Refuge calls on Government to put victims at the heart of Domestic Abuse Bill

By agency reporter
June 1, 2018

As the Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill consultation closed, domestic violence charity Refuge called on the Government to ensure the Bill reflects both the reality of the problem and adopts the best approaches to tackling the issue.

“In order to make the greatest difference to the lives of survivors of domestic abuse and to stamp out the root causes of this widespread phenomenon, Refuge recommends that the Government considers extending the remit of the proposed Domestic Abuse Commissioner to cover all Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), broadening the scope of the new Bill or introducing future VAWG legislation”, said Sandra Horley, Chief Executive of Refuge.

“For far too many, inequality and violence against women are two sides of the same coin. One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Many more will suffer other violence simply because they are women. The Government should ensure all these victims are at the heart of the proposed Bill.”

There is growing international consensus that domestic abuse needs to be considered within a broader context of VAWG, recognising the root causes as male power and control, gender inequality and discrimination against women.

Spain is amongst the countries to have already introduced gendered domestic abuse legislation. These laws are now being extended to cover other forms of violence against women, after it became apparent that the original legislation was failing women and girls, who are abused in non-domestic contexts.

Social demographics and trends have changed. Today Refuge finds itself responding to many forms of violence against women, which are often overlapping.

“Through its frontline work, Refuge sees a clear link between domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG like modern slavery, human trafficking, forced marriage, sexual violence, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation. Gender-neutral legislation does not cover many of these victims and ignores the fundamental causes of VAWG, which are gender inequality and discrimination against women” said Ms Horley.

“At present, the proposed Bill does not recognise the highly gendered nature of domestic violence – statistics show that far more victims are women than men and abusers are overwhelmingly male.”

Of the more than 6,000 survivors of abuse Refuge supports every day:

  • around 3500 are children
  • around 2500 are women
  • and approximately 100 are men

Home Office figures for the year ending March 2017 showed that:

  • in 30 per cent of male domestic homicides, the perpetrator was a female partner or ex-partner
  • while 76 per cent of female domestic homicides were carried out by a male partner or ex-partner

Crown Prosecution Service data also shows that 93 per cent of defendants in domestic abuse court cases are male and 84 per cent of victims are female.

Violence Against Women and Girls, including domestic abuse, is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women, because they are women.

Other recommendations from Refuge in relation to the proposed Domestic Abuse Bill and the non-legislative accompanying package:

Services and funding: Domestic violence services have been under threat for years – 80 per cent of Refuge’s services have seen funding cuts since 2011.

It is crucial that the Government commits sufficient, long-term funding for specialist services – refuges and outreach.

It is widely expected that more victims of abuse will come forward if the Bill is a success; these survivors will need access to more services.

Such support is covered in the Spanish VAWG legislation.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner: Refuge recommends that the Government create the role of a Violence Against Women and Girls  (VAWG) Commissioner, recognising that many forms of violence against women are interlinked, as outlined above, and that services need to be coordinated.

A VAWG Commissioner would play an important role in holding agencies to account and driving forward improvements in the prevention of and response to all forms of VAWG.

The Commissioner must be fully independent, have sufficient power and resources to have real impact, and have a deep understanding of the causes of VAWG.

Definition of Domestic Abuse: Beyond a gendered definition, the focus must not only centre on the action of the perpetrator, but the impact or psychological harm caused to the victim, especially in cases involving coercive control.

Children: Hundreds of thousands of children are affected by domestic abuse. Statistics suggests one in five children have been exposed to the issue. 

Of the more than 6,000 survivors Refuge supports every day, around 3,500 are children and around 2,500 women. The lack of funding for specialist services for these children is shameful.

Few commissioners fund services for children affected by domestic abuse. Refuge believes that these services – whilst potentially requiring the most highly-skilled support staff to help children overcome the trauma and rebuild their lives – need to cover psychological health, play, physical health, advocacy in schools and more.

Resources for women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF): Refuge has consulted widely with its expert 300 strong frontline staff working in refuges, working as Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs) and working as outreach workers in order to respond to the consultation.

Refuge’s frontline staff highlighted the lack of provision for women with NRPF as one of the most difficult issues they face when trying to help women stay safe and rebuild their lives.

* Refuge


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