After three years, two general elections, Brexit, and a pandemic the UK's Domestic Abuse Bill is finally in the last stages of going through parliament. It’s been described as a once in a generation opportunity and hailed as life-changing for abuse victims and their families.
While it’s taken a long time to get to this point charities have highlighted that it couldn’t come at a more essential time, as the UK enters another lockdown and those vulnerable to abuse may feel trapped at home with perpetrators. For the first time, the Domestic Abuse Bill will create a statutory definition of what abuse is that will include economic, emotional, coercive, and physical abuse.
What Is The Domestic Abuse Bill?
First published in 2019 by Theresa May’s government, a draft of the bill laid out “123 commitments, both legislative and non-legislative,” the government writes. These were designed to:
- Raise awareness and understanding of domestic abuse, and the impact it causes on victims and their families
- Improve the effectiveness of the justice system to prioritise victim safety and provide an effective response to perpetrators
- Strengthen the support given to victims of abuse by statutory agencies across all local areas and sectors, in addition to placing a duty on councils to provide shelter for victims.
The bill includes an amendment that rules out “consent for sexual gratification” as a defence, which will ban abusers using the "rough sex defence" when committing serious harm in England and Wales.
Where Does The Bill Currently Stand?
The Domestic Abuse Bill will have its second reading in the House of Lords on Jan. 5. It’s already passed through the House of Commons where it was amended.
This is one of the last stages that the bill will be able to be changed and some charities have argued that it doesn’t go far enough. Refuge has said that it must consider image-based sexual abuse and coercion. The charity runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and said, “threats to share intimate images of survivors can have devastating, long-term consequences. Until sharing intimate images without consent is explicitly outlawed, these threats will continue to be used by abusers as a tool of coercive control.”
Similarly, they said the bill must protect migrant women, regardless of their immigration status, from homelessness when fleeing an abusive situation.
What Happens Next?
After the second reading in the House of Lords, the bill will have to get through the committee and report stage, before having a third reading and considering amendments.
The bill is a massive step in the right direction for providing victims and their families with the support they need and deserve. Domestic abuse organisations have argued that the bill is particularly essential at the moment as a result of restrictions relating to the pandemic.
It’s estimated that two women a week are killed at the hands of their current or ex-partners in England and Wales. However, in the first three weeks of lockdown the charity Counting Dead Women reported that 14 women were killed by men. Women's Aid said that of the people they spoke to who were living with their abuser during lockdown, 61% said the abuse had worsened. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline reported a 66% increase in calls, and Refuge saw a 957% increase in web traffic in just three weeks in May.
While lockdown has been the best option to ensure people are safe from COVID-19, it’s locked many victims inside with their abusers, cut off from support, and their loved ones. The government has provided £30 million in extra funding to support and rehouse victims of abuse.
The pandemic has already delayed the Domestic Abuse Bill, and it’s still to undergo reviews and amendments. An official date for when it will be passed remains unknown.
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