Bill fails to deliver all the changes survivors need
Monday 6th July: Today, as the domestic abuse bill reaches report stage and the third reading in the House of Commons, national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid welcomes the recent changes made to the legislation.
- The recognition that children are victims in the statutory definition of domestic abuse
- Access to special measures, such as separate waiting rooms and screens, to protect survivors in family and civil courts as well as the criminal court
- Ban on consent to ‘rough sex’ being used as a defence in murder cases.
However, Women’s Aid remains disappointed by the lack of government commitment to guarantee equal protection and support for migrant women and deliver all of the changes survivors need.
The legislation currently lacks support for migrant women – who face insurmountable barriers to escaping domestic abuse and are routinely denied their rights to safety and support.
Only 5.8% of refuge vacancies in England are accessible to a woman with no recourse to public funds due to her immigration status, and whilst the bill’s statutory duty to fund accommodation-based services is welcome and potentially lifesaving, it must be backed by sustainable funding. The duty must also be delivered with national oversight to ensure that councils fund quality, specialist women’s refuges offering support to all women and children who need them, including specialist refuges run ‘by and for’ black and minoritised women.
Nicki Norman, Women’s Aid acting Chief Executive, says:
“The domestic abuse bill has the potential to deliver real changes and includes welcome measures, including the statutory duty to fund accommodation-based services and a ban on cross-examination in the family courts. However the legislation must go far further to meet survivors’ needs, and must be backed with sustainable funding to secure our national network of refuges for the future.
Ensuring full and equal protection and support for migrant survivors is also an urgent priority for the bill. The options facing women with no recourse to public funds, who are unable to access a refuge, are shocking. We’ve seen that Covid-19 is having the greatest impact on the most marginalised in society. It is unacceptable that the government continues to state that they are ‘reviewing’ the response to migrant women, when there is clear evidence about the scale of the problem and the urgency of improving protection and support in accordance with the Istanbul Convention and during the current crisis.”
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, says:
“We are urging members of parliament to use the report stage of the bill to vote in favour of amendments for migrant women; amendments which will make a meaningful difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is drawing much needed attention to the glaring structural inequalities and injustices in our society, this domestic abuse bill provides MPs with the chance to reject the continuation of a ‘hostile environment’ for victims of domestic abuse and to provide all women with access to safety and justice, irrespective of their background or immigration status. We cannot afford to create a discriminatory system of support based on assumptions about who is ‘deserving’ of protection and who is not. No woman chooses to be abused. They all deserve protection.”
Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, Coordinator, Step Up Migrant Women Campaign, says:
“Migrant women face multiple barriers when fleeing domestic abuse. They are often unable to get vital support they need due to their immigration status. Four in five are turned away from refuge accommodation, and many are too scared to go to the police for fear they will be reported to the Home Office for immigration enforcement. Despite the powerful evidence presented to the bill committee by survivors and frontline organisations, the bill continues to fail migrant women. During the report stage, MPs have a real chance to make the domestic abuse bill a landmark piece of legislation by ensuring all survivors can access safety and support equally when experiencing abuse. From the SUMW coalition we will continue to raise this matter in every step of the bill until it promotes equality, security, liberty and dignity for all survivors of abuse.”
If you are worried that your partner, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling and abusive, please visit www.womensaid.org.uk for support and information, including Live Chat, the Survivors’ Forum, The Survivor’s Handbook and the Domestic Abuse Directory.
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Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Over the past 45 years, Women’s Aid has been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic abuse through practice, research and policy. We empower survivors by keeping their voices at the heart of our work, working with and for women and children by listening to them and responding to their needs.
We are a federation of nearly 180 organisations which provide just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country. We provide expert training, qualifications and consultancy to a range of agencies and professionals working with survivors or commissioning domestic abuse services, and award a National Quality Mark for services which meet our quality standards. We hold the largest national data set on domestic abuse, and use research and evidence to inform all of our work. Our campaigns achieve change in policy, practice and awareness, encouraging healthy relationships and helping to build a future where domestic abuse is no longer tolerated.
Our support services, which include our Live Chat Helpline, the Survivors’ Forum, the No Woman Turned Away Project, the Survivor’s Handbook, Love Respect (our dedicated website for young people in their first relationships), the national Women’s Aid Directory and our advocacy projects, help thousands of women and children every year.