The Domestic Abuse Bill is meant to be a ‘once-in- a-generation’ opportunity to transform our response to domestic violence which wrecks the lives of so many women and families. However, significant changes are still needed to ensure compliance with the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) and with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
We ask that the following recommendations are brought within the bill.
- Adequate funding for survivor services which have for the past 10 years suffered large cuts meaning that the refuge network and community based services cannot meet demand. This alone fails to provide women with the protection they need to remain safe and the specialist support required to aid recovery from trauma.
- A statutory duty on public authorities to commission sufficient specialist domestic abuse support services in order that all women can access support in every local authority area.
- The Bill must go further to ensure every woman fleeing abuse has safe, suitable and stable housing. Our ask is that there is an automatic assumption that women fleeing abuse are in priority need, removing the need for the ‘vulnerability’ element; that all women accepted for re-housing are granted the highest possible banding/points and that all women moving boroughs are able to maintain their housing priority status.
- Services are inclusive and are available to those with insecure immigration status, children and young people. These are highly vulnerable groups and need additional legal protections. Again, funding made available to ensure equality of service provision. Currently, migrant survivors with insecure status are left without proper protection and support and should be regarded as a top priority. It is no longer acceptable to have a group of survivors left without recourse to public funds.
- Consistency of protection for domestic abuse survivors across criminal, civil and family courts. The Prohibition on cross-examination in person of a victim by a perpetrator should be extended to the civil courts as well as the family courts.
Within the context of Covid-19, it is difficult to comprehend just how dangerous this situation is for women who must feel they are being held hostage at home. The DA Bill should bring hope to all women who are the most affected by abuse, now and in the future.
So far, during this crisis, 14 women and 2 children have been murdered and this is extremely distressing. This is double the average number of women who sadly lose their lives as a result of domestic abuse.
In London the Metropolitan Police have responded to over 4,000 incidents. This represents a 24% increase against last year during the same six-week period.
What we need to remember is that this only represents a fraction of abuse happening, as for most women, they are unable or too frightened to call for help.
Fiona Dwyer, CEO of Solace, said:
This is Parliamentarians’ chance to demonstrate a commitment to passing legislation that can transform the protections offered to women, children and whole families whose lives are blighted by the epidemic that is domestic abuse.
We are cautiously optimistic as the Domestic Abuse Bill progresses through Parliament and we will continue to work with partners to influence the Bill to ensure all women can live lives free from abuse and can rebuild their lives with a safe, secure place to live and the specialist support they need to recover.