Refuge responds to the second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill

 

In response to the second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill in Parliament today, Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of national domestic abuse charity Refuge said:

“Refuge is delighted that the Bill returned to Parliament today for its second reading, and that the ‘virtual Parliament’ system allowed a lengthy debate where MPs from all parties were able to raise issues of great concern to Refuge and the women we support.

The Bill, which was delayed following the snap election last year, is a product of many years hard work. We thank all those MPs who spoke passionately today, and helped ensure change will be achieved through this Bill

Refuge agrees with all the MPs who welcomed the Bill, but urged that it be strengthened so that it makes a significant positive difference to the lives of survivors of abuse. Of particular importance today were the calls to fund specialist services for survivors of domestic abuse.

Austerity cuts over the last decade have decimated specialist services. The current Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on the need for specialist services and Refuge is hopeful that the Government will move quickly to implement its commitment to a legal duty to fund refuges with enough funding to ensure that no women or child is ever turned away. We also hope that the Bill will provide solutions to the many difficulties women face when trying to access emergency safe housing. No woman should ever be forced to make a choice between facing homelessness or staying with an abusive partner.

Also significant today were the repeated references to the Domestic Abuse Bill needing to include a gendered definition of abuse. While of course anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, we know that the overwhelming majority of victims are women with the overall majority of perpetrators being men. Domestic Abuse is rooted in power and control, and in gender inequality. It is vital that the Domestic Abuse Bill reflects this reality.

Many MPs raised the impact of economic abuse and the need for the benefits system to support women experiencing abuse. We strongly support the calls for Universal Credit to be reformed so that separate payments are made by default.

Protecting women with insecure immigration status must also form a key part of the Domestic Abuse Bill. No woman should feel afraid to seek help because of her immigration status and no woman should be denied support because she has no recourse to public funds. Whilst the additional funding for women with no recourse funds is very welcome, we argue that the suggested pilot is not needed and the Government should act to protect migrant women with immediate effect in this Bill. We know there are many MPs who are working so that this forms part of the Bill and we extend them our thanks.

It was encouraging to hear MPs speak out today about the ‘rough sex’ defence. No woman can ever consent to harm, and this defence has long been used to try and excuse acts of violence because they occurred during sex. It is crucial that the Bill commits to outlawing the ‘rough sex’ defence. We also hope that the Bill will make the threats to share intimate images a crime –  which it currently is not – and can be used as a further tool of control by perpetrators.

For the last three weeks, Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline has seen a consistent increase in demand of 45-50%, demonstrating the sheer scale of domestic abuse and of women needing our help. With public awareness of domestic abuse heightened now more than ever, the time for a bold Government response has never been more necessary.

Across England and Wales two women every week are killed by a current or former partner and almost one in three women between 16-59 will experience domestic abuse at some time in their life. The need for a Bill which is strong and transformative has never been greater. Women’s lives depend on it.”

Spokespeople available on request. Please contact the press office on 0207 395 7731 or email press@refuge.org.uk.