[Content Note: This letter contains references to sexual violence against women and girls.]
Thank you for writing to me regarding violence against women and girls.
I have received a large number of emails in the past week in light of the murder of Sarah Everard, the wider issue of violence against women and girls, the shocking police response to the Clapham Common vigil, and finally, the government’s draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
I would like to take this opportunity to summarise my thoughts on these issues, and I am grateful to all the constituents who have raised them with me, many of whom were contacting their MP for the first time.
First and foremost, I think our main thoughts should be of sympathy with the family and friends of Sarah Everard for the terrible pain they are going through. Like so many women across the country, I have spent the past week thinking about Sarah, and the horrendous cruelty of her loss. It should not be the case, but Sarah’s death is a stark reminder of just how far we have to go as a society to eradicate violence against women and girls.
I have written an article for the Islington Gazette regarding those wider issues here, and I want to say I agree wholeheartedly with all those constituents who rightly feel angry about the scale of harassment, intimidation and violence against women in our country, and the fact that the vast majority of it goes entirely unpunished.
It is simply appalling that rape conviction rates have fallen to their lowest point on record, and that the number of domestic abuse related deaths trebled in 2020 compared with 2019.
As I say in my article, now should be the time to unite the country and put in place protections for women against the violence we face in all forms and all settings, including action against domestic homicides, rape and street harassment – as well as tackling the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face.
The Labour Party has outlined proposals for sweeping reforms to sentencing and protections for women and girls, including creating a new street harassment law, making misogyny a hate crime, increasing the minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers, reviewing sentencing for domestic murderers, and introducing a Whole Life Tariff for anyone found guilty of abduction and sexual assault and murder of a stranger.
The campaign for women’s rights has been a struggle that has been fought down the centuries by people whose demands for change have frequently taken them onto the streets. This past week alone has demonstrated just how valuable our right to protest is, and how vital it is to defend it.
However, the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would impose totally disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest. The Bill contains several vague terms that could be applied far too widely; for example describing ‘public nuisance’ as causing someone ‘serious annoyance’ or ‘serious inconvenience’.
After the shocking way that police responded to the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common, I think the last thing we need is a Bill which places even more stringent curbs on the right to peaceful assembly and protest, and gives the police even greater powers to respond to them in the kind of heavy-handed way we saw at Clapham Common.
As many constituents – and my Labour colleagues in the House of Commons pointed out – this Bill will also have a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, members of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, people with mental health issues and homeless people. It may even impact the ability of trade unions to effectively picket and demand better rights for employees.
Looked at in the round, I do not think this Bill represents any form of constructive, well thought out and targeted approach to tackling the real problems of crime in our society. Instead, it simply represents a calculated and ruthless attack on one of the fundamental principles of our democracy, the right to protest.
Indeed, it sums everything up for me that this Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill makes not one mention of violence against women, but – as many people have pointed out – could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.
I can assure you that the Labour Party does not support this assault on our basic human rights, and we will fight against this draconian Bill at every stage in Parliament.
Thank you again for contacting me about these very important issues. Please do not hesitate to get in touch again if you have any further points you wish to raise, or if my team can be of any assistance.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury
Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade