Domestic Abuse Bill receives Royal Assent

The Domestic Abuse Bill finally receives Royal Assent but the fight to ensure protection and support for all women continues.

Big Ben

After many years, the Domestic Abuse Bill is now the Domestic Abuse Act. Throughout the Act’s long journey through Parliament the Government did adopt several necessary amendments, thanks to the tireless campaigning of the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector. This includes recognising non-fatal strangulation as a new offence, extending coercive control to include post-separation abuse and extending “revenge porn” laws to include partners or ex partners threatening to share intimate images.

EVAW, as part of a coalition of organisations, pushed to make sure all victims of domestic abuse can receive community-based support, such as counselling and advocacy, by widening the statutory duty of the Bill to include provision of community-based services for all. These collective campaigning efforts have meant that the Government have committed to consulting on a duty community-based services as part of the forthcoming Victims Bill consultation. This will be later this year and EVAW will continue to ensure that all victims, regardless of migrant status, are included, in line with the Istanbul Convention.
The Istanbul Convention is also very clear that signatories must deliver a comprehensive and coordinated response to all forms of 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. For this reason, EVAW pushed an amendment that would require statutory guidance accompanying the Act to take account of the VAWG Strategy. While the Government did not adopt the amendment, they have confirmed that the statutory guidance will indeed reference the VAWG Strategy.
But there are still significant gaps in this legislation. Migrant women are among the most vulnerable domestic abuse victims in society, unable to report abuse to the police for fear of detention or deportation, and often left with the unbearable choice of destitution or returning to their abuser, because only 4% of women with no recourse to public funds will be able to access refuge accommodation.
The Government completely resisted putting support to migrant women on an equal footing with other victims of domestic abuse in the legislation, despite this being wholeheartedly supported by a majority of the House of Lords.  They have opted to run a one-year pilot project instead, which specialist women’s support organisations say will provide only a fraction of the support that is needed. Despite a police super-complaint outcome which was clear that data sharing between the police and immigration enforcement should stop – as it deters women from reporting abuse – the Government plan to introduce a code of practise instead. These measures fall far short of what could have been done to safeguard migrant women.
We signed up to the Istanbul Convention 9 years ago, but we still haven’t ratified it into UK law.  The Convention improves protection of domestic abuse victims in many ways, including ensuring we have the right level and geographic spread of accessible refuge spaces, and it is clear that all victims should be supported regardless of migrant status. The Government intended the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill to finally enable us to ratify the Convention, but by rejecting an amendment that would secure equal protection and support for migrant women they have not done so.
Other significant gaps include, despite the promise of further consultation, the failure to resource community-based support for victims to help women and children cope and recover.  The Government also voted against a serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators register. More could have been offered to address those offenders who repeatedly abuse victims and to acknowledge the abuse disabled women face at the hands of their carers.
The Domestic Abuse Act, although much improved, is still far from the much needed comprehensive, intersectional framework for addressing violence against women and girls put forward by Imkaan in their Alternative Bill. The lack of specific measures for migrant women means that the legislation has missed the mark when it comes to transforming support for the most marginalised victims of abuse and EVAW will continue to fight to ensure they can access equal protection and support.

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