The Domestic Abuse Bill has the potential to deliver a step change in the national response to domestic abuse, but the legislation requires significant change to tackle gaps in the system and ensure equal protection and support for all survivors.
The COVID 19 crisis has exposed the lack of protection and support for survivors of domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), especially those discriminated against on the basis of sex, race, immigration status, disability, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
As specialist organisations working with survivors of VAWG, we have set out comprehensive recommendations on the Bill to ensure it delivers the change required. Whilst we welcome amendments made to the legislation – including on priority need for housing, access to special measures in the family courts, the removal of the ‘rough-sex’ defence, and the recognition of children in the definition – we remain severely disappointed by the government’s refusal to commit to the reforms that survivors need.
Critically, there remain no provisions to protect and support migrant women, who face systemic barriers in escaping abuse and accessing safety. The pandemic could not have come at a worse time for specialist services who have faced years of funding crises and are now operating in a 'perfect storm' of lost fundraising income, additional costs of remote working, increasing complexity of caseloads, and staff shortages. We remain concerned that emergency funding announcements have been piecemeal and have to be spent within four months’ time.
We continue to call for a long-term funding solution, including ring-fenced funding for specialist services led ‘by and for’ BME and migrant women, Deaf and disabled women, and LGBT+ survivors. Whilst we welcome the Bill’s statutory duty on local authorities to deliver support in accommodation based services, the future of community based services is uncertain. There remain many questions about how the duty will resolve the challenges facing the national network of specialist women’s refuges and deliver the funding required for services for children, community based support, prevention and work with perpetrators.
Just one in five victims are estimated to report to the police, 2 so to be truly transformative this legislation must deliver significant change across housing, health, the immigration system, welfare reform, the family courts and support for children. We urge MPs to back our long-standing recommendations, listed below, to ensure the Bill delivers a safe and effective system of support for survivors in the future. It also remains crucial that the Bill sits within a robust response to all forms of violence against women and girls. The UK Government has not currently committed to renew and deliver a fully funded VAWG Strategy, which ended in March 2020, which is a serious concern.
There are also a number of issues between reserved and devolved matters in Wales which need to be fully considered within the Bill to ensure equivalency of services and that there is no conflict with the existing legislation in Wales. We are clear that recommendations in the following areas (see full recommendations in the link below) are key for the success of the Bill and wider non-legislative package of action.
- Equal protection and support for migrant women
- An accurate definition of domestic abuse
- Tackle the housing barriers facing survivors of domestic abuse
- Social security and protection
- A safer family court and child contact system
- The Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO)
- An effective response to perpetrators
- Specialist LGBT+ interventions and services
- Specialist Sexual Violence and Abuse services
- Specialist Deaf and disability interventions and services
- Effective routine enquiry into domestic abuse
- Health and social care services
- Use of protective measures in the criminal justice system
Read the full Joint Recommendations on the Domestic Abuse Bill here: