Changing Lives are thrilled that the Domestic Abuse Bill received Royal Assent yesterday. This means that, after so much hard work by survivors, campaigners, the domestic abuse sector and politicians, the Bill will become the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 – which means it will be the new law.
This change in law will go a long way towards protecting those who have experienced domestic abuse and their families. It’s something to celebrate! We also know, however, that it could go further…
Changing Lives works with so many people who are subject to domestic violence and abuse on a daily basis. This form of abuse happens across our services – from our specific accommodation and outreach provision for victims/survivors of domestic abuse, to sexual exploitation and survival sex and sex work services and also in our homelessness and recovery services.
In our services, we’re particularly happy about measures that ensure more victims/survivors and their families receive accommodation support. Many women we support face additional barriers to accessing domestic abuse refuge support. We hope that the commitments in the Bill will result in funding to facilitate the expansion of support such as our Sanctum service. Sanctum provides vital dispersed housing and therapeutic support to people who have experienced domestic abuse but can’t access mainstream refuge provision. We will continue to push for more funding for this model and the Bill will help us on the way. We will also continue to advocate for people who have experienced sexual exploitation to be given automatic priority need for housing in future legislation.
There are other measures introduced in the Bill that we think will protect people who access our services and give them a sense that society recognises, and is responsive to, their experiences. This is crucial to victims/survivors’ confidence to seek support.
- Recognition that coercion and control happens even after victims/survivors have left their abusive relationship. Abuse doesn’t stop once someone leaves the home – in fact, risk can increase after someone leaves.
- Economic abuse is included in the statutory definition of domestic abuse. This means that, if an abusive partner controls money or things money can buy (which can be items needed for survival such as food, housing or substances that victim/survivors are dependent on) – this is recognised as abuse. The Bill could have gone even further here, allowing Universal Credit to be paid into individual bank accounts, rather than one person per household. This addition would give victim/survivors more economic freedom and potentially, confidence to leave the home without facing poverty. We hope that change will come in this area.
- Non-fatal strangulation is a specific crime, which can send a perpetrator to prison for up to 5 years. Strangulation is a common form of abuse in violent relationships. Before this Bill, strangulation may have been possible to prove under common assault or actual bodily harm – but this was difficult and most strangulations went unseen. Furthermore, those types of assault didn’t recognise the particular abusive characteristic of strangulation in intimate relationships, which can cause significant fear, distress, and physical damage.
- Children who witness domestic violence and abuse are recognised as victims/survivors. Witnessing abuse can cause trauma that can impact on a child’s development and life chances. We see this time and time again in our services, which often support adults who have experienced complex trauma from childhood. Children are now seen as victims/survivors in their own right – not just witnesses – and have their trauma validated in law.
While these areas of the Bill have the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of the people we support, we are disappointed that the Bill does not offer adequate support to migrants who experience domestic abuse. This is particularly difficult for those with no recourse to public funds – who may be here on a spousal visa, for example. People with no recourse to public funds may remain trapped in abusive and violent relationships as there’s no statutory funding to support their access to safety. We hope that the Government will reconsider this approach so that immigration status is not a barrier to protection.
Changing Lives believe that everyone deserves safety and a life free of abuse, and we are so pleased that these rights are now enshrined in law. We look forward to working with the Government, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, and colleagues in the domestic abuse sector, to put these changes into practice. Most of all, we look forward to working with the people we support to make the most of the new Domestic Abuse Act, so they can regain control over their lives and safety.