Women’s groups want to see radical change to the way all public services respond to the violence which prevents too many women and girls from living free and equal lives
Today (8 March), on International Women’s Day, the Government opened a consultation on a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, calling this a “once in a generation opportunity…to put safety and support for survivors at the heart of Government efforts to stamp out domestic abuse.”
Responding to the Government’s publication of a consultation on a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill today (8 March), Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said:
“New law and public discussion about domestic violence and what can be done to stop it is welcome. But this Bill will be a missed opportunity if it doesn’t go further than small changes to criminal sanctions and sentencing. It must meet the needs of all women experiencing violence.
“The Prime Minister refers to the 100th anniversary of some women getting the vote. If we understand that domestic and sexual violence are part of what stop women living free and equal lives, then the government must be braver, not hide behind localism, and take responsibility for ensuring that the health service, schools and the welfare and housing systems as well as the police, play their part in eradicating this crime.
“The Government says this Bill will put survivors at the centre, but the stark truth is that support services in many communities are on their knees. A survivor of domestic or sexual abuse may well be unable to access counselling and will face big hurdles if seeking justice. Changes to the way refuges are funded means they are turning women and children away every day, and some of the most marginalised women have no access to support.
“Women with complex needs including mental health problems face severe difficulties getting help and our systems at present can further traumatise them. Women with insecure immigration status are often appallingly treated as immigration offenders before victims of abuse, which shames us all.
“Our members provide specialist crisis and long-term support to women all over the country. They know that domestic violence is linked to sexual violence, to stalking and harassment, to abuse online, to forced marriages and more. We welcome a new independent Commissioner in this area but they must be able to work across these different forms of abuse if they are to be effective.
“We welcome the plan to properly recognise economic abuse and commend the work of those including our member Surviving Economic Abuse who have made the case for this.
“We hope the proposals on “programmes” for offenders will include the requirement that any such programme is of the highest standard and puts women’s safety at its heart, such as Respect accreditation requires.
“The intention in the proposals to ensure that domestic violence which also harms children in a household is an aggravated offence is welcome, but if this recognition of harm to children is there, it should be directed at systems change in the way the family courts, social work practice and schools respond.”
The EVAW Coalition will publish its response to the consultation here soon.
Proposed changes in the consultation include introducing a new definition of domestic violence incorporating psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional abuse. Broadening the understanding of what domestic violence is means the many different ways many women are abused can be considered. In these proposals the government acknowledges that coercive control, including controlling someone’s access to money and removing their financial independence, has a devastating impact on too many women’s lives, which is something the law has been slow to recognise.
Other proposals include:
- New Domestic Abuse Protection Orders
- The creation of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner “to stand up for victims, monitor the provision of domestic abuse services, and hold the Government to account.”
- Increased sentences for domestic violence cases involving children