The bill marks a step forward for women - but there's more that ministers must do.
Jenny Jones is a Green party peer in the House of Lords.
There are lots of positives about the Domestic Abuse Bill, which returns to the Lords next month. But the one that shines out to me is the sheer range of amendments (ca 200) and the huge backlog of issues impacting primarily on women, that many of these seek to address.
While it’s clear that domestic abuse impacts on everyone and men can also be on the receiving end, amendments to make misogyny a hate crime, or the creation of a specific crime of non-lethal strangulation, are attempts to deal with long standing problems that women have suffered.
These are friendly changes, by which the Lords is trying to make good legislation even better. The sheer scale of domestic abuse is staggering. One estimate is that 2.4m adults aged 16-74 years will have experienced domestic abuse in the last year, yet it rarely features in public debates about the ‘latest crimewave’.
It’s one of those hidden crimes – about the fear that people face in their own homes from people they are in a relationship with, that doesn’t often feature in TV debates at election times. It has been a neglected crime, too often dismissed as ‘only a domestic’ by the police sent to investigate.
Closing the loopholes
More than half the victims of recurrent domestic abuse experience strangulation and these are mostly women. This is covered by existing common assault laws, but as it often leaves no marks on the body, the police may not pursue it.
Many of us in the Lords want a specific crime created to help the police to protect an estimated 20,000 women per year – or 55 women every day – who have been assessed as high risk and suffer physical abuse, and who have experienced strangulation or attempted strangulation.
The most direct attempt to specifically protect women is to make misogyny a hate crime, something that myself and the Green Party have supported for years, but others like Stella Creasy have done a huge amount of work on.
It’s clear that things are shifting rapidly towards nationwide action on this. Eleven out of 43 police constabularies in England and Wales have already made misogyny a hate crime, have trialled the policy, or are actively considering implementing it. Nottinghamshire Police are seen as the trailblazers and have seen an increase of 25% of reporting of misogynistic crimes and a very high level of satisfaction from those reporting these crimes. Putting this into legislation would be an amazing step forward.
When people think about domestic abuse, they often think about physical abuse, and perhaps about emotional and mental abuse, but tackling economic abuse is just as important if we are to stamp out domestic abuse. One amendment seeks to tackle the problem of abusers continuing economic abuse by withholding, or reducing, child maintenance payments.
In a society rife with unequal pay, it is important that the child maintenance system is not misused as a tool of abuse. Domestic abusers must not be allowed to continue their domestic abuse by withholding or reducing their financial support for children.
I hope that the government works with the Lords to strengthen its proposed laws on domestic abuse, especially regarding how the legislation can be used to deal with a whole set of problems that mostly impact on women.
There is a lot of positive work going on to redress the decades of neglect, and I hope the Domestic Abuse bill will be a big step forward for all men and women who suffer domestic abuse. Given the additional pressures of lockdown, this change is more urgent than ever.
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