Raft of new amendments added to Domestic Abuse Bill to protect victims
New laws will be presented to the Domestic Abuse Bill, including extension to the definition of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence, but still excludes community-based support services.
New amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill will be presented this week, which the Government says will provide greater protections for victims and further clamp down on perpetrators.
The proposals include strengthening legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour – no longer making it a requirement for abusers and victims to live together.
The change follows a government review which highlighted that those who leave abusive ex-partners can often be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation.
Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said the Domestic Abuse Bill is a “game-changing piece of legislation that will help millions of people who are subjected to many different forms of abuse.”
Atkins said Controlling or Coercive Behaviour (CCB) is “an insidious form of domestic abuse that can destroy lives,” adding: “Since we introduced the offence within the Serious Crime Act 2015, controlling and coercive behaviour recorded offences and prosecutions have increased year on year, but we have listened to concerns and understand that perpetrators of CCB can continue to abuse their victims when they no longer live together.”
The Bill will see so-called ‘revenge porn’ laws – introduced by the government in 2015 – widened to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress.
Also added will be a new amendment making non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. This follows concerns that perpetrators were avoiding punishment as the practice can often leave no visible injury, making it harder to prosecute under existing offences such as Actual Bodily Harm (ABH).
However, an amendment meaning public authorities would have a statutory duty to commission support in the community for all victims of domestic abuse was not included in the raft of new amendments.
In its current form, the Bill includes a statutory duty to support victims only if they are in refuges or supported accommodation.
The amendment had the backing of a coalition of charities which support victims of domestic abuse – including Barnardo’s, the Victims’ Commissioner, Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and Children’s Commissioner for England – as well as the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).
The Government says the measures confirmed today have been “developed closely” with peers, advocates and victims who campaigned on these important issues.
The changes form a series of amendments being tabled to the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill which enters Report Stage next week, with the legislation expected to be formally made the law in the Spring.
The Government is also tabling an amendment to provide extra measures in civil courts, similar to those available in family courts, such as allowing the use of protective screens in court or permitting evidence to be given via video links to support vulnerable courts users.
A further amendment will also widen opportunities to prove abuse has occurred to include things such as a letter from a doctor or an employer, which the Government says will make it easier for victims who may prefer not to report abuse to avoid being cross-examined in person.
Additionally, an amendment will clarify the use of barring orders in the family courts to prevent abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court – which campaigners say can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse.
A requirement for public authorities conducting domestic homicide reviews to send a copy of their completed reports to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is also tabled – which the Government hopes will “strengthen the opportunity to learn lessons and prevent future deaths”.
Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, Chair of domestic abuse charity Refuge, said today was “a significant moment for women experiencing domestic abuse who have been threatened with the sharing of their private intimate images.”
“Our research found that 1 in 7 young women have experienced these threats to share, with the overwhelming majority experiencing them from a current or former partner, alongside other forms of abuse.”
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Surviving Economic Abuse, welcomed the Government is criminalising post-separation abuse.
“By doing so, victims will receive the recognition they need and deserve. Post-separation abuse is a devastating form of coercive control and the economic abuse elements of this can continue for decades.
“Legislation is the first essential step on the path to eradicating it and preventing future homicides.”