DOMESTIC-ABUSE law needs to protect survivors who are “driven to offend”, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has said.
At the second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday, Bishop Treweek said that it was a “landmark piece of legislation”, but that there were unresolved issues regarding vulnerable groups, including offenders and migrants.
She said: “We know that many women in the criminal justice system are both offenders and victims. In many cases, offending is linked to domestic abuse and coercive control. Almost 60 per cent of women supervised in the community or in custody who have had an assessment have experienced domestic abuse. Many believe the true figure to be higher.
“English criminal law in its current form does not sufficiently recognise the need to protect survivors of domestic abuse who are driven to offend, whether in self-defence or with relatively minor offences, resulting in women being caught in the revolving door of imprisonment. I therefore support the call for a new statutory defence and an amendment to the law on self-defence to be added to the Bill for those whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse.”
The Bill needed to address the facts that not everyone who needed to escape an abusive relationship had access to support, and that women with insecure immigration status lacked protection.
“Migrant women who face abuse and violence in the UK continue to have no access to the welfare safety net, including refuge spaces and support services. That could be addressed by extending eligibility under the existing domestic-violence rule and the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession to all migrant women experiencing abuse, and by extending the time period for the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession from three to six months.”
The Bill also needed to ensure access to community-based services for a range of people: local authorities’ housing women in refuges was not a full solution, Bishop Treweek said; and the Bill needed to include preventative work and work with children who witnessed violence at home.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that the Bill “does not yet go far enough, particularly on children, young people, and migrant women. It is a cliché to note that these count as some of society’s most vulnerable, but this Bill is meant precisely to provide support to those whom the system is currently failing. If it fails to support the most vulnerable survivors, it is not yet living up to its potential.”
She continued: “I wish to raise the possibility of a new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation. As has been noted, unlike other forms of domestic abuse, non-fatal strangulation and suffocation have the characteristics of being extremely physically and psychologically harmful, but often with no external signs. I urge the Government, in seeking to make this a truly landmark, comprehensive Bill, to look again at the evidence that has already been quoted from New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere on the impact of such an addition.
“I raise these issues not because this is a bad Bill, but, on the contrary, because it is critically important, and a rare opportunity to pass something truly ground-breaking and with the needs of the survivors at its heart.”