Julian Huppert writes: Preventing and tackling sexual violence

Eliminating violence against women - Some rights reserved by European ParliamentNearly one third of women and nearly one fifth of men say they have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. Yet it remains an under-reported, misunderstood and incredibly damaging crime.

Last year alone in the UK around 1.2 million women and 800,000 men suffered domestic abuse and over 400,000 women were sexually assaulted.

But, the sad fact is this number is probably wrong, the true figure is thought to be far worse. Victims still fear coming forward while there is also a significant lack of understanding over what counts as domestic violence, especially amongst young people. It is frankly terrifying that some young men and women still believe violence in a relationship is normal. This must change.

This year in Glasgow we hope to kick-start this change. The Conference Motion – Preventing and Tackling Sexual Violence, – calls for a two-pronged approach: stronger focus on prevention and an improved and more joint-up approach to support for victims.

This is right on principle. But even for a hard-nose economist, it makes pure financial sense. Domestic and sexual violence has estimated annual costs of £40.1 billion per year costing UK businesses alone over £1.9 billion a year. Frankly, we should stop domestic violence even if it wasn’t financially sound, but I’ll settle for persuading the Treasury any way possible.

We must direct our resources at preventing domestic and sexual violence. One way of doing this is through education at a young age. I have been lobbying the Government for school children to be taught about relationships as part of their school sex education and voted in favour of an amendment to this effect in the Children and Families Bill, recently debated in the Commons. Unfortunately, this amendment failed so it falls to us to make sure we get it in our 2015 Manifesto and into Legislation during the next Government.

We must also work towards a joint-up response to domestic violence. Better training on identifying and supporting abuse victims for all healthcare professionals, including those working with dental patients, pregnant women and victims of substance abuse for example will help cases be identified earlier and give women and men suffering abuse the strength and confidence to come forward.

In Government we have already taken giant strides signalling our commitment to prevent domestic violence and protect victims. We’ve allocated more than £28 million for specialist services to tackle violence against women and made up to £3.5 million per year available for rape support centres. We’ve ring-fenced £40 million of stable funding to 2015 for specialist services to tackle violent and sexual abuse against women and girls and published an Action Plan which focuses on preventing violence from happening, supporting victims where violence does occur and ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice. This is a start, but there is much more to do.

We cannot stay silent on this issue so let us speak up for those who feel they can’t.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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  • Richard Dean 10th Sep '13 - 8:37pm

    This is obviously an extremely important issue, but I really wonder whether anything much has changed since Victorian times? Maybe we’ve even got worse. And is the money anything like enough?

    Look at many older films – many films that people praise – and you’ll find a man slapping a woman to the ground or a woman slapping a man. After the watershed, which is a joke for many young people, you can even see grisly details on TV. Culture is an educator, and the expectations it creates seem very significant. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/almost-a-quarter-of-men-in-some-asian-countries-admit-rape-8806114.html

    Education is surely key, but it’s surely more than just teaching young kids about relationships. As well as support when things have become intolerable, I’d suggest we need a much better idea of what domestic violence actually is, what stresses cause it to increase, and how to avoid those kinds of stresses. All relationships get into trouble sometimes.

  • Helen, AFAIWT the curriculum was amended by the lovely Mr Gove so that it’s just the biology again – as it was when I had sex ed (with my dad, who was also my biology teacher, which was excruciatingly embarrassing). We didn’t get anything on relationships but we got some frankly terrifying slides of things like syphillis sores and people dying of AIDS and such. I still don’t know whether this was especially because I was in the class…

    Obviously schools CAN do more than this, but many don’t, and even if you ARE taught about relationships as well as biological sex it’s vanishingly rare for topics such as DV and consent to be covered. Sadly I was already well-versed in DV because my mum’s first husband (NOT my dad) used to beat the living crap out of her. I would rather other children didn’t grow up with a mother who jumps out of her skin at the slightest noise in case it’s her abuser, and Julian is right that the best way to deal with this is to start very young indeed on educating children that interpersonal violence is wrong, bodily integrity is vital, and consent for any form of physical contact is mandatory.

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