Last week, the End Violence Against Women Coalition sent the following open letter to the Prime Minister. It has been reproduced here with permission and thanks:
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER
Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA
Dear Prime Minister
Urgent action needed to prevent abuse of women and girls
86% of people want compulsory Sex and Relationships education to address abuse in the wake of the multiple prosecutions of groups of men for raping and sexually exploiting girls, the murders of Tia Sharp and April Jones, the ongoing child sexual abuse allegations, as well as weekly accounts of domestic violence murders of women and children, we are writing to ask you to put in place a Programme of Work to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls. In particular, we are asking you to ensure that all schools tackle harmful attitudes and behaviours amongst young people and to ensure that survivors are supported. This will build on good work that your government is already carrying out and ensure that the pledge to prevent violence in the Home Office-led Call to end violence against women and girls becomes more than just a promise on paper.
We enclose our new report, ‘Deeds or Words?’, an analysis by experts of Westminster Government action. We note some excellent initiatives, in particular the ongoing Home Office ThisisABUSE campaign to tackle teen abuse, as well as the leadership shown by yourself, the Home Secretary Theresa May, Director for Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer and other Ministers. However, the report finds that, overall, action to prevent violence before it begins (ie primary prevention) is minimal, poorly resourced and not supported by all parts of central government. The Government receives an overall score of 24 out of 100.
We are seeing a litany of cases – from Savile and Rochdale to Frances Andrade and Stuart Hall – which highlight that abuse of women and girls is a huge problem in our society which affects us all:
· 85,000 women are raped every year in England and Wales and 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime (Home Office)
· One in six children aged 11-17 (16.5%) have experienced sexual abuse (NSPCC)
· A third of girls in an intimate partner relationship aged 13-17 have experienced some form of sexual partner violence (NSPCC)
· In 2011 there were 1468 instances where the Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage, the majority involving women/girls
· At least 66,000 women in England and Wales in 2001 have been subject to female genital mutilation (Forward)
· 77% of young people do not feel they have enough information and support to deal with physical or sexual violence (ICM poll for EVAW)
The above statistics show that girls and young women are particularly at risk from some forms of violence and yet the key department with responsibility for children’s safety, the Department for Education, is not prioritising prevention. Whilst there is excellent work in some schools, a recent Ofsted report on Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education shows that too many schools are failing to address these issues. This leaves girls vulnerable to abuse and boys and young men at risk of developing harmful attitudes and behaviours. This finding comes at a time when a new YouGov poll shows that 86% of respondents said yes to the question, ‘do you think it should be compulsory for (secondary) schools to provide sex and relationships education which addresses sexual consent and respectful relationships’ – indicating that the public see SRE as part of abuse prevention, not simply education about biology.
Another key policy area for preventing abuse is to tackle sexist images and representations in the media that condone or tolerate violence against women and girls. We know that you are committed to tackling sexualisation of children, and welcome actions in this area. There
is huge concern about the harmful impact of children viewing pornography, spelling the need for schools to be required to include these issues in lessons. Moreover, we believe there is much more to be done including closing a loophole in the extreme pornography legislation
which allows possession of simulated images of rape, similar to that viewed by Stuart Hazell.
We are calling for your Government to:
· Develop a comprehensive Programme of Work to Prevent VAWG, led by the Home Office and Department for Education
· Make long term investment in public campaigns to change harmful attitudes and behaviours, learning from the THINK! road safety campaign
· Ensure that every child learns about sexual consent and respectful and equal relationships, preferably through making Sex and Relationships Education compulsory.
· Tackle misogynistic images of women in the media that condones abuse, including banning the possession of images of rape pornography.
· Ensure that there is long term investment at both national and local level in specialist support for women and girls who experience abuse, either recently or in the past.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition is the largest coalition of its kind in the UK and our campaigning led to the Coalition Government’s strategy, ‘Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls’. We were one of a group of organisations that gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry about the prejudicial treatment of women in the media, and how this provides a conducive context in which violence against women and girls flourishes.
Our politicians need to be more aspirational and inspirational in seeking a world where there are no more cases like Tia Sharp, April Jones, the Oxford, Derby or Rochdale sexual exploitation cases or serial abuse by men like Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall. We believe that a world where women and girls are safe and equal, both in the UK and abroad, is achievable if there is the will to create this change.
Marai Larasi MBE, Co-Chair,End Violence Against Women Coalition
Professor Liz Kelly CBE, Co-Chair, End Violence Against Women Coalition