Domestic abuse victims in England and Wales will now be better protected following new landmark legislation published today, putting a stop to the “abhorrent practice” of being interrogated by their abusers.
The draft Domestic Abuse Bill published today (21 Jan) is aimed at supporting victims and their families, as well as pursuing offenders.
Defining domestic abuse
The new legislation will introduce the first ever legal definition of domestic abuse, to specifically include economic abuse, and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.
Under the new definition, it will make it clearer for everyone to understand exactly what constitutes abuse, and it aims to help encourage more victims to come forward.
The bill will also prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in family courts, as well as:
- Establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues
- Introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders
- Provide automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts
According to a report by the Home Office, domestic abuse cost England and Wales £66 billion in 2016 to 2017.
The research revealed that £47 billion of this costs was a result of the physical and emotional harm of domestic abuse.
It also included other factors, such as a cost of £2.3 billion to health services, £1.3 billion to police, and £274 million to victim services.
Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said of the new legislation, “I have heard absolutely heartbreaking accounts of victims whose lives have been ripped apart because of physical, emotional or economic abuse they have suffered by someone close to them.
“The draft Domestic Abuse Bill recognises the complex nature of these horrific crimes and puts the needs of victims and their families at the forefront.
“This government is absolutely committed to shining a light on domestic abuse to ensure this hidden crime does not remain in the shadows.”
Much needed improvements
It is estimated around two million adults experience domestic abuse each year, with women being twice as likely to be a victim of the crime than men.
Two million people aged between 16 and 59 told the Crime Survey for England and Wales they had been a victim of domestic abuse.
Of these, 1.3 million were female and 695,000 were male.
It is hoped the long-awaited legislation will help improve both the response to the crime and support for victims.
Commenting on the bill, Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, praised the government for introducing a ban on abusers cross-examining victims, but insist there is still a long way to go to put an end to domestic abuse.
She said, “That domestic abuse costs society £66 billion a year and the lives of on average two women a week in England and Wales should be a wake-up call for us all.
“We are delighted that the government has listened to our Child First campaign and acted by introducing a ban on abusers cross-examining victims in the family courts.
“Although this new law is much welcomed, it alone will not protect survivors in the family courts and challenge the “contact at all costs” approach by judges which is putting children in danger.
“We look forward to working with the government to introduce greater protections in the family courts for survivors, like special measures to safeguard them in the courtroom, and ensure that children’s safety is put at the heart of all decisions made by the family courts.
“It is clear that domestic abuse is much wider than a criminal justice issue – it affects us all.
“Together we can make ending domestic abuse everybody’s business by bringing about change in both attitudes and practice across housing, health, family courts, education, immigration, welfare and specialist domestic abuse services to name a just few.”