The Domestic Abuse Bill, in its draft form at the time of writing, has seen many ups and downs since first introduced. In this article the author, poet and winner of the 2019 #Merky Book Prize, Monika Radojevic, considers where the Bill succeeds and where it falls short
What is the Domestic Abuse Bill?
The Domestic Abuse Bill is extremely important for several reasons. It provides the first official government understanding of what domestic abuse can look like – including financial abuse and controlling or manipulative behaviour. This makes it a landmark Bill, and an essential step towards ending domestic violence and sexual assault.
The Bill has had a difficult start since it was first introduced, which is largely because Brexit took up so much of government’s resources, time and attention. It was abandoned at one point by Theresa May in 2017, and campaigners worried that Boris Johnson’s government would follow a similar route, after he also abandoned the Bill by calling the 2019 election.
The need for this Bill cannot be understated: violent crimes from abusive partners have been steadily increasing as support systems and funding to help vulnerable men and women have been underfunded by the government. Domestic abuse affects millions of women; the Office of National Statistics found in 2019 that 1 out of 3 women aged 16-59 will experience it in their life time, and two women a week were killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.
Many survivors who are running from an abusive partner currently have nowhere to go, and are turned away by overcrowded shelters. Although the Domestic Abuse Bill has yet to be passed as law, the Leader of the House of Parliament, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has assured MPs that it will be debated before Easter – which is only a month away.
So as the current draft of the Bill stands, what are the key points to take away?
- The Domestic Abuse Bill specifically includes a definition of economic abuse, which is important because there are often assumptions that abuse is always physical or violent. But controlling finances or cutting partners off from accessing funds is a serious form of domestic abuse, and should be recognised.
- There is recognition that there must be more funding for domestic abuse services, including shelters, which are currently struggling in an uncertain climate of poor resources, underfunding and huge demand.
- The Bill will allow police and criminal courts to step in faster when they believe someone has been a victim of abuse. This is crucial because victims often suffer multiple instances of abuse, which can increase or be fatal if the perpetrator knows that they have reported. Women are also often in the greatest danger immediately after they have left a partner, and so early intervention is crucial to provide immediate protection.
- The right of an abuser to cross-examine a victim in Family Court will be outlawed. This is a huge victory, because in the Family Court, survivors have reportedly been shamed, questioned about their sexual history, and re-traumatised by ex-partners during custody battles. Even when allegations of violence were made by survivors, there were no special protections like separate waiting rooms, different entry/exit times or the option for video testimony. This is a great attempt to address the current failings of Family Court.
There is no mention of the additional abuse and intimate partner violence that LGBTQI+ individuals suffer. Carers, disabled women, and Black and Minority Ethnic women – who all likely to experience higher rates of abuse and violence – aren’t specifically mentioned. Without clear recognition of vulnerable groups, there cannot be targeted and specialised measures put in place to protect them.
- Migrant women are ignored in this Bill. An individual’s right to safety and protection shouldn’t be dependent on their immigration status. There have been alarming instances of women who have insecure legal status being arrested by the Home Office after reporting instances of violence and abusive relationships. If migrant women are afraid of being deported if they go to the police, then the chances of them staying with an abuser are extremely high – something which abusers can easily take advantage of. In 2010, a survey by Imkaan found that 92% of migrant women were threatened with deportation from their abuser – creating a cycle of fear and violence that is extremely hard to escape. Despite lobbying from the Migrants Rights Network, the Bill does not recognise the rights of migrant women fleeing from abuse.
- Definitions – there is no recognition that although domestic abuse affects both men and women, women are much more severely affected than men, and in far greater numbers. Domestic abuse is a gendered crime – meaning that it is largely fuelled by the unequal power relations between men and women in our society. Women are impacted by abuse in different ways, and are far more likely to be killed by a partner. By making this crystal clear in law, there will be a better understanding when it comes to court cases, ensuring that prosecutions will be more successful.
What happens after it has passed?
Law is extremely important to protect survivors of domestic abuse, especially for making sure that there are resources, shelters, and support that everyone can access. However, the law alone is not enough to guarantee these measures are put in place: the government needs to ensure that there is enough funding for local councils and authorities to help survivors as quickly as possible. Without additional funds, the Bill will just be something the government can use to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
Most importantly, a law cannot address circumstances and attitudes that lead to such high rates of abuse. Although domestic abuse can happen to anyone from any part of society, some men and women are more marginalised than others, due to race, class, immigration status, language speaking ability, health, gender, sexuality and more. To really and truly eliminate abuse, we need a society that finds it completely unacceptable and asks itself #WhatICanDo to end domestic abuse. This can be done through public awareness, education from an early age, and targeted support for areas struggling with several social issues. By taking such steps, our government can make sure that no one falls through the cracks of the nightmare that is domestic abuse.
Find out more about UK SAYS NO MORE’s contribution towards the Domestic Abuse Bill: