We welcome today’s Queen’s speech that sets out some important commitments to supporting survivors of domestic abuse. In particular, we are pleased that legislation to ban the cross-examination of survivors of domestic abuse in the family courts has been re-introduced, which will make sure no survivor is faced with the harrowing, traumatic and difficult experience of being questioned by their abuser in court. Women have told us that cross examination in family courts can feel like they are being abused all over again, which directly impacts on their ability to present the history and extent of abuse and how it impacts on themselves and their children.
We also welcome the commitment to introduce a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, more robust court orders and a commissioner to champion the rights of victims for England and Wales. We hope this also presents an opportunity to reverse welfare policies, in particular the so-called tax credit ‘rape clause’, which reduces vital social security for women who have more than two children, and introduces an exception where women have to disclose their experience of rape in order to avoid losing money through tax credit restrictions. These policies are discriminatory and an abhorrent means by which economic coercion is introduced to control low-income women’s reproductive rights, to compel women to disclose sexual violence under threat of financial penalties
We are disappointed that the scope of the new law will be restricted to domestic abuse. Wales has led the way in the UK with legislative reform to prevent domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women, and has already introduced an independent National Adviser for Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence, to ensure a joined up approach whereby survivors of all forms of violence against women receive appropriate protection and support. It’s vital that England learns from this good practice, and we would like to see the proposed Bill widened to cover all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence.
Legislation is only as good as its implementation. Survivors’ experiences and recommendations for action, and the specialist sector, must be central to any proposed improvements in law and in practice, and Welsh Women’s Aid will continue to monitor progress and work with Governments in Wales and England to ensure we improve the lives of survivors and prevent all forms of violence against women, now and in the future.