PM: Change in culture and social attitudes required to protect women

Sophie Morris, Richard Wheeler and Elizabeth Arnold, PA Political Staff
·4-min read

Boris Johnson has insisted a “cultural and social change” in attitudes is required to ensure women are heard and protected.

The Prime Minister was urged by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to work with him to ensure the death of Sarah Everard is a “watershed moment” and a “turning point” for tackling the “epidemic” of violence against women and girls.

Serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, is accused of kidnapping and murdering 33-year-old marketing executive Ms Everard as she walked home from a friend’s flat in Clapham, south London, on the evening of March 3.

He is due to go on trial in the autumn.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir told the Commons: “The Stephen Lawrence case showed the poison of structural and institutional racism, the James Bulger case made us question the nature of our society and the safety of our children.

“Now the awful events of the last week have lifted a veil on the epidemic of violence against women and girls.

“This must also be a watershed moment to change how we as a society treat women and girls and how we prevent and end sexual violence and harassment.

“I believe that if we work together, we can achieve that and the questions I ask today are in that spirit.

“So first, does the Prime Minister agree that this must be a turning point in how we tackle violence against women and girls?”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country’s record in prosecuting rape cases was ‘disgraceful’ (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Johnson replied “yes I do”, adding: “That event has triggered a reaction that I believe is wholly justified and understandable.”

Mr Johnson added that the Government is doing “everything that we can” to make the streets safer for women.

He also told MPs: “But I think that (Sir Keir) is right, frankly, that unless and until we have a change in our culture that acknowledges and understands that women currently do not feel they are being heard, we will not fix this problem.

“And that is what we must do. We need a cultural and social change in attitudes to redress the balance and that is what I believe all politicians must now work together to achieve.”

Sir Keir said there should be a specific new law on street harassment while the law on stalking and sentences for rape and sexual violence should be toughened.

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The Prime Minister said the Government is “always happy to look at new proposals”, adding: “What we are already doing is introducing tougher sanctions on stalkers – that has already been brought in – and we are bringing in new measures to make the streets safer. Of course that is the right thing to do.”

Sir Keir said “many, many” women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence “do not feel confident” to come forward and report what has happened to them, adding that support for victims must be improved in law.

He also highlighted that 1.5% of rapes reported to the police lead to a prosecution, adding: “Put the other way – 98.5% of reported rapes don’t lead to a prosecution, that’s a shocking statistic.

“Can the Prime Minister tell us what is he going to do about this, not in a few years’ time, not next year, but now?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I agree with him. One of the first things I said when I became Prime Minister was that I believe that the prosecution rates for rape were a disgrace in this country and we need to sort it out.”

The pair went on to argue about the merits of the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which seeks to overhaul the justice system, although critics warn it does little to protect women.

Sir Keir asked Mr Johnson to meet with him, shadow Home Office ministers Nick Thomas-Symonds and Jess Phillips, and victims’ groups to discuss proposals and “make this a turning point”.

Mr Johnson welcomed the “collegiate” approach of Sir Keir, but criticised his opposition to the Bill.

The Prime Minister said: “Until women feel they are being heard and their voices are being heard and their complaints are being addressed by society, we will not fix this problem.”