‘I want my daughter to be safe’: Starmer reveals personal mission to tackle violence against women and girls

Exclusive: ‘I want her and her friends to go through her secondary school years feeling safe,’ shadow PM says

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Saturday 25 November 2023 17:35 GMT

Related: The full exchange: Starmer and Sunak clash over violence against women

Sir Keir Starmer has told of his own personal commitment to tackling violence against women in the hope that his young daughter and her friends feel safe.

The Labour leader told The Independent that schools and wider society must go further to tackle the attitudes and behaviour of young men and boys on consent and extreme online material.

Sir Keir said misogyny was the “root cause” of violence against women and girls and said tackling such views should be a “key part of school accountability”.

His comments come days after senior Tory MP Caroline Nokes slammed her own government for refusing to commit to a new sex education strategy for boys which aims to tackle sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

The women and equalities committee called for it to be rolled out in schools and said relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) should be made compulsory in sixth forms and colleges.

But while the government said it would “consider” how to strengthen guidance on the issue, it failed to commit to adopting the recommendations from the cross-party group of MPs.

The rejection comes after exclusive YouGov data revealed that around a quarter of young men agree with misogynistic influencer Andrew Tate’s views on how women should be treated.

Sir Keir accused the government of not looking violence against women “in the eye” and sitting “on their hands” as he reiterated his pledge to halve violence against women and girls in a decade.

Making the commitment personal, he said: “My daughter is now a teenager, I want her and her friends to go through her secondary school years feeling safe.”

(L to R) Reality TV star Georgia Harrison, Starmer, actor Emily Atack, and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper ahead of a roundtable discussion on tackling violence against women and girls

The politician said he wanted his daughter “to grow up in a happy, safe and secure Britain”, adding: “But the reality is, change is needed.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has previously discussed his own worries about his daughter’s safety when out and about on her own and has promised a raft of measures, including criminalising down-blousing and pledges to “hunt down and stamp out” grooming gangs.

But he failed to say if he believed his own daughters could trust the Metropolitan Police following the shock Casey report which found alarmingly widespread misogyny and racism in the force.

Sir Keir said his pledge to halve violence against women and girls was “informed” by his time as director of public prosecutions as he promised Labour would “roll out specialist rape courts, end the current postcode lottery facing victims, and task the police with relentlessly pursuing the most dangerous abusers and offenders”.

He added: “The Tories have broken the criminal justice system after thirteen years of mismanagement, incompetence, and bad judgement.

“There’s been 10 justice secretaries in 10 years – no public service can sustain such chop and change. We will end the sticking plaster, short-termism our public services have experienced under the Tories because it doesn’t deliver for victims or their families.

“With 80 per cent of criminals today being repeat offenders, it is clear that this chaotic Tory government is doing little to fix the problem, at huge cost to society.”

Rishi Sunak wants daughters to grow up trusting police in wake of damning Casey report

Sir Keir warned the “terrifying reality in Britain” was the fact that too many women and girls are victims of abuse, verbal, physical, as well as everyday misogyny.

He said: “In recent times, we’ve seen women bravely holding powerful men to account, women coming forward with allegations about serious sexual violence, who were then quickly disparaged or dismissed online, even threatened. It is a sharp reminder of the hard road we must walk to eradicate toxic attitudes towards women from our society.”

Sir Keir said confidence in police officers was “devastatingly low” – drawing attention to the fact that rogue officers in the Met Police have placed women and girls at more risk.

The Labour leader added: “Policing must start to serve women and girls and we must have no more excuses. But after 13 years of Conservative rule, policing is yet another public service that is collapsing.

“It needs proper reform. It’s seriously worrying, for example, that there are no mandatory national rules for police forces on vetting.

“My Labour government will change that. We’ll bring in national standards for all police forces to include mandatory vetting, training and disciplinary procedures.”

It comes after a recent investigation by leading domestic abuse charity Refuge and The Independent found three-quarters of police officers and staff accused of violence against women are not suspended by their force, despite the allegations against them.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “There is always more to do, but the Conservatives have done a huge amount to tackle violence against women and girls, and since 2010 crime and reoffending have fallen substantially while victims support is quadrupling.”

Adding: “Only the Conservatives can be trusted to take the tough action necessary to protect women and girls, by ensuring life means life for those who kill with sexual or sadistic conduct, locking up rapists and abusers for longer and keeping our streets safe”

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