Content warning: this post contains discussion of: domestic abuse, misogyny, homicide and sexual violence, which some readers may find distressing.
If you have been affected by any of these issues and are in need of support, please contact www.manchesterrapecrisis.co.uk
Thank you to everyone who wrote to me about a recent important piece of legislation: the Domestic Abuse Bill. There were many important elements to this Bill, and I received lots of correspondence on the Bill and the various amendments put forward. I will cover each of them below…
Amendment: Equal Protection and Support for Migrant Women
When a migrant who has no recourse to public funds becomes a victim of domestic violence, the restriction hinders their ability to access life-saving refuge support and other necessary welfare provisions.
I believe it is vital that no victim or survivor of domestic abuse is left behind. The Government must ensure that migrant victims with no recourse to public funds can access domestic abuse services.
Several amendments were tabled to the Domestic Abuse Bill to support migrant women.
New Clause 22, for example, sought to ensure that certain provisions under the Immigration Acts, including exclusion from public funds, do not apply to survivors of domestic abuse. I supported this amendment.
I further supported New Clause 25, which sought to ensure all victims of domestic abuse are protected, regardless of their status, in line with the Istanbul Convention.
The Government, however, rejected these amendments. It said it was “absolutely committed” to supporting all migrant victims of domestic abuse but argued that more evidence was needed to identify the groups of migrants most in need of support. It stated, to address the evidence gap, the Government plans to launch a £1.5 million pilot scheme: the support for migrant victims scheme.
I am concerned that this fails to appreciate the urgency and seriousness of the risk of abuse and destitution that abused migrant women on non-spousal visas face.
I am aware that New Clause 27 sought to make arrangements to ensure that the personal data of migrant survivors of domestic abuse that is given or used for the purpose of their seeking or receiving support and assistance, is not used for immigration control purposes.
The Government rejected this amendment and said it is working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to ensure that the guidance it issues “does the job that is required”.
Abortion is a sensitive and emotive issue and I have received emails from constituents with strongly held views on all sides of the debate.
New Clauses 28 and 29 (NC28 and NC29) were proposed before Report Stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill on 6 July 2020. NC28 sought to allow women in abusive relationships to access abortion medication at home, instead of being legally required to attend a hospital or licensed premises. NC29 sought to decriminalise abortion and would also create a new offence for situations where a woman’s abusive partner intentionally or recklessly caused her abortion through abusive behaviour.
The Abortion Act 1967 set in law circumstances where abortion would not be illegal. Otherwise, under the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) 1861, it is a criminal offence to provide an abortion or for a woman to end her own pregnancy. The Government said in July 2019 that it has no plans to amend sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Act in England and Wales, which criminalise abortion.
Furthermore, New Clause 29 was not considered at Report Stage on 6 July, as it was ruled out of the scope of the Bill by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
It is my personal view that women in all areas of the UK should not risk prosecution for terminating a pregnancy. I therefore support repealing the relevant sections of the OAPA to decriminalise abortion across the UK, while also ensuring that abortion is not deregulated. I believe this would be respectful of women’s reproductive rights and increase safety of abortions for women throughout the country.
Since 2017/2018, women across Scotland, Wales and England have been allowed to take the second of two pills at home to complete the procedure of early medical abortion. The first pill still had to be administered in an NHS hospital or other approved clinic.
In March, the Government implemented temporary measures in response to coronavirus to allow women in England to take both pills for early medical abortion in their own homes, without the need to first attend a hospital or clinic. These measures apply up to ten weeks of the pregnancy and will last for up to two years. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have implemented similar measures.
The Government also announced in July 2020 that it will undertake a public consultation on whether to make the home use of early medical abortion pills a permanent measure up to 10 weeks’ gestation. I will monitor any developments in relation to this closely and I will continue to bear in mind the points raised by my constituents.
Amendment: Serial Stalker and Domestic Violence Perpetrators Register
Several amendments were tabled to the Domestic Abuse Bill around the implementation of a register.
New Clause 49, for example, sought to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003, to provide for the establishment of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA), to make arrangements for serial domestic abuse or stalking offenders to be registered on the violent and sex offender register and be subjected to supervision, monitoring and management through MAPPA.
However, the Government rejected this amendment during the Bill’s Committee Stage. The amendment was tabled again as New Clause 33, which was also rejected during the Bill’s Report Stage in the House of Commons on 6 July.
The Government takes the view that existing legislation already provides for the management of serial domestic abuse and stalking offenders. It has, however, recognised the need to strengthen the use of current systems and is keeping the effectiveness of risk management processes under regular review.
The Government has said work is “already under way to review the functionality of the violent and sex offender register, and the College of Policing has issued a set of principles for police forces on the identification, assessment and management of serial or potentially dangerous domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators.” The Government has also stressed that the Domestic Abuse Bill provides for the police to be able to apply for a new domestic abuse protection order.
I welcome the domestic abuse protection orders and the domestic abuse protection notices which will be introduced by the Domestic Abuse Bill. However, these must be accompanied by the support, training and resources our police officers need.
Amendment: Classing Misogyny as a Hate Crime
All too often, acts of abuse such as sexual discrimination, violence against women and sexual objectification are trivialised in our society. In my view, there is a need for a long overdue change in the law so that misogynistic acts are treated as the serious hate crimes they are.
At present, the only centrally monitored strands of hate crime are race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender status.
Police forces can introduce their own recording practices to monitor additional hate crimes, and I am aware that several forces now track misogyny-based hate crime. Women’s Aid has highlighted that forces which introduced the recording of misogyny have seen an increase in reports of serious sexual harassment and assault.
While I am pleased to see the local initiatives to monitor hate crime, I am calling for the centrally monitored list of hate crime characteristics to be amended to include sexual discrimination as the sixth strand. Amendment 35 was proposed to the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Commons in July, which would make it compulsory for police forces to record offences motivated by misogyny as a hate crime. However, the amendment was not voted on at Report Stage, meaning it will not form part of the Bill as it continues to the House of Lords for further consideration.
I am aware the Law Commission is undertaking a review into hate crime, looking at how to make current legislation more effective and to consider if there should be additional protected characteristics. It has said that there is particular concern about whether the criminal law responds adequately to misogyny.
The review has reportedly been delayed due to coronavirus. However, the Law Commission website indicates that the project is underway, and that a consultation paper will be published in mid-2020. I can assure you I will follow any developments closely.
I believe that misogyny is a hate crime and motivated by hostility. I am calling for it to be treated in the same way as other hate crimes, and for action to be taken so that victims are given fair treatment.
Amendment: Non-fatal strangulation
Thank you to those constituents who contacted me about the campaign for a free-standing offence of non-fatal strangulation.
As the Centre for Women’s Justice has noted, strangulation and asphyxiation are the second most common method of killing in female homicides – 29% or 17% – compared to only 3% of male homicides. It is important to note that non-fatal strangulation is generally not a failed homicide attempt, but a tool used to exert power and control and to instil fear within an abusive relationship.
As many people noted in their correspondence, there are several issues with the law as it stands. There is currently no distinct offence of non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation. The lack of observable injuries means offenders’ conduct is often minimised, and they are often charged with common assault rather than with actual bodily harm.
I note the United States, Australia and New Zealand have all introduced specific laws on non-fatal strangulation. I believe that creating a free-standing offence of strangulation or asphyxiation would require police to treat such cases with the gravity they deserve.
During the Domestic Abuse Bill’s Committee Stage, New Clause 8 was tabled to create a new offence of non-fatal strangulation. New Clause 9 was further tabled and aimed to create a new offence of non-fatal strangulation in the context of domestic abuse offences. I supported these amendments and believe that they would make a real contribution to the Bill.
The Government, however, rejected the amendments because it believes that several offences can already cover non-fatal strangulation. The Government takes the view that the amendments would risk introducing confusion in the law, which it says “most seriously of all risks disadvantaging the very people” the Government wants to protect.
New Clause 8 and New Clause 9 were re-tabled to the Bill at Report Stage, which I also supported. However, these amendments were unfortunately not put to a vote or accepted by the Government. I will continue to urge the Government to create a new offence of non-fatal strangulation.
Next steps for the Domestic Abuse Bill…
The Bill passed its Third Reading on 6 July 2020 and will now proceed to the House of Lords for further scrutiny in due course. Although many improvements have been made to the Bill, there are still holes in the protection the law provides.
I can assure all my constituents that I will continue to monitor the Bill’s progress through Parliament, and I hope the issues you have each raise will continue to be considered very carefully by the Government.