Domestic violence is an all too secret scourge in our communities, our households, our families.
Too many victims live in fear, too many children are witnesses to intimidation, violence which has huge negative results in their own lives. The lockdown is increasing domestic abuse and the government must immediately step up and provide means of escape, fund refuges with ear-marked funding to councils and include the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in COBRA meetings.
Too many women (and it is overwhelmingly women) today are living in fear.
We are a country on a knife-edge.
Almost 1 in 3 women aged 16-59 in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime; two women a week are killed at the hands of their partner or ex-partner; 3 women a week die by suicide as a result of the abuse they have experienced; and 2.4 million people experience domestic abuse in England and Wales every year.
The number of victims of domestic violence in London has significantly risen in recent years. In 2019, there were around 89,000 domestic abuse offences recorded by the Metropolitan Police, compared to just over 46,000 in 2011.
I welcome the Domestic Violence Bill, but it must go further if it is going to be transformative, which it must be. It must go further in many ways. In particular, in needs strengthening in four areas: the need for more funding, changes in the courts, support for migrant women and a the need for a Domestic Abusers register.
According to the Government’s own estimates, domestic abuse costs society £66 billion a year. Specialist domestic abuse services are life-saving. Survivors and their children that receive specialist support can and do recover.
There must be sustainable funding for specialist services: the crucial legal duty to fund accommodation-based domestic abuse services must be backed with enough funding to increase the number of refuges and ensure no woman or child is turned away. There is no funding in the Bill, but Refuge have reported that 64% of refuge referrals were declined last year. According to their figures, at least £174 million per year is needed to fund refuges, and an additional £220 million for additional support services – and these are crucial.
Funding for refuges but not jut a very narrow statutory duty to fund refuges. This must be widened to introduce a full statutory duty on public bodies to commission specialist domestic abuse services for all adult victims regardless of immigration status, teen victims, child victims, and perpetrators in the community, as well as refuge, and a requirement to fund that full range of services – with the ambition to keep more families safe at home.
As SafeLives has said, In the 21st century, it can’t be right that our aspiration only goes so far as to expect women to go and live behind locked doors in institutional accommodation with other traumatised families. Instead, the Government should support the right of someone who has experienced abuse to stay where they belong, in their own surroundings, safely. With the right provisions in this Bill, that is possible.
I have been to court to support a mother and victim of domestic violence, fighting to keep her children and yet facing the perpetrator who continued his abuse through his cross-examination. Not only does this make the court a safe space for the abuser, it also puts people off engaging with the courts and results in a disparity between the treatment of witnesses and the quality of evidence being obtained in different jurisdictions.
The Bill should:
- Extend special measures from the criminal to the family and civil courts
- Elleged domestic abuse victims should automatically be eligible for special measures across all courts and tribunals, not solely in the criminal courts; and
- Cross-examination in person should be automatically prohibited whenever there are allegations of domestic abuse between the person giving evidence and the person who would otherwise conduct the cross-examination (as opposed to only being automatically prohibited when there is “specified evidence”, or there is already a caution, charge, conviction or injunction in place).
Support for Migrant Women
Migrant women face additional cultural, language barriers and worry about their immigration status.
Immigration law must be amended to abolish the no recourse to public funds condition, extend the destitute domestic violence concession to at least six months, and expand eligibility for leave to remain under the domestic violence rule to all migrant survivors. In particular, the bill mist:
- Ensure parity of esteem for all survivors, regardless of their immigration status.
- Replace ‘hostile environment’ reporting policies (which leave survivors too terrified to report abuse) with a ‘firewall’ between public services and immigration officials.
- Extend the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession to include women who are appeal rights exhausted.
- Guarantee sustainable funding for specialist domestic abuse services in every community, including specialist services for BME survivors.
- Fully comply with Article 3 (4) of the Istanbul Convention.
Domestic Abuse Register
Finally, the Bill should go further than the Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and establish a Domestic Abusers Register, which the London Assembly is calling for.
It concerns me that the Bill does not focus on serial stalkers and domestic abusers, when evidence shows that many repeat offenders go on to commit murder.
It is imperative that serial stalkers and domestic abusers are proactively identified, assessed and managed by police forces and probation services. This approach was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee in its 2018 report on Domestic Abuse:
“A national register of serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators would create a more joined-up approach to supporting victims and managing the behaviour of perpetrators.”
A Domestic Abusers Register will work, as the impact of the Sex Offenders Register clearly demonstrates.
A Register which contains the names and addresses of perpetrators – alongside a requirement to inform the police of the commencement of a new relationship – would mean that police officers are given information on both the relationship status of a potential perpetrator in their area and their previous offending history.
Fleur Anderson MP