We must educate our sons to save our daughters

No teenage boy should grow up persuaded that abuse is normal

Share

“Whore, bitch, slag, slut,” – these are the insults one teacher says she hears levelled at teenage girls on a daily basis. She described girls being “heckled if they dare to speak in class, their shirts forcibly undone, their skirts lifted and held by groups of boys”.

It would be easy and, let’s be honest, more comfortable, to dismiss this as a one off. Or the inevitable, temporary, rite of teenage passage. After all, we all remember that hormonal mix of over-excited boys, irritated girls, and clumsy flirting that gets a bit out of hand.

Sadly it’s rather more than that; it’s certainly not temporary, and the evidence shows it’s getting worse. Across the country there are now growing voices of anger about violence against women - and particularly about the growing abuse and harassment of young women and girls. Now we need not just voices, but action - and yes, that means Government action too.

According to the Children's Commissioner there is clear evidence that violence in young relationships is growing. The British Crime Survey shows girls aged between 16-19, are most at risk of domestic violence - over 10 per cent had been experienced violence or abuse in a relationship.

Read more: Labour plans to end ‘culture of defeatism’ over rape convictions

So called "revenge porn" is growing making young lives a misery when an ex posts their half naked photos or stalks them online. The NUS are worried about an increasingly abusive culture on campuses with jokes about rape and ‘innocent’ groping seen as fairly commonplace.

This worrying evidence from the younger generation comes at a time when the clock seems to be turning back on violence against women more widely. David Cameron's Government has never made it a priority and the Home Office has done very little.

So prosecutions for domestic violence and rape have fallen since 2010 even though the number of reported crimes has gone up. Refuges report big cuts in the support they are able to give those fleeing violence. And one woman told me she couldn't get an injunction out against a violent ex because legal aid reforms meant she had to pay herself and she couldn't afford it.

But why should we stand for this? Across the country, the voices for change are getting louder. Campaigners on domestic abuse or sexual assault calling for better access to justice for survivors. Organisations protesting against Female Genital Mutilation demanding the Government acts to make sure schools and health professionals are better equipped to identify those at risk. Campaigners in the NUS and the Girlguiding movement calling for more direct action against an increasingly misogynistic ‘lad culture’. And across the world, One Billion Rising is asking women to dance, sing and shout for justice and freedom from violence.

But we need to back them. This chorus of voices is powerful and is vital for changing attitudes and culture. But they also need support and practical action too.  Professionals, parents, politicians, men and women, we can't keep turning a blind eye.

That is why today at Labour’s Women’s Safety Conference #LabWomenSafety we're demanding action. We're calling for a new law to tackle violence against women - reforming the criminal justice system, bringing in new national standards for policing and victim support, and stronger prevention too. Over the next few months we will be gathering evidence and views so we can make sure those plans are ready for the election and the first Queens Speech.

We're bringing together those who have experienced abuse with experts in how policing and the justice system must be reformed. We'll be joined by unions and employers who've worked to tackle harassment in the workplace and those campaigning for safety on our streets.

And we will hear from Laura Bates, the founder of EveryDay Sexism, Caroline Criado Perez, the feminist campaigner who spoke out against sexist online trolling, and young women like Yas Necati, the 18 year old who set up Campaign4Consent and 16 year old Lili Evans who set up the Twitter Feminist Youth Army.

Perhaps most important of all, we're calling for action to prevent violence and change attitudes towards abuse among the young. That's where we need to start. We can't ignore the way young people’s perceptions of sex and the interaction between men and women are being shaped by online access to extreme and violent porn. And we can't stand by while abuse grows.

That is why Labour is committed to introducing compulsory sex and relationship education into schools - teaching zero tolerance of violence in relationships. It is simply incomprehensible that Michael Gove has refused so many times to do this.

Our children and teenagers need sex and relationship education that recognises the realities and helps them build the resilience to cope in an internet age. That means teaching them to respect themselves and each other and the importance of equality in relationships.

And yes, that means boys as well as girls. Men as well as women. No teenage boy should grow up persuaded that abuse is normal, or feeling forced to behave in particular ways to prove their masculinity.

For years we have talked about the importance of empowering our daughters, giving them the confidence to challenge abuse and bringing them up as feminists. If we are going to achieve a real-step change in tackling violence against women, we need our sons growing up as confident feminists too.

And that's why we want men and women signing up together to back new laws, campaign for reform and change attitudes. Violence and viciousness towards women has been tolerated for too long. That's why we're determined a Labour Government will seize the moment, draw on the expertise and energy of those demanding action, and deliver real change.

Yvette Cooper is the shadow Home Secretary

Read next: It's not technology that's to blame for the 'Magaluf girl' video – it’s binge culture
Blunkett bravely equates the ‘terrible trauma’ inflicted by Harris and Coulson on their victims – such as himself
Dumping blame for the Holocaust on the Grand Mufti is an insult to its six million victims

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn