The Domestic Abuse Bill is set to be given the royal assent, making it law.
The new Act won’t change things overnight for people experiencing domestic abuse, but it does mark a start for change in how as a society we understand domestic abuse and respond to the issue.
The legal definition of domestic abuse is now extended beyond physical violence to include emotional, sexual and economic abuse, as well as coercive control.
For the first time children will be recognised as victims in their own right. For the 1 in 7 children in the UK who experience domestic abuse, we hope this recognition will mean more specialist support and changes in the way agencies view the impact it has on children and young people.
Local authorities will have a duty to provide support to victims and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation. Homeless victims of domestic abuse will have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance.
With this Act, it will also become a criminal offence to threaten to share intimate images – also known as revenge porn – and “rough sex” will be no longer be used as a defence in murder or manslaughter cases. Also included is non-fatal strangulation, which happens to over 20,000 victims every year. Before this it was not a specific offense and abusers often got away with the lesser common assault for this violent and life-threatening act.
Coercive control and controlling behaviours that continue after the relationship has ended will also now become a specific criminal offense. Emily* who experienced coercive control after leaving her partner welcomes this change: “The abuse tends to heighten when you leave and in my case he used the children to further the abuse – either through social services, the police or the courts.”
Changes relating to matters in the criminal, civil and family courts will support victims during court proceedings and importantly prohibit perpetrators from cross examining their victims.
While we welcome the royal assent of this Domestic Abuse Act and specific funding for refuge and safe accommodation, we now need more long-term sustainable funding nationally for all types of support to go alongside. Without dedicated funding for all survivors, many will be left without the vital support they need to address, overcome and end their experience of domestic abuse.
There’s also vital parts missing from the Act, including changes to Universal Credit to reduce the scope of economic and financial abuse, and a lack of guaranteed support for migrant survivors. The recent U-turn on plans to place serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators on the existing violent and sexual offenders register means perpetrators won’t be monitored in the same way as serious sex offenders are. This means less protection for victims and their children from perpetrators who have a history of abuse and violence.
It is, however, a step in right direction and will go some way to support the 1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men and 1 in 7 children who experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.