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The Commons Home Affairs Committee today published a report on domestic violence, forced marriage and 'honour' based violence.
In the report the Committee calls on the Government to implement a national strategy to ensure that there is better education and early intervention to prevent domestic violence - including 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage. The Committee criticises the Government for disproportionately focusing its approach to domestic violence on criminal justice at the expense of effective prevention and early intervention.
According to the report, domestic violence kills more women aged 19 to 44 worldwide than any other cause, and in the UK about two women are killed every week by their partner or former partner. The most recent estimates put the cost of domestic violence to the UK economy at £25.3 billion in 2005/6 alone - money the Committee says could be saved by more effective prevention.
Despite the obvious importance of prevention and early intervention, the Committee found that education on domestic violence issues in schools seems to be at best variable, and at worst non-existent, with no explicit statutory requirement for schools to educate about such abuses. In the case of forced marriage some schools appear resistant to allowing discussion or even providing information on the issue. Evidence from case studies suggests that there are children in danger of being removed from school or further education and forced into marriage but the Committee found in its inquiry that data collected by schools about children who 'disappear' from school rolls tells little about which children may be at risk of forced marriage, and that there is therefore scant recognition of the problem by education authorities.
The Committee says there is a "postcode lottery" in provision of services, including a "desperate shortage" of refuge spaces and other emergency housing for victims fleeing domestic violence. It calls on the Government urgently to investigate the scale of the shortfall in refuge space and work with local authorities to ensure that refuge space is sufficient to meet demand. It also suggests that a specialised victim protection programme, similar to witness protection, should be developed for women fleeing so-called 'honour'-based violence, who face a particular danger from organised conspiracies to find and harm them.
Despite efforts by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Committee found that marriage visas are still being granted in some cases where the visa sponsor has been forced into marriage and compelled to sponsor the visa. The Committee says that victims are being failed in such cases, not least because the Government has no system to use information provided by third parties - such as GPs or MPs - about cases of reluctant sponsors, and it calls for visa sponsors to be interviewed whenever there is a suspicion of forced marriage.
The Committee says that the true scale of all forms of domestic violence, especially 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage, is unknown, and that lack of understanding of these crimes - by the public, front-line professionals, and even victims themselves - makes public awareness-raising crucial. It says there is now a need for a least one major public education campaign and ideally more, potentially modelled on the Think! road safety campaign.
The Committee found that there is also a dire shortage of places on Probation Service perpetrator programmes, which has led to some courts being expressly prohibited from using the programmes as a sentencing option, or such great delays in getting onto a programme that perpetrators have not carried out their sentences.
The Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: "We recognise that the government has done a lot over the past few years, implementing new legislation on domestic violence and forced marriage, and introducing specialist courts and independent advocates. However, we are still failing victims in different ways: through a shortage of refuge space for those fleeing violent homes; through the ignorance or disbelief of professionals; or by allowing the continued abuse of some of those forced into marriage by granting visas to their spouses.
"The Committee would like to see urgent action taken to ensure greater emphasis on prevention of this very damaging, very disruptive - and very costly - crime."