What The New Domestic Abuse Act Means For Women

19th May, 2021 1:44 pm

Last month marked a landmark moment for women in the UK: the Domestic Abuse Bill was finally signed into law. The legislation, granted royal assent on 29 April to become the Domestic Abuse Act, aims to extend greater protection to the millions of women at risk of abuse every day – from physical harm to coercive control and sexual violence. It also targets revenge porn and will clamp down on claims of “rough sex gone wrong” in trials.

Hailed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve how England and Wales responds to domestic abuse, British Vogue takes a closer look at what the legislation actually means for women.

The “rough sex” defence/non-fatal strangulation

In recent years the use of the “rough sex” defence – arguing that consensual violence during sex had caused a victim’s death – has been on the rise, increasing tenfold over a period of 20 years. Labour MP Harriet Harman and Conservative MP Mark Garnier introduced an amendment to the DA Bill to get the use of the defence banned. Now, it’s an offence to deliberately strangle another person or perform an act that restricts a person’s ability to breathe – and it carries a sentence of up to five years.

Controlling and coercive behaviour

In 2015, controlling or coercive behaviour was made a crime under the Serious Crime Act. Coercive control is a pattern or repeated acts of threats, assault, humiliation and intimidation or other forms of abuse that are used to frighten, intimidate, harm or punish their victim. The new law broadens the definition of domestic abuse to include non-physical forms of abuse like coercive control. It also acknowledges that these types of threatening behaviours can continue when a victim is no longer with their abuser.

Ban on cross-examination of survivors in court

In a bid to better protect and support victims, the new legislation will prevent alleged abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family or civil courts. Additionally, victims will have access to special measures to help prevent intimidation in the courtroom, such as the option to give evidence via a video link and/or standing behind a screen. A huge step forward in assisting victims, it was campaigned for by The Law Society, Women’s Aid and Resolution, who collectively argued that cross-examination has a “traumatic impact on victims” and “diminishes their ability to give evidence, preventing them from effectively advocating for their child’s best interests and safety”.

Revenge porn

First introduced by the Government in 2015, “revenge porn” laws will be extended to include threats to share intimate images or videos with the intention to cause distress. The offence will be punishable by sentences of up to two years. The change comes after a successful campaign was led by Refuge. “We are thrilled that the government has recognised the need for urgent change,” said Lisa King, Refuge’s director of communications and external relations, in a statement. “Our research found that one in seven young women have experienced these threats to share, with the overwhelming majority experiencing them from a current or former partner, alongside other forms of abuse.”

Additionally, in a move that’s been hailed as a “result” by Women’s Aid, the new changes will ensure that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse will automatically be given homelessness assistance.

However, many campaigners have highlighted that the amendments fail to protect migrant women facing domestic abuse. In June 2020, Nicole Jacobs, who became Britain’s first domestic abuse commissioner last September, told British Vogue of the need to help all women. “I believe there shouldn’t be any kind of barrier [to accessing support] for someone experiencing domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status,” she said. “There should be recourse to public funds in that situation. With the will, the government could remove those barriers, and it should.”

Source: Vogue, May 2021

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