Victoria Atkins: This bill is a chance to drive domestic abuse out of the shadows once and for all
The Domestic Abuse Bill marks the start of the debate about how we as a nation recognise, call out and combat this crime. Let’s grasp this opportunity and get it right, says Victoria Atkins
Domestic abuse has for too long been a hidden crime. Once someone’s front door has closed, no-one knows what goes on behind it. It knows no boundaries and affects people across all walks of life regardless of their gender, sexuality, age.
I have spoken to survivors of domestic abuse and heard their harrowing ordeals. Each one is a deeply personal story of how they were hurt and abused by those who should be one of their closest relations. With an estimated two million people who are victims of domestic abuse, it is almost overwhelming to think of all those stories.
I am determined to force a change in how we deal with domestic abuse and, as a nation, recognise, call out and combat this crime.
The draft Domestic Abuse Bill was published on Monday 21 January and I was pleased to see it was welcomed by both sides of the House. However, despite the wide range of measures included in the Bill, as well as the extra 120 non-legislative commitments included in our response to the domestic abuse consultation, it marks the start of the debate rather than the final product.
It is important to grasp this opportunity and make sure we get it right. That’s why we have taken the decision to publish this as a draft Bill and open it up for pre-legislative scrutiny. We owe it to both current and future survivors to give them the support and the respect they deserve.
Last week I visited a charity project where I spoke to a number of survivors. One of them said, despite the awful physical abuse she received, the hardest thing was the mental and psychological abuse she was subjected to. It is a poignant reminder that abuse can take many forms, which is why we are introducing a statutory definition of domestic abuse that will make it clear that a wide range of behaviours count, including economic abuse, and will mean those who are in a position to help can understand the dangers better.
We are also establishing the office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, a statutory and independent office that will guide the government on how we should respond to domestic abuse and play a key role in overseeing and monitoring domestic abuse services.
Victims and survivors of abuse need safety and support. The introduction of Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders will not only prevent perpetrators from contacting their victims but also let the courts enforce positive sanctions on them. This could include requiring individuals to attend perpetrator programmes or alcohol and drug dependency treatment to break the cycle of violence. To further protect victims, we will be stopping the cross-examination of victims by their abuser in family courts and putting in place measures to ensure we make it easier for those giving evidence in criminal courts.
Our response also recognises that, so often, innocent children are caught up in domestic abuse incidents. That is why we have allocated £8m for services designed to support children affected by domestic abuse and provided funding to Operation Encompass, a scheme which ensures police tell schools if a pupil has been affected by domestic abuse before the child starts the school day.
With this crime affecting so many people and having such a devastating impact on their lives, everyone has a responsibility to be vigilant and look out for your friends, neighbours and colleagues. As lawmakers we shoulder the extra responsibility of safeguarding our constituents, both current and future. As this Bill goes through Parliament, I urge all my colleagues from across the House to engage and support it in order to drive domestic abuse out of the shadows once and for all.
Victoria Atkins is Conservative MP for Louth and Horncastle Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability