Like many across the country, I was deeply shocked and saddened by the reports of Ms Everard’s disappearance and death. My thoughts continue to be with her family and loved ones at this devastating time. Every woman in this country should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of intimidation, harassment or violence. It is important for the government to reflect on the outpouring of anger and emotion about this appalling murder which has shone a light on the fear women experience every day going about their daily lives.
The images of officers arresting women at the gathering on Saturday evening were shocking and I am pleased that there is an independent investigation taking place into what happened and what went wrong. Mass gatherings are currently illegal under coronavirus regulations and the Home Secretary has urged the police to make sure that people observe the law. In the vast majority of cases the police have managed Covid restrictions extremely well, however, there was a striking contrast between the policing of Saturday’s event and that of the Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests and that should give us all pause for thought.
The Government has a strong record on victim protection measures since 2010. This includes outlawing upskirting; creating an offence of “coercive control”; strengthening the ban on the “rough sex” defence; outlawing non-fatal strangulation; creating an offence of stalking and then doubling the maximum sentence; criminalising the sending of, and threatening to send, revenge porn images; introducing measures to make it easier for victims to give evidence in court; passing the Modern Slavery Act; increasing funding for Rape Support Centres by 50% and creating a new Victims’ Code, setting out twelve key rights for victims from complaint through to trial and sentence. The Domestic Abuse Bill is at the Report Stage in the House of Lords and I look forward to seeing this Bill enacted as soon as possible. There has also been a significant funding boost for domestic abuse helplines, a cash increase for refuge spaces, the #itstillmatters and #youarenotalone Government campaigns and work on tackling rape as weapon of war.
I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has committed to doing everything possible to further protect women and girls from violence and harassment. This includes bringing forward a new tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy later this year. 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. It will now remain open until 26 March 2021 and I would encourage people, especially women, to take part.