Women’s Aid responds as domestic abuse bill returns to the House of Commons
The domestic abuse bill must protect all women
– women and children cannot afford to settle for less
Farah Nazeer chief executive at Women’s Aid said
“Today the domestic abuse bill returns to the House of Commons. This is the bill’s final stage before becoming law therefore it is crucial that MPs and the government vote to accept all the changes made in the House of Lords.
An estimated 1.6 million women aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the year ending March 2020. It is therefore crucial that this new law delivers a real transformation in the response to domestic abuse. If we do not get the bill right, women will be shut out of support.
“It is vital that the House of Commons vote for amendments that will guarantee equal protection and support for migrant women. Perpetrators use insecure immigration status as a tool of coercive control to threaten their partners with deportation. Without the amendments, the government is consigning migrant women to an intolerable position. All survivors must have the right to seek help, and live a life free from abuse – regardless of their immigration status.
“Whilst the bill importantly ratifies the Istanbul Convention – the international framework designed to tackle violence against women and girls – it needs these urgent changes to be meaningful for all women. The Step Up Migrant Women Campaign, led by Latin American Women’s Rights Service, and organisations including Southall Black Sisters and End Violence Against Women have crucially campaigned for the amendments to protect all women.
“Key amendments made in the House of Lords, such as accreditation for child contact centres and mandatory training for all family judges on domestic abuse and sexual violence, must remain in the bill to improve the family court response to survivors and their children. Survivors tell us how the perpetrator continues to abuse them through the family court system, and that judges continue to make unsafe orders for child contact. We must avoid avoidable harm, and put children first in the family courts.
“We welcome the statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in ‘accommodation based’ services. However, ahead of full implementation, key reforms will be needed to ensure the duty truly tackles the funding crisis which faces specialist women’s services. When a survivor leaves her home to escape abuse, she and her children need more than a roof over their head. They need safe and specialist support provided by lifesaving domestic abuse services such as Women’s Aid’s member services. But neither the bill nor its statutory guidance define these specialist refuge services.
The bill does not even mention the word “refuge” – that is, a place where women and children can access the expert support they need.
“Survivors tell us clearly what they need: safe and appropriate housing, changes to the welfare system and family courts, and protection and support for children.
“Whilst this law has been deemed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect all survivors, it will not be the end of our fight to ensure the government delivers the societal changes that all survivors need to live free from fear, and free from abuse.”