Response to Domestic Abuse Bill gaining Royal Assent

As the Domestic Abuse Bill gains Royal Assent, SafeLives would like to celebrate this milestone and thank everyone – survivors, frontline practitioners, partner organisations and politicians – who have travelled on this four-year journey together.

The hard work starts again from tomorrow to start making the ambition in this Act a reality, ensuring all professionals who might come into contact with a family understand the impact of domestic abuse and provide a safe and effective response.

And of course, there are disappointments about what isn’t in the Bill, not least the lack of recognition of migrant victims’ need for equal access to life-saving services and for victims with protected characteristics to be free from discrimination when accessing services. We keep going to secure all of those changes.

But, today, we also celebrate and we say thank you to everyone who has been on this journey alongside us. In particular, to those incredible survivors who called for change and stuck with this process for such a long time. Together, we can and we will end domestic abuse for everyone and for good.

Suzanne Jacob, CEO SafeLives

As the Domestic Abuse Bill gains Royal Assent, we want to look back on the four-year journey we have all been on and recognise the huge contribution of survivors, frontline practitioners, sector partners and politicians who have made this legislation a significant step forward.

In line with our commitment to centre the experience and authentic voice of survivors, SafeLives launched our Every Story Matters engagement platform to inform our response to the Bill – this received over 500 responses. It helped to shape our consultation response in May 2018 and, while we didn’t achieve all that we hoped for in today’s new Act, we are proud to have played a part in shifting the conversation.

In particular, we celebrate the new recognition in the definition of domestic abuse that children who experience domestic abuse are victims in their own right. The impact of abuse on children was raised time and time again by survivors responding to Every Story Matters:

They are terrified of their father as they have frequently been on the receiving end of his temper. No one is helping them to get free.

One has PTSD and the other two are quite anxious, the middle one believes her father will kill me because he told her he would.

Survivors responding to Every Story Matters

We hope this is the start of a fundamental shift in how agencies such as children’s social care, health and the police view the impact of domestic abuse on children.

Royal Assent will finalise the creation of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s post, and the inaugural postholder, Nicole Jacobs, has already been an incredibly strong voice advocating for support for all adult and child victims, and for a whole-society approach to domestic abuse.

We welcome, too, additions to the legislation on the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence, a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, and extending coercive controlling behaviour as a criminal offence to post-separation abuse as well as to those victims who experience this from a family member who does not live with them. Surviving Economic Abuse led this hugely important change, and we are grateful to Andrew Todd who raised Jane’s case with us. Her experience is in our thoughts today and we hope this change leads to better support for survivors in her situation in the future. These developments are, in part, thanks to the relentless work of a number of organisations and passionate individuals across the sector.

The commitment to include a perpetrator strategy in the upcoming Domestic Abuse Strategy is a positive step forward to ensuring we stop asking ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ and instead ask ‘why doesn’t he stop?’. It’s one which owes a great deal to the more than 125 organisations and experts who signed Drive’s Call to Action, including survivors of domestic abuse, academics, charities, local authorities and police and crime commissioners.

Similarly, we are grateful to the Government for their commitment to consult as part of the Victim’s Bill consultation later in the summer on the creation of a new statutory duty on public bodies to provide community-based services for survivors of domestic abuse. We have to pay tribute to the leadership of Barnardo’s in steering the amendment, and to the cross-sector coalition of children’s and women’s charities who have supported this important campaign including Action for Children, EVAW, NSPCC and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Though of course, all efforts must now be on pushing out the practical implications of the new Act into frontline public sector agencies. While the legislative process of the Bill has come to an end, the on-the-ground potential of the legislation is just starting. As we know with the Coercive Controlling Behaviour legislation in 2015, without generating greater understanding of domestic abuse, the best laid plans can be hard to make a difference when they are rolled out.

This is where investment in cultural change training will be crucial. A great start has been made through Domestic Abuse Matters training for the police, with over half of English and Welsh forces adopting the scheme. But the remaining forces need to be brought up to the same level of understanding. Academic research has shown forces who received the training were associated with a 41% increase in arrests for Coercive Controlling behaviour. As a victim, your likelihood of receiving a good response from the police shouldn’t depend on where you live.

It’s not just the police who will benefit from cultural change, but all agencies who may touch the lives of families affected by domestic abuse. Every agency, from social care, to health, to probation and the different court systems, needs to embrace the opportunity to build expertise and understanding in this area and to listen to what survivors are telling them.

There were calls for amendments to the Bill which were not included in the final legislation, and we hope that the Government continues to engage with campaigners on the crucial issues of migrant victims’ access to life-saving services, as well as ensuring specialist services are accessible to all survivors through a non-discrimination clause. We will continue to work with other organisations across the sector to make the case for the clear need to monitor perpetrators and to provide quality-assured interventions which stop or reduce their offending. Stay Safe East raised important concerns relating to disabled survivors including the need for carers to be considered part of being ‘personally connected’ as well as a repeal of the so-called ‘carers’ defence’ in the Serious Crime Act 2015. We look forward to adding our voice to the review the Government has committed to on these issues.

The Domestic Abuse Act now needs to be accompanied by a long-term sustainable funding settlement for frontline domestic abuse services in the community which covers the whole family – adult, teen and child victims as well as perpetrators of abuse. We are pleased that the Ministry of Justice has recently announced the provision of the first ever multi-year funding for Idvas and Isvas. But without dedicated funding for all victims who require support from specialist community-based services, including those with protected characteristics, many survivors will continue to be left without dedicated support to help them to get safe and recover. We will be working to ensure this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review includes a settlement, not least to recognise the serious increase in demand on frontline services as a result of the pandemic.

But, today, we celebrate and we say thank you to everyone who has been on this journey alongside us. There are many survivors who can look at this legislation and think ‘Look what I did!’  

Together, we truly can and will end domestic abuse for everyone and for good. 

Domestic Abuse Act

Find out more about the four-year journey to ensure this milestone legislation was a true leap forward for domestic abuse survivors and frontline services.

Coercive control

Coercive and controlling behaviour can have a serious, and long-lasting, impact. Find out more about how it manifests and what you can do to help.
Police car

Domestic Abuse Matters

Our Domestic Abuse (DA) Matters is a bespoke cultural change programme for police officers and staff in England and Wales, designed to transform the response to domestic abuse.