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Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Will Be a Defining Issue of My Mayoralty

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As the MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, I have met many fascinating and brilliant constituents. But today on International Women's Day, one in particular stands out. Her name is Tasleem Mulhall - a force of nature and an inspiration.

Tasleem was born in Yemen but now lives in London. While still a teenager, Tasleem's parents took her out of education; beat her and tried to force her to marry a stranger more than twice her age. Instead, Tasleem ran away and became homeless until she was eventually spotted by a kindly stranger, who took her in. And it is this oppressive background that makes her such an impressive ambassador for Freedom Charity, an organisation that prides itself on saving young children from forced marriage.

Tasleem has forged a life of her own, rising above the most appalling of circumstances.

But sadly Tasleem's case is far from unique.

An astonishing one in three Londoners encounter harassment or violence simply because they are born female. This violence ranges from the barbaric horrors of Forced Marriage and FGM through to the domestic violence, sexual abuse and common assault.

What all these crimes have in common is that they often take place behind closed doors, by the very family members the victim has trusted to keep them safe. And they affect women of all ages, incomes and ethnicities. These crimes often seem invisible. But that makes it even more important they are addressed.

If I am elected as Mayor of London on the 5 May, I will make tackling these crimes a priority.

First, I will be on the side of the victim. I will insist that police, prosecutors and teachers all have the training they need to spot women and girls at risk, that they handle these cases with the utmost care and sensitivity, and that they don't fall for the myths and stereotypes which often conspire against action.

Second, I want every woman in London to have the confidence they need to report these crimes. To ensure that happens, I will carry out a London-wide 'Know your Rights' campaign, in multiple languages. I want women of all ages and backgrounds to understand that violence and coercion are not acceptable - and that we will support them to become free of their abusive partners.

As part of this commitment, I will work with local authorities to fund more specialist support services for communities where women and girls are more likely to face FGM or forced marriage. I am clear that this is not a cultural issue that is best left unaddressed behind closed doors. It is a child abuse issue. Perpetrators should feel the full force of the law and victims should be given our full support.

Third, I will make it as easy and painless as possible for vulnerable young women to find help and support, wherever they live in London.

Boris has quadrupled the provision of Rape Crisis Centres; backed three emergency Haven centres for victims of sexual assault and also funded independent Domestic Violence advocates in every borough.

I will maintain that funding and also work with Government to provide further support, particularly for women's refuges. Where possible, I will work with local organisations on the ground, who are plugged into the local community, and can give women they know the helping hand they need at the moment they are ready to take it.

Fourth, I will work with the police and the justice system to drive up conviction rates. Currently, just one in ten domestic abusers are successfully convicted - and it is appalling that there has never been a successful prosecution for FGM.

So I will ensure police officers wear body-worn cameras when attending crime scenes in order to gather the best possible evidence.

I will work with the Met, the NHS and the Crown Prosecution Service to co-locate specialist police and legal teams in London's emergency Havens in order to gather the best possible evidence in order to support the prosecution process.

And I will lobby the Government to put the needs of women and girls at the heart of the justice system. Vulnerable victims deserve access to timely justice, rather than a drawn out ordeal. As Mayor, I will campaign for the Ministry of Justice to prioritise domestic and sexual violence as they go through the courts.

Finally, Government needs to get much tougher on the violent offenders who carry out these crimes. Men who receive court orders banning them from family home should have a GPS tag fitted as standard - and sent to prison immediately if they breach it.

And all violent offenders should be forced to attend specialist prevention programmes as condition of bail. All too often, the weight of the law is not enough to stop offenders. Their moral compass is broken and needs to be fixed.

London is a great city, but I want it be a great city - and a safe city - for everyone. That's why tackling violence against women and girls will be a defining issue of my mayoralty.

Zac Goldsmith is the Conservative candidate for London Mayor, MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston

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