New domestic abuse laws promise to put victims at the centre
New laws due to go before MPs can help us tackle the impact of domestic abuse far more successfully – by putting the victim at the centre.
As a serving police officer, I saw for myself the devastating effect that domestic abuse can have, not just on the victims themselves, but on their children and families.
The national statistics relating to this insidious crime are far from encouraging. For every 100 incidents that are recorded, only 38 arrests are made, and more than 10 per cent of prosecutions fail after a victim changes their mind about giving evidence against their abuser.
It isn’t easy for a victim to come forward, report somebody they shared their home and life with to the police, and then go on to face them in court.
I know this has been a problem here in Dorset. Three years ago I met with one of our MPs, along with three domestic abuse victims from our county who had suffered at the hands of their ex partners. They all reported the same issue to the MP - their ex partners, many of whom had injunctions against them, cross examined them in the family courts during divorce or access hearings.
Now, the government’s new Domestic Abuse Bill promises to deal with one of the key issues facing victims by banning this practice.
The draft bill also promises to make victims eligible for special protection when they give evidence in criminal trials, and set up a national domestic abuse commissioner whose job will be to improve the response and support available for victims across all public services.
This will be a crucial step, as domestic abuse is such a complex problem that it cannot be dealt with by the police alone and requires a wide range of agencies – from social services and housing associations to GPs – to work together far more closely.
I am also glad to see that Clare’s Law, which was adopted in Dorset back in 2014, will be strengthened.
The law, otherwise known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, enables a person to check with police if they are concerned a partner, or partner of someone they know, might have a record of violence and pose a risk.
But perhaps even more importantly, the bill will create a new legal definition of domestic abuse which will include economic abuse and control.
I have long argued that, horrific as violent domestic assaults are, they are only a small part of the picture.
Domestic abuse takes many forms – some of them so subtle that the victim does not even realise it is happening to them – from a partner ‘advising’ on what to wear on a night out to offering to ‘take care’ of their wages.
Laws came into force back in 2015 making the actions of coercive and controlling behaviour a criminal act – meaning victims who experienced emotional and psychological abuse were able to bring their abusers to justice.
However, the new legislation would mean far more people who have spent years living under the shadow of an abuser will now be able to seek the help they need.
It seems the government has listened to what victims’ groups have been saying, and I hope these new powers will represent a major change in the way we approach domestic abuse.
I know, however, that there are still many people out there suffering in silence, and I want to take this opportunity to encourage you to tell someone about what is happening and get the support you need.
You can find out more online or you can call 101 if you need to speak with someone – and of course to phone 999 in an emergency.
You can also call the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Dorset, run by the You Trust, on 0800 032 5204 if you need any more support or guidance.