Catherine West MP in Parliament
Catherine West MP in Parliament

The horrific murder of Sarah Everard was a monumental moment for everyone in this country, especially for women and girls who do not feel safe on our streets. As more and more details emerged about the horrific disappearance and brutal murder of this young woman and after the arrest of her murderer, I received hundreds of emails from constituents who are rightly concerned about safety on the streets and violence against women.

Thousands of women across the country have shared their stories online in an outpouring of grief and anger – many of whom are simply thinking “that could have been me”. I believe we must tackle this issue in two ways – making our streets safer and strengthening legislation to tackle female violence and offer better protection for victims. While Sarah’s horrific death received unprecedented press coverage, it would be a mistake to think of it as a one-off. We have seen year-on-year increases in female homicide victims in England and Wales and domestic abuse offenses. We know that, under the Conservatives, rape convictions have fallen to a record low and victims of crime are facing delays of up to four years as a result of the record-breaking backlog in the Crown Courts caused by a decade of Conservative cuts and court closures.

This Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill was a long-overdue opportunity to introduce vital new measures on violence against women and girls, such as action on harassment, domestic homicide sentencing and more support for victims of rape. Instead, the Government has prioritised the protection of statutes over women. Under the Bill’s proposals, someone could receive a longer prison sentence for defacing a statue of a slaver than for rape. I support many important measures in the Bill, including those relating to the Police Covenant, assaults on emergency workers, reform of the DBS scheme, sexual abuse by people in positions of trust and dangerous driving. Unfortunately, I think the Government has undermined these good measures by including draconian measures relating to free expression and the right to protest, measures that will have an unfair impact on Black, Asian and ethnic minority people, and failing to address the crisis in our police and justice system. Most importantly, I do not think this Bill will tackle the core issues of female violence and safety on our streets.

For all these reasons, I voted against the Bill during its Second Reading. However, with the support of Government MPs, the Bill passed its Second Reading by 359 votes to 263. As the Bill continues to be considered in Parliament, I will continue to press the Government to drop its poorly thought-out proposals and instead work across the political divide to legislate to tackle violence against women.

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