The Domestic Abuse Bill: The Triumph That Leaves So Many Behind

After four long years, The Domestic Abuse Bill finally became law on Thursday 29th April, after receiving Royal Assent. The changes in the law are groundbreaking and will change the way domestic abuse is tackled in this country.

The Bill has been a triumph; children are now recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, meaning that the impact of growing up in an abusive household is finally being acknowledged. The landmark legislation also makes financial abuse, non-fatal strangulation and ‘rough sex’ defences a criminal offence. The law also appoints Nicole Jacobs as Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who will “drive forward change and hold local agencies and national government to account for their role in responding to domestic abuse”.

In addition, the Government also strengthened legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour, so that it is no longer a requirement for victims and abusers to live together for the abuse to be a crime. This also extends to family members who do not live in the home, a change that should likely help those who are suffering from coercive control from extended family due to ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA). Still, this change does not extend to members of the community who, in cases of HBA, can be complicit in the abuse. It also does not include ‘honour’ crimes as part of the legislation, meaning that perpetrators can only be prosecuted for the specific crimes committed (e.g. coercive control, harassment, stalking, etc) meaning that the voices of those at risk of HBA may go unheard by law enforcement.

There are, sadly, other aspects of the Domestic Abuse Bill that fall short, especially concerning harmful traditional forms of abuse and also the rights of migrant women. The Government is introducing regulations and statutory guidance on Relationships and Sex Education, however, it is still not mandatory for schools to include learning about ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage. The key to ending these practices is educating the younger generation so they know where to get help but also so know they can stand up against them.

There have been long-standing debates that migrant people are not protected under the Domestic Abuse Bill and as it comes to Law, this is still the case. Many migrant people (the majority of whom are women) are afraid to speak out about their abuse because they fear detention and/or deportation.

Right up until receiving Royal Assent, campaigners were hoping for changes in the legislation to support migrants. The Step Up Migrant Women coalition is campaigning for the implementation of safe-reporting mechanisms and an end to the data-sharing policy when victims with insecure immigration status report abuse. Thankfully, on 27th April 2021, the Government announced that they will be introducing two clauses addressing data-sharing into the Domestic Abuse Bill.

This shows some progress to ensure migrant victims’ details are not shared with the Home Office for immigration control. However, the clauses did not make it mandatory for all public authorities to not share data with the Home Office.

Furthermore, protests for the amendment of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ conditions were ignored. The amendments would mean that migrant people would be able to access refuge and help if needed, therefore putting safety before immigration status.

From the perspective of Savera UK, although there is small progress in the protection of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, there is still a long way to go. Savera UK regularly receives referrals from individuals who are tied to Spousal Visas and abusive spouses, forced to flee their home countries due to ‘honour’-based abuse and are struggling to access life-saving provisions because the Government does not acknowledge them.

After a year where women’s rights have again been thrown into the spotlight, the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Government’s reopening of its call for evidence for those who have lived experiences of abuse shows that they are listening to the countless organisations and survivors who have campaigned for change. Yet, there is a lot to be done to ensure ALL women are protected from abuse.

Written by Shauna Lacy