We've all heard the tragic statistics about the rise of domestic abuse in lockdown, so it's welcomed news that a landmark piece of legislation recently passed through Parliament. The Domestic Abuse Act will broaden the legal definition of domestic abuse and providing greater support for victims and survivors in court.
Home Secretary Priti Patel described the Domestic Abuse Act as “long overdue” and said it will “transform the support we offer across society.”
But the Act has its critics. Ruth Davison, Refuge chief executive said that while the charity is “delighted” that the Act was passed into law, it has its flaws.
“Refuge is concerned that the Act fails to ensure protection and support is available for all migrant women and address the aspects of the Universal Credit system that facilitates and exacerbates economic abuse, namely the single household payment and five-week delay,” she said.
“This is a missed opportunity to ensure all woman experiencing abuse are protected and we hope the government will move swiftly to rectify this,” she added.
Domestic Abuse Bill: Changes to the definition of abuse
For the first time in history there will be a wide-ranging legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporates a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional abuse, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.
The Bill recognises and legislates against new forms of abuse including revenge porn and sharing of indecent images, reflecting the threats that victims face in modern society.
It closes some of the loopholes that have previously allowed offenders to go unpunished, introducing new laws on the so called ‘rough sex defence’ and violent strangulation.
The Bill also recognises that domestic abuse takes place in relationships, not specific places, and that victims are often most at risk when they leave their abuser’s home. The Bill has changed the law so that victims are still protected, even when they are no longer living with their abuser.
Domestic Abuse Bill: Changes around support for survivors
The Bill’s measures include important new protections and support for victims, ensuring that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts, and giving victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation – such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link.
It also requires all councils to provide the services and safety that victims need, wherever they are in the county. The appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner is intended to help improve and standardise responses to Domestic Abuse across all services and in every part of the country.
The new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Orders provide immediate safety for victims after incidents and new laws being bought in mean new and longer sentences for abusers. The Bill also supports ‘Clare’s Law’ so people can find out if their partner has a violent past.
Domestic Abuse Bill: Does it go far enough?
Refuge has said that while the Act is a positive piece of legislation which will protect millions of women, it is concerned by two major omissions. These are:
The government’s failure to adopt the amendment which would provide protection to migrant survivors means that the Bill will not protect all women. Insecure immigration status should never be a barrier to accessing support, and Refuge is concerned about the message this send to women who have 'no recourse to public funds' or insecure immigration status.
Currently paid by default into one account, Universal Credit risks giving perpetrators total control over the entire household income overnight, thereby facilitating economic abuse. Refuge is also disappointed that the government did not use the Domestic Abuse Bill as an opportunity to make vital reforms to the way it pays Universal Credit.
Refuge says it's urging the government to abolish the no recourse to public funds condition and ensure that all migrant survivors can apply for indefinite leave to remain independently of their perpetrator. It’s also calling on the Government to pay Universal Credit separately by default when it is claimed jointly with a partner. The charity also suggests that Universal Credit advances must be paid as grants rather than loans to survivors of domestic abuse.
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