In England and Wales, 32% of all violence reported to police in 2016/2017 was related to domestic abuse. In the year ending March 2018, 1.3 million women reported domestic abuse.
Sisters For Change (SFC) welcomes the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint Committee) and urges the Government to adopt the recommendations it has made to strengthen the Bill, many of which SFC has long advocated, including:
Gendered nature of abuse – the Joint Committee presses the UK Government to recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse and states that without this recognition “the Bill cannot begin to fulfil the Government’s ambitions for it and achieve the transformative response required to combat the scourge of domestic abuse.” The Committee recommends a duty on all public authorities providing services to domestic abuse victims to have regard to the gendered and intersectional nature of domestic abuse and the need to protect the rights of all victims without discrimination on any ground, including race, colour, language, religion, migrant or refugee status.
BME women’s experience of domestic abuse – The Joint Committee acknowledges that certain forms of abusive behaviour are not recognised by public authorities as domestic abuse, usually because they are disproportionately experienced by BME women or relate to a victim’s immigration status. The Committee recommends that crimes including forced marriage, honour-based crimes, coercive control relating to immigration status, modern slavery and exploitation and female genital mutilation (FGM) should be specifically included in the Bill’s definition of domestic abuse.
Specialist support services – the Joint Committee welcomes the Government’s plan to introduce a statutory duty for local authorities to provide accommodation support services to victims of domestic abuse but the Committee calls on the Government to clarify how these services will be provided and funded and what arrangements will be made for the provision of specialist services, including specialist ‘By and For’ BME women’s services.
Protection of migrant victims – the Joint Committee was critical that the draft Bill was “a missed opportunity to address the needs of migrant women” and noted that excluding migrant women from protection and support services breaches the requirements of the Istanbul Convention. The report includes a chapter dedicated to migrant women victims of abuse. The Committee expresses particular concern that victims turning to the police for assistance are more often reported to the Home Office for immigration control than provided with adequate support and protection. The Committee endorsed the recommendation of the Step Up Migrant Women (SUMW) campaign (of which SFC is a member) to establish a firewall to separate immigration control from access to protection and support services.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner – the Joint Committee made a number of recommendations regarding the scope of the role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner:
- The role of the Commissioner should be full-time and sufficiently resourced.
- Government departments should have a duty to comply with recommendations of the Commissioner.
- To ensure independence, the Commissioner should be responsible to the Cabinet Office with clear, direct accountability to Parliament
Failure to protect victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland – the Joint Committee said that it was “unacceptable” that victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland will not receive the same protections as those elsewhere in the UK and recommends that, in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, the Bill’s territorial scope should be extended to include Northern Ireland.