Caroline Nokes – 2022 Speech on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The speech made by Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons on 1 December 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I will start where my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) finished: by talking about the pointy-elbowed, middle-class privilege that allows me to stand here and say that still, in 2022, we cherry-pick which victims we think are innocent and which we do not. That is why there is massive media coverage of some cases and not of others. We like our victims to be young, blonde and white, do we not? When police community support officers of my age are killed, it makes barely a headline, as in the case of Julia James. The murders of young women such as Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, whose photographs were taken by police officers, do not gain the same number of column inches as the murder of Sarah Everard. When women such as Raneem Oudeh and her mother are murdered while the police are ignoring their calls for help, we must wonder what cultural element came into that.

It is important that we stand up in this House and are prepared to use our pointy-elbowed, middle-class privilege to highlight that, in this country, on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we need to get our own house in order. We need to be prepared to legislate for things such as public sexual harassment. Let us face it: countries such as Morocco have managed to legislate for that, but we still have not.

I have high hopes for my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and his private Member’s Bill. I pay full credit to police forces such as Nottinghamshire police for collecting statistics on misogyny as a hate crime, but we need that to be rolled out to more police forces across the country. In this place, we have done some great work and every year the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) stands up in the Chamber on International Women’s Day and reads that great long list—which is not getting shorter—of those women who have been murdered over the previous year. At her behest, a couple of weeks ago I met, virtually, Carole Gould and Julie Devey, the mothers of Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey Waterhouse—young women murdered by their partners. Carole and Julie have set up a new organisation, Killed Women, specifically to make sure that we listen to the victims and consider the aftereffects for those families who have lost a loved one in horrific circumstances. We all need to listen to those stories and understand the very profound impact that ongoing violence against women is having in this country.

I will speak very briefly of the work that the Women and Equalities Committee is doing on this subject. I pay tribute to you, Ms Elliott, for having been a guest in a recent session. We are looking at sexual harassment, misogyny, violence against women, and sexism in all its forms across a variety of areas in this country, whether in schools, colleges and universities—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock for the great work she did on that before she left the Committee—or in the music industry, where black women are overly sexualised. We know from the case of Child Q that black children are—I am not sure if this is even a word—adultified and treated as adults when they are still children. That still happens way too often. We heard of the horrors of being a young black woman in the music industry—they were truly horrific in the same way as the sexism in football that we heard about.

Similarly, we hear time and again about how women at university are treated appallingly and how, in too many cases, the institution does not stand up for them. I will highlight Bristol University—apologies to the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) for referring to her city again—because it did not support a young woman who spoke to me yesterday on this subject. When she went to the police, she was told that she had to think of the mental health of the student she was accusing of sexually harassing her. That, to my mind, is absolutely unthinkable. How are we going to empower and encourage young women to have the courage to come forward, speak of their experiences and press charges when they are being told to consider the impact on the individuals they are accusing? We know that 97% of the accusations made are truthful.

I want to pay tribute briefly, in 50 seconds or less, to—

James Daly (Bury North) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Caroline Nokes

That will not give me an extra minute. I pay tribute to former Ministers who have worked so hard on this issue, some of whom are sitting in this room today, including Ministers from across the Home Office who worked so hard on the tackling violence against women and girls strategy and on finally getting the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 on the statute book. My message to all of us is that there is more that we can and must do. We have to keep pressing forward. If we do not do that, we will not be able to look around the globe and wring our hands in horror at the actions that we see elsewhere, when our own house needs to be in much better order.