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Bill to widen definition of domestic abuse passes through Commons

10 July 2020

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CAMPAIGNERS have said that the Domestic Abuse Bill, which passed its third reading in the House of Commons on Monday evening, will provide better protection for the vulnerable.

The Bill, which will now for its second reading in the Lords, expands the definition of domestic abuse. It says that domestic abuse includes emotional, coercive, or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse, as well as physical violence (News, 25 January 2019).

It places a duty on county councils to provide support and safe accommodation for survivors of abuse, and prevents perpetrators’ personally cross-examining their victims in court. Victims can also give evidence via video link where necessary. Children who see, hear, or experience domestic abuse can also be treated as victims under the law.

Campaigners have said, however, that the Bill does not provide safe reporting mechanisms, which means that migrant women who go to the police can still be questioned about their immigration status and possibly detained. Those with insecure immigration status are unable to access housing or financial support while experiencing abuse. The Bill has also been criticised for not providing protection for victims of domestic violence who committed crimes while in an abusive relationship.

The Christian charity Restored, which works to end violence against women, said that the Domestic Abuse Bill was a positive step, but that the Government needed to recognise the part played by faith communities in helping to combat domestic violence.

Restored commissioned research in 2018 which suggested that 42 per cent of churchgoers had experienced domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Only two out of seven of those surveyed, however, believed that the church that they attended was equipped to deal with a disclosure of domestic abuse.

The director of Restored, Bekah Legg, said on Tuesday: “Restored has campaigned hard over the last ten years, advocating for women who experience abuse and this Bill is a welcome move in the right direction.

“We continue to ask for provisions to include faith communities in the national response, recognising that faith leaders can have significant influence over their congregations and that faith itself can be weaponised by abusers. We want to see the Church on the front line of the challenge to end violence against women and girls and to provide safe havens for those who are abused.”

In May, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mulally, urged churchgoers to be alert to signs of domestic abuse during lockdown (News, 8 May).

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