Domestic abuse affects over 2 million people a year, the majority of whom are women. The need for protection for victims of domestic abuse has been highlighted by the lockdown, as the obligation to stay at home has dangerous consequences for victims who are living with their perpetrators.
The Domestic Abuse Bill seeks to improve protection for victims of domestic abuse. The bill was scheduled to reach committee stage in the House of Lords on Monday 25 January.
Some improvements can be highlighted:
1. The bill provides for a definition of domestic abuse which includes physical or sexual abuse, violent or threatening , controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse and psychological, emotional or other abuse between people who are "personally connected". Examples of economic abuse would be having sole control of the family's income, or interfering with education or employment. This is very important as financial dependence on an abuser makes it more difficult for a victim to escape.
2. Victims will be protected immediately by Protection Notices and then by Protection Orders, which can be made in civil, criminal or family proceedings. Abusers can be tagged to oversee compliance.
3. Alleged abusers will not be allowed to cross examine victims in person in family proceedings, and vice versa. Cross examination in person is traumatic and a deterrent to victims to seek redress.
4. Extension of jurisdiction of the UK courts so that UK nationals and residents may be brought to trial in the UK for certain offences committed abroad.
Campaigners have sought various amendments to support victims:
1. Although a local authority has a duty to support refuges, most victims do not use refuges and in any event should be able to remain in their own homes - funding is needed for other specialist services.
2. The threat to share intimate images should be an offence, as should non fatal strangulation (which now is likely to be dealt with in the forthcoming Sentencing Bill). The threat to share intimate images is used as leverage against victims.
3. Protection of migrant women - they are particularly vulnerable to threats from perpetrators, and may be frightened to contact police because of concerns about data sharing and immigration enforcement.
Jessica Asato, Head of Public Affairs and Policy at domestic abuse charity Safelives, our charity partner and pro bono client comments: “Two women a week die at the hands of their partners or ex-partners, and one in five children experience domestic abuse growing up. These victims face a postcode lottery in accessing life-saving support which the Domestic Abuse Bill must urgently address. However, the Bill as it currently stands excludes support for frontline community based services which support 70% of those victims who access services, as well as perpetrators. We hope that Ministers listen to the wide support for Barnardo’s amendment which will strengthen the legislation to provide adequate, sustainable funding for both accommodation-based services and community-based services. Only then will we end the postcode lottery and ensure everyone can access the help they need.”
“Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime perpetrated on victims and their families by those who should love and care for them. This landmark Bill will help transform the response to domestic abuse, helping to prevent offending, protect victims and ensure they have the support they need.” Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for Safeguarding