Draft Domestic Abuse Bill: Some good measures, but disappointment at scope

Proposals mean Istanbul Convention will be ratified – but we continue to fail to protect women with insecure immigration status

Responding to the publication today of the Government’s response to the Domestic Violence and Abuse consultation and the Draft Bill which will soon got before Parliament, Sarah Green, Co-Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said:

“The ambition and determination in the Government’s announcement of the new Domestic Violence Bill is very welcome, given the devastation this abuse causes.

“We welcome the clear inclusion of economic abuse as a common part of domestic violence. This recognises that abusive partners’ control of money and finances commonly harms women and children and limits women’s ability to be free of them.

“It is also extremely welcome to see the measures needed to enable the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention included in the Government’s announcement. We look forward to women in the UK soon living under the protection of this treaty.

“However we are disappointed at some of the Government’s response to our sector’s consultation submissions.

“If law, policy and spending really are to be radically changed in this area, it is absolutely critical that there is clear recognition that domestic violence very disproportionately affects women. This is not to say that men are not also sometimes victimised, but women’s inequality is part of what drives some men’s sense that they are entitled to bully and control in their relationships. Commissioners and workers across public services, whom the Government says it is setting out to educate with this Bill and associated spending, need to understand this as key. And they need to understand the deep connections with other forms of abuse including sexual violence, stalking and harassment, forced marriage, trafficking and prostitution.

“We are disappointed then that the new statutory definition of domestic violence is to remain an extremely broad range of ‘scenarios’ of violent and abusive behaviour which might take place behind a front door, and not a clearer focus on intimate partner abuse, based on abusers’ sense of entitlement to control, that professionals and the public need to understand. This broad yet imprecise definition also muddies the water around the connections to other forms of gender-based violence. We urge a rethink.

“We are similarly disappointed that the new Commissioner role will be focused only on domestic abuse. This will make it difficult for the Commissioner, once in post, to really reach in where multiple forms of abuse are relevant, which is extremely common, and to hold to account the agencies who have responsibility. The Commissioner post could be widened to include all forms of gender based violence for better effectiveness.

“We are extremely disappointed at the references in today’s announcement which neglect the situation and urgent needs of women and children who do not have secure immigration status.  A truly victim-centred Bill would recognise that ALL women who’ve experienced domestic violence should have access to protection and justice regardless of their immigration status.  Instead, little more than lip service has been paid to the rights of migrant women who have severely restricted routes to safety and support. Currently, many of these women, when they suffer domestic or other abuse, risk being taken as an immigration offender if they seek help, rather than getting the protection they need. Women’s support services also really struggle to provide beds and other help for these women and their children because they are not entitled to housing and welfare support. Successive Immigration Bills have contributed to the hostile environment towards migrants which is often weaponised by abusers and creates barriers to women seeking help and support. The limited safety net offered by the government in the Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession is in adequate, as it can only be accessed by some groups of migrant women. This shames us as a society – when we clearly put immigration enforcement over women’s and children’s lives. We urge a reconsideration and we urge Opposition parties to make this a top priority when the Bill is before them.

“We are also concerned at some of the spending and commissioning plans implied by today’s announcement. We need to take more time to examine them, but we worry that the very lack of guaranteed support and protection – which we urged was made a statutory duty – when women are being urged to report to police, is dangerous and wrong. The specific commitment to delegating more spending power to PCCs is extremely worrying since these commissioners have by no means demonstrated their understanding of the significance and harm of gender based violence.

“We note the significant attention to holding perpetrators of domestic abuse to account and providing community-based programmes to challenge and change their behaviour. We will take more time to examine these proposals with our members who are expert in this area. As commitment to this potentially life-saving work grows, it is critical that the minimum standards for its delivery, as developed by Respect, are followed, and no cheap interventions by non-experts are permitted to enter the field.

“Finally, the ambition to prevent domestic violence in the first place is clearly stated by the Government. One of the most critical areas for doing this is in our schools, with good Relationships and Sex Education at the point when young people are still developing their norms and values in this area. The announcement today says that such work is on track via the Department for Education’s new statutory guidance for schools in this area. This is a classic case of a fail in joined-up Government and promising with one hand while the other hand fails to deliver. The DfE’s new draft guidance for schools is woefully inadequate, gives schools pick and choose options on covering abuse related issues, and is even squeamish regarding sex and sexuality. If Downing Street, the Home Office and the MOJ are truly committed to ending and preventing abuse through good work in schools, they must step in and require Education Secretary Damian Hinds to up his Department’s game.”

*Full EVAW Coalition rundown on RSE guidance HERE.

 

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