Domestic Abuse Bill returns to the Lords on International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day sees the return of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Lords as it enters Report Stage. This is the final chance to make the necessary changes to the Bill to ensure migrant women can access equally effective support and protection from abuse.

Big Ben

This year for International Women’s Day, we call on the government to not leave any survivor of domestic abuse behind so that all women can live their lives free from violence. Over the course of the Domestic Abuse Bill’s journey, there have been several welcome and necessary changes made to the Bill. These include changes to the Bill that will create new offences of non-fatal strangulation and post-separation abuse. Most recently, the government has committed to look at provision of community-based services as part of the Victim’s Law consultation. However, one area that the government has yet to address at all in the Domestic Abuse Bill is the exclusion of migrant women.

The government’s priority should be to ensure survivors are able to escape situations of abuse. Yet the Migrant Victims Scheme pilot proposed at Second Reading in the House of Commons, will create unnecessary delay and ignores the proposed legislative changes to this Bill which have widespread, cross party support.

During the Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse Review and throughout the Bill’s passage, specialist services led “by and for” Black and minoritised women, that support migrant survivors of domestic abuse, have provided a wealth of evidence on the needs of migrant women survivors and the gaps in protection and support that the Domestic Abuse Bill should address. It is therefore incredibly disappointing that the Government feel they do not have enough evidence to identify the scale and scope of potential migrant victim needs.

The Step Up Migrant Women Coalition have proposed amendments that would remove many of the barriers that victims face, by ensuring all migrant women are eligible for the existing Domestic Violence (DV) Rule and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) and so can access refuge accommodation; an end to the police unnecessarily sharing victims information with immigration enforcement; and a commitment to providing equally effective protection and support regardless of immigration status, in line with the Istanbul Convention.

The UK signed the Istanbul Convention, the international gold standard for preventing violence against women and girls, nearly nine years ago, yet we have still not ratified it. The Domestic Abuse Bill was supposed to bring the UK into compliance,  but the government have still not taken any steps to addressing the remaining hurdle to ratification, that is having provisions for migrant women that would comply with Articles 4(3) and 59. Furthermore, recent comments from the Minister suggest the government is considering reserving these articles which would mean these gaps in protection could be left unresolved for at least five years. EVAW is proposing an amendment that would enshrine a non-discrimination principle in line with article 4(3). This would mean all survivors of domestic abuse can access equally effective protection and support regardless of their immigration status and ensure the full ratification of the Convention.

Andrea Simon, Director, says: 

‘It is deplorable that the government, at every stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill’s passage, has chosen to ignore the needs of migrant women who are among the most vulnerable domestic abuse victims in society. Why should it be so difficult to accept that we have a duty to protect anyone that finds themselves on the receiving end of such abhorrent crimes.  If we are to leave no survivor behind, and allow no perpetrator to continue their abuse with impunity, the government must plug the gaps in support and protection for all survivors and finally ratify the Istanbul Convention, almost nine years after signing it.’ 

The Convention is also very clear that signatories must deliver a comprehensive and coordinated response to all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), something which is threatened by the government’s plan for separate VAWG and Domestic Abuse Strategies. The VAWG sector is clear that such fragmentation of a coordinated VAWG approach would have dire consequences for women and girls. It is for this reason that EVAW is proposing an amendment that would require statutory guidance accompanying the Bill to take account of the VAWG Strategy.  These efforts must be joined up so that statutory agencies understand the links between all forms of VAWG and how best to respond to them.

More information on key recommendations to ensure migrant women are protected by the Domestic Abuse Bill can be found here: The Domestic Abuse Bill – migrant children and their families

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