system and I will support legislation designed to achieve this.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill contains vital new measures to protect women and girls, including tougher sentences for sex offenders.
As you are probably aware, the Bill was voted through Parliament on 16th March. This will extend the approach outlined above by ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between four and seven years for serious crimes, including rape.
This change will mean that they will instead have to spend two-thirds of their time behind bars.
It is incredibly disappointing that Labour voted against this Bill which aims to increase conviction rates for and increases sentencing for domestic and sexual abuse, as you call for.
I trust Calderdale Labour Councillors who co-signed correspondence rightly expressing concern about violence and harassment directed at women and girls will be challenging senior members of their party on their reasons for not supporting these measures.
Recognising misogyny as a hate crime
Since the publication of the Hate Crime Action Plan in 2016 I have been encouraged by the progress that has been made, which has seen an increase in reporting and improvements in identification and recording of crime by the police.
However, rates of attrition within the criminal justice system remain worryingly high and targeted online abuse continues to present a significant problem. While in contrast to overall trends, under-reporting still exists within specific groups.
You may be aware of the wide-ranging Law Commission review into hate crime. Work on this is well underway and the review will identify any gaps within the current legislation and determine whether sex or gender should be added to hate crime law.
The Law Commission's consultation closed on 24 December 2020 and I am glad those with an interest, including perhaps yourself, had the opportunity to share their views.
The Government will of course consider the review's recommendations when they are complete.
I am sure you will agree in the importance of allowing the Law Commission to complete its work in this area. However, it is welcome that the Government has announced that on an experimental basis, police forces will be asked to identify and record any crimes of violence against the person, including stalking and harassment, as well as sexual offences where the victim perceives it to have been motivated by a hostility based on their sex.
I understand that Ministers will shortly begin the consultation with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and forces on this with a view to commencing the experimental collection of data from this autumn.
While this is not making misogyny a hate crime, it can inform longer-term decisions once the Government has considered the recommendations made by the Law Commission.
There is of course always more work to do and it is therefore good news that the Home Secretary has appointed Nimco Ali as an Independent Adviser on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls. Nimco Ali will advise the Home Secretary and other ministers on the government’s new Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy.
It is welcome that Ministers will be bringing forward the new strategy this year.
You may be interested to know that the Government has reopened a call for evidence to further collect views from those with lived experience of, or views on, crimes considered as violence against women and girls. The consultation previously ran for 10 weeks from December to February and was then extended until 26 March 2021.
Safer Streets Fund
I entirely agree that street crime must be tackled firmly and effectively. It causes disruption and fear among communities and is particularly problematic in crime hotspots. While of course the Government will support police forces across the country to fight this crime, it is important to focus on those areas where criminals are operating persistently.
It is welcome news that the Government has announced that the Safer Streets Fund will be doubled in size to crack down on neighbourhood crimes and provide further reassurance for everyone - women, girls, men, and boys.
The fund was originally launched in January 2020, and this new funding will bring total funding for these projects to £45 million.
The Government has also committed to work with police forces and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure these target areas of potential concern for women and girls and are now more focussed on preventing sexual violence.
I understand that this could include targeting parks and alleyways, and routes from bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
The people of Calder Valley expect the Government to invest in the police and increase the number of officers. The Government has been clear that this a key priority and is recruiting 20,000 additional by 2023.
I welcome the fact that the Government has outlined a funding settlement for the police of up to £15.8 billion in 2021-22. It is good news that this funding package for 2021-22 is an increase of £636 million on last year.
This funding will ensure that communities across the country can build back safer from the Coronavirus pandemic and reduce crime. However, from my discussions with constituents, it is clear that more localised and targeted action is also required. That is why I believe we should welcome the Safer Streets Fund.
The funding will allow for small and simple changes such as locked gates around alleyways, increased street lighting and installation of CCTV.
You may also be interested to hear that this funding will allow PCCs to train community wardens, deliver local crime prevention advice to residents and create Neighbourhood Watch schemes.
I trust the Calderdale Labour Councillors who have signed your letter will be using their influence to encourage the Labour-run Council to welcome the Safer Street Fund and engage with West Yorkshire Police to help tackle neighbourhood crimes.
I will continue to monitor the levels and reports of crime across our constituency and I hope that this funding will help link the police with local residents to ensure a united front against criminals causing harm to our communities.
Craig Whittaker MP