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 welcome the publication of the tackling violence against women and girls strategy to ensure women and girls are safe everywhere - at home, online and on the streets. The strategy will increase support for victims and survivors, increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice and to reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls in the long-term.
A number of measures in the strategy are focused on practical action to increase physical safety in public places. This includes a £5 Million ‘Safety of Women at Night’ Fund, in addition to the Safer Streets Fund, that focuses on the prevention of violence against women and girls in public spaces at night, including in the night-time economy. This could include targeting parks and alleyways, and routes from bars, restaurants and nightclubs. I also welcome the appointing of two new Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions, to drive forward positive change and tackle the problems faced by female passengers on public transport. The creation of a new online tool 'StreetSafe' is also welcome. This platform will build on the Safer Streets Fund and provide women and girls with a way to anonymously and quickly pinpoint areas where they have felt unsafe and say why – be it from a lack of lighting or CCTV or because of the people around them.
It is also vital that good practice is shared and the new tackling violence against women and girls strategy will make this happen. The Government has introduced a new national policing lead on violence against women and girls. The lead will be the point of contact for every police force and will ensure, best practice is shared and that progress on improving the response to these crimes is being carefully monitored.
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.
Ministers have now outlined plans to legislate, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This will extend the approach mentioned above by ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between four and seven years for serious crimes including rape, manslaughter and grievous bodily harm with intent. This change will mean that they will instead have to spend two-thirds of their time behind bars.
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. The review, which has now been published, includes a number of recommendations around levelling up the protection for disability and LGBT victims, tackling sex and gender abuse, and protecting freedom of expression. The Government is currently reviewing the report and recommendations and I look forward to its full response in due course.
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.
I also note the enthusiasm for an amendment tabled by Baroness Newlove to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill regarding the inclusion of sex or gender in hate crime reporting and sentencing. While I understand the desire for this amendment’s inclusion, and although well-intentioned, I must highlight my own concerns.
The Law Commission has recently concluded a wide-ranging review into hate crime. In its final report, the Commission made a number of recommendations to provide greater protection on the basis of sex and gender, including extending the offence of stirring up hatred to cover stirring up hatred on the grounds of sex or gender. It is suggested this would help to tackle the growing threat of extremist misogynist “incel” ideology, and its potential to lead to serious criminal offending. Furthermore, it recommended that the Government launch a review into the need for a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment, arguing that it would likely be more effective than adding sex or gender to hate crime laws.
You might also be aware that the Commission recommended that “sex or gender” should not be added to the protected characteristics for aggravated offences and enhanced sentencing, suggesting it would be ineffective at protecting women and girls and in some cases, be counterproductive. For example, if applied in the context of rape and domestic abuse the commission says it could make it more difficult to secure prosecutions and create unhelpful hierarchies of victims. However, if these contexts are excluded, it would make sex or gender very much the poor relation of hate crime characteristics, applicable only in certain, limited contexts. I am encouraged that the Government will now carefully review and consider the recommendations of the report before issuing a full response and any future action.
Regarding the collection of police data on such crimes, I would also like to reassure you that such provisions are unnecessary. There is already the capability for the Home Office to ask forces to collect data, subject to a dialogue with them about the feasibility of its collection.
Finally, following the tragic case the tragic case of Sarah Everard, the Government 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 Home Office received an unprecedented 160,000 further responses over two weeks, taking the total to over 180,000 responses which have helped shape the new strategy.
I will continue to follow this vital work as it progresses.