Women’s Aid calls for a domestic abuse bill that goes beyond criminal justice
Adina Claire, Acting Co-Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“We welcome the entry of the domestic abuse bill into parliament. It is a pivotal moment for women and child survivors of domestic abuse and we hope this new legislation will achieve its full potential for saving and transforming lives. We’ll be urging MPs and peers to make this the best bill possible as they amend and vote on the government’s proposals.
At Women’s Aid, we are urging parliament to ensure this new law changes the response to domestic abuse so that it is no longer seen as just a criminal justice issue. It is vital that the bill delivers the reforms that survivors are calling for – from access to long-term housing, to a safe child contact system and support for migrant women. We are pleased that the government has listened to recommendations made by a Joint Committee of cross-party MPs and Peers earlier this year, but the inclusion of new measures in the bill is now vital if this law is going to achieve its potential for changing the lives of survivors and their children.
We continue to call for the gendered nature of domestic abuse to be recognised in law. This call was backed by the Joint Committee who formally reviewed the bill earlier this year. Women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of abuse, including sexual violence. Women are also more likely to have experienced sustained physical or emotional abuse, or violence which results in serious injury or death. Violence against women is rooted in gender inequality. It is essential that this is explicitly recognised in the domestic abuse bill – to solve any complex social problem, we have to start by defining it, and we know that a gender neutral definition does not work for this highly gendered issue.
We urge MPs to take bold action to challenge the status quo in the family courts and ensure that the bill eradicates unsafe child contact arrangements. The ‘contact at all costs’ approach must end now – Any parent who faces criminal proceedings for a domestic abuse related offence must not be granted unsupervised contact.
To truly transform the response to domestic abuse, the bill must provide full and equal protection for migrant survivors. Migrant women (particularly those with no recourse to public funds) face severe barriers to reporting domestic abuse and accessing support services. The Destitute Domestic Violence Concession must be changed to ensure that all migrant women can access life-saving services including refuge accommodation. We support the Joint Committee’s recommendation that a ‘firewall’ should be established between immigration control and public services to ensure that women with insecure immigration status can report abuse without fear of reprisal, and hope the government acts on this with urgency.
It is impossible to start a new life free from abuse without a home to go to. All survivors of domestic abuse should be considered priority need for housing. With the consultation for the proposed statutory duty for refuge provision ongoing, it will be crucial to ensure that a new statutory system delivers secure funding for the specialist, high quality and life-saving refuge services that survivors and their children need.
The Joint Committee worked tirelessly to scrutinise the draft domestic abuse bill, and made more than 70 critical recommendations to strengthen the legislation and ensure that it offers the best possible deal for survivors. Women’s Aid was proud to contribute to this process through oral and written evidence, and is keen to see the government’s full response to the joint committee’s report.
The domestic abuse bill represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a step change in the response to domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls. At this point in the process, we urge the government and MPs to put survivors first and table further amendments to the bill to deliver the changes we so urgently need to see.”