On the 3rd of March 2020, the UK Government reintroduced the Domestic Abuse Bill.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of violence alongside it, has only exacerbated the flaws and failings in systems and highlighted the demographics of the population (such as those with insecure immigration status and the LGBTQI+ community) who are not receiving the support they require.
When the Domestic Abuse Bill was introduced in 2019, it sought to create the first cross-government statutory definition of domestic abuse. The aim of this was to ensure that domestic abuse is properly understood and that all aspects of abuse are seen as unacceptable behaviour.
The Bill also touched upon the gendered nature of domestic abuse and the different types of abuse, such as coercive control. The existing Bill is a great stepping-stone, but aspects of the Bill require further development. Welsh Women’s Aid and other specialist organisations working with survivors of VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls), have proposed key amendments that they want to be implemented and enshrined in the Domestic Abuse Bill in order for it to protect all survivors, as effectively as possible.
On the 4th of June 2020, the Public Bill Committee had their first sitting of 2020 where they scrutinised the suggested amendments to the Bill. Sara Kirkpatrick, CEO of Welsh Women’s Aid, gave evidence and exemplified the importance that the legislation must fit the needs of the survivors, and not the other way around. As it stands, Welsh Women’s Aid believes that the Bill does not fully protect or support all survivors of domestic abuse.
One of the points of focus within these recommendations is the failure to safeguard and support migrant women. There has been discussion and campaigning regarding the fact that migrant women, who have no recourse to public funds, are not able to access vital, potentially life-saving support and safety measures. Many migrant women are often scared to approach the police, in fear that their immigration status will be shared with the home office. Domestic abuse is always dehumanising and barbaric, but these women face an additional barrier about whether they will be able to stay in the UK- this fear can be overwhelming for many women and is unacceptable.
Abolishing the no recourse to public funds policy is an amendment that is strongly supported by experts, specialist services and survivors, alongside the separation between immigration enforcement and domestic abuse response. The two changes are essential in order for migrant women to get the support and safety they require.
Unfortunately, the Bill passed through the final stage in the House of Commons on Tuesday July 7th 2020 and any proposals to make domestic abuse services exempt from immigration law limitations were actively voted against. Welsh Women’s Aid continues to advocate for the rights and protection of migrant women who are survivors.
Welsh Women’s Aid warmly welcomes the new amendment prohibiting the ‘so-called rough sex’ defense. This has been previously used successfully as a defense to murder, or when serious harm has been inflicted. The perpetrator will claim that the victim consented to a sexual act which then caused significant harm or death. Campaign group, We Can’t Consent to This, have campaigned tirelessly for the ‘rough sex’ defense to be banned. They gathered 60+ examples of women whose deaths were referred to as ‘sex games gone wrong’.
The devastating use of the defense often meant that deceased victims-who were not able to defend themselves-have been portrayed incredibly insensitively in the courtroom and in the media, having had their sexual preferences and history broadcast. On June 17th 2020, Justice Minister Alex Chalk said it was “unconscionable” that the defense could be used in court to justify or excuse the death of a woman. The Domestic Abuse Bill will be amended to reflect that this defense is not acceptable and will become law for England and Wales later this year.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is a Westminster piece of legislation; devolution means that some aspects of the Bill will apply in England only. Welsh Women’s Aid believe it is essential that the Domestic Abuse Bill and the VAWDASV (Wales) 2015 Act are complementary and not contradictory. Regardless of where they are based, Welsh Women’s Aid hopes that there will be continued collaboration between specialist services, Local Authorities, Police and Health to ensure that survivors across England and Wales are supported effectively-it is important that someone’s geographical location does not hinder their ability to receive support.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is now to be read in the House of Lords (date to be confirmed).
Written by Allie Iftikhar
Welsh Women’s Aid Volunteer