Covid has shone a light on violence against women – the new domestic abuse law will save lives
TODAY marks a truly historic moment for the millions of domestic abuse victims across England and Wales.
After more than three years of tireless work, the Domestic Abuse Bill will finally get Royal Assent and then becomes law.
It has taken a huge amount of hard work by incredibly brave victims, campaigners, charities and politicians to get to this point.
The Act sets out in law for the first time what domestic abuse is.
The definition goes well beyond physical violence and helps us understand the horrendous range of abusive behaviour, including emotional and sexual abuse, coercive control and economic abuse.
Crucially, children are also recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right for the very first time.
The Act creates new protection orders, bans cross-examination by perpetrators in courts, gives Clare’s Law (allowing victims to find out about partners’ previous offending) a statutory base and puts a duty on local authorities to fund refuges.
It also creates my role as the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
I will hold the Government and other bodies to account in how they tackle abuse, driving consistency and addressing the postcode lottery in our response.
Far too often I hear from people who have been let down by our public services, whether it is the police, housing providers or courts.
Often, victims feel they are battling through an impenetrable maze.
I will stand up for all victims and work to ensure everyone gets the support they need, when they need it.
I have worked in the sector for more than 20 years and I don’t think there has ever been a greater need for this law.
The pandemic has shone a fierce light on domestic abuse. Victims have been trapped in lockdown with perpetrators for months, with devastating consequences.
There have been huge increases in calls to helplines.
Calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline were up 61 per cent between April 2020 and February 2021.
On average, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex, and this figure is not going down.
The Counting Dead Women project recorded at least 35 women murdered between March and July 2020.
With this Act, and an upcoming new Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, the Government have the opportunity to change this.
I owe a debt of gratitude to charities, MPs, peers and survivors themselves who have campaigned to improve the Bill. And, of course, The Sun, which has helped keep the pressure on politicians. There is no doubt that the legislation is much stronger because of their tireless work.
We now have a criminal offence of threats to share intimate images and a ban on the “rough sex” defence.
Non-fatal strangulation will be a standalone offence, which will make a huge difference to 20,000 victims who experience this every year. Lives will be saved.
I am also pleased to see the coercive and controlling behaviour offence extended to post-separation abuse.
It is very welcome to see it being used more regularly, including in high-profile cases such as TV presenter Ruth Dodsworth’s husband Jonathan Wignall, who was jailed for three years.
We want to see an ambitious range of work, from prevention and early intervention for those using violence to a consistent approach for those who pose the highest risk of harm.
Over the past 12 months, Respect, which runs a help-line for men and women worried about their abusive behaviour, has seen a 27 per cent increase in calls — 85 per cent were from men.
There is more still to do, and I will work for better support for all victims, including those who are most marginalised and face the greatest barriers to accessing support, especially migrant women.
Over the next year my office will focus on mapping the provision of services across England and Wales to address the postcode lottery.
Legislation won’t change things overnight, but it paves the way for a new beginning.
Now we can start to see real change for everyone affected by domestic abuse.
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