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Violence against women and girls

Report, together with formal minutes and appendices

“(V)iolence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation we face globally, whether in times of peace, conflict or post-conflict transition”. (Ms Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.) We undertook this inquiry to examine the United Kingdom’s progress towards ratification of the Istanbul Convention. In doing so, we have heard how domestic violence transcends races, religions, communities and cultures. The scale, pervasive nature, and seemingly crosscultural ignorance, of violence against women and girls is deeply troubling to us.

Overall we think the UK is in a good position to be able to ratify the Istanbul Convention. The Home Secretary has shown personal commitment to this. Only one legislative change regarding jurisdiction is necessary in order to ratify, although several changes in practice are required to fulfil the Convention’s positive obligations. Our key concern is that the Inter- Ministerial Group has insufficient powers. In addition, we have more focused concerns as set out below.

We heard a great deal of evidence regarding the importance of education as part of preventing violence against women and girls. We recommend that the Government urgently prioritises prevention programmes. Prevention programmes need to be targeted and specific to communities and victims, based on evidence. We also recommend that all schools could, and should, play a greater role in tackling cultural attitudes through a requirement to teach issues surrounding gender equality and violence. This would also help prevent the use of unacceptable cultural justifications for such crimes across British culture.

We heard evidence about the importance of specialist local services to victims of violence against women and girls. In January 2014, we heard assurances from the Prime Minister that the Government is happy to look at points raised by women’s organisations regarding locally delivered women’s services. However, witnesses told us a different story. We are concerned that devolving decisions about provision to local authorities has left women with specific needs unable to access vital help. We found that it was often those most in need and in the most vulnerable positions that were least well served. We recommend that the Government adopt a national co-ordinating role for the provision of specialist support services.

The Government has introduced an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill which would create a specific criminal offence for psychological or coercive control. We are not convinced that the creation of an offence alone will result in a change of culture and we recommend that the Government consider a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and a review of training for professionals within the Criminal Justice System if Parliament creates this new specific offence. We also have concerns regarding how victims of such an offence would provide the evidence required to qualify for civil legal aid and are further concerned that the Government’s Universal Credit roll-out has not sufficiently addressed the concerns of women’s organisations regarding the vulnerability of victims of domestic violence: financial control is a component of coercive control.

We are also troubled to hear of the prevalence of unacceptable justifications for crimes, including crimes committed in the name of so-called “honour”. We believe this occurs in many cultures in Britain, and the Government has not done enough to tackle this. Education is a key preventative tool that the Government is not using effectively. We recommend that a standalone inquiry into these crimes is necessary.

HMIC’s finding that police forces responding to calls concerning domestic violence collected inadequate evidence was worrying. We also heard about the devastating or fatal impact resulting from inadequate response or risk assessment. It is the responsibility of the police to ensure they do all in their power to protect and assist those at risk.

We heard particular concerns regarding victims with insecure immigration status, asylum seekers or refugees. These women and girls are often overlooked. Immigration policy is developed separately from policy about violence against women and girls. We urge the Government to address the gap in service provision for women with insecure immigration status and to review the use of the detained fast track process for victims of violence against women and girls.

Finally we call on the Government to prioritise ratification of the Istanbul Convention by putting the final legislative changes required (regarding jurisdiction) before this Parliament.