Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

Labour Women\’s Safety Conference

National plans making domestic and sexual violence a priority

Labour plans which would revolutionise the way sexual crimes are handled have been welcomed by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird.

The Commissioner, who has made domestic and sexual violence a priority in her Police and Crime Plan, was at Labour’s Women’s Safety Conference.

Delegates were discussing ways of improving justice for domestic and sex crimes, some of which have become more prevalent through the growth of the worldwide web, and improving women’s safety.

Key note speaker Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the insults levelled at teenage girls on a daily basis in schools could be easy to dismiss but were getting worse.

And it isn’t just abuse and harassment of girls and young women which is growing but violence in young relationships.

The British Crime Survey has shown 16-19-year-old girls being most at risk of domestic violence, with more than 10% experiencing violence or abuse in a relationship.

‘Revenge porn’, where an ex posts a half-naked photo or stalks the person online, and ‘sexting’, where young girls send ‘sexy and pouting’ pictures of themselves on their mobile phones, is also growing.

Yet delegates heard that while the number of reported domestic violence and rape crimes has gone up, the number of prosecutions have fallen since 2010.

Additionally legal aid reforms have made it difficult for women to afford the legal costs.

Vera Baird said: “It’s vital that changes are made not only in attitudes but our culture and that any woman or young girl suffering from any kind of abuse or violence comes forward to seek help.

“We all have a duty to stand up against these perpetrators and bring an end to their control and I fully support this call for action to prevent violence and change attitudes.

“I whole-heartedly agree that we cannot ignore online access to extreme and violent porn, which is changing young people’s perceptions of sex, and that education of young people to have a zero tolerance of violence in relationships is a key factor.”

The Commissioner said changes had already been made by Northumbria Police to make it easier for victims to come forward and that officers did all they can to make the reporting of these crimes as straightforward as possible, listening to all victims and taking action to help them.

Northumbria, together with neighbouring forces Durham and Cleveland, has introduced a new power – Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) -allowing police to take immediate action to ban a suspected perpetrator from the victim’s address for 48 hours.

“This gives any victim much needed breathing space providing them with the reassurance that they are safe and allowing them time to consider their options and get access to support services without pressure from the perpetrator,” Vera Baird said.

At the conference delegates called for a new law to tackle violence against women and Labour will be gathering information ready for the election.

This will reform the criminal justice system, bring in new national standards for policing and victim support and provide stronger prevention too.

“Violence in any relationship should never be tolerated and ending violence against women and girls is a personal priority for me.

“Any and every measure which can be made available to the police and other organisations which will help victims of what is sometimes a very hidden crime must be welcomed.”