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Survivors of domestic abuse are being failed – we need reform

Apsana Begum MP (Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News)

4 min read

Survivors of domestic abuse are being failed by the criminal justice system. The downward spiral in domestic abuse prosecutions and convictions is alarming – especially when we know that incidents of domestic abuse offences are being reported at soaring rates.

All too often survivors do not have faith in the systems that are mean to protect and support us because of persistent failures. The arising impossible choice between staying with an abuser or facing harm at the hands of the state is, of course, no choice at all. For Black, Asian and minoritised women, the situation is even more dire.

Repeatedly saying that tackling domestic abuse is a priority does not mean that it is actually a priority. Not only do survivors deserve more than posturing and rhetoric, but virtue signalling at the same time as failing us becomes a form of gaslighting in and of itself. We have had the promises and declarations, we now need urgent and immediate action.

The fact that police forces share migrant victims’ data with Immigration Enforcement stops migrants from reporting to the police and others

To truly transform society, a radical and wide-ranging package of reforms is required. That is why I have tabled amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which is back before Parliament next week.

For too long, the criminal justice system has failed to recognise the severity of domestic abuse crimes and the danger perpetrators pose – particularly in relation to domestic abuse crimes like harassment, stalking and assault and economic abuse.

Survivors of domestic abuse therefore currently face overwhelming barriers to justice. So much is stacked against us. We are routinely subject to double standards and outright misogyny in policing, sentencing, and imprisonment. I have first-hand experience that the courts are even used by abusers to perpetuate abuse.

Legal advice is absolutely key, but the truth is that it remains incredibly difficult to secure legal funding, which leaves many having to face the perpetrator of domestic abuse and navigate the systemic bias of the criminal justice system without legal representation.

There are reports that this could even mean being subjected to the horrendous experience of facing the courts without legal support, only to be cross-examined directly by the abuser. Rather than addressing this properly, the Tories’ cuts to legal aid are making the situation worse.

The fact that police forces share migrant victims’ data with Immigration Enforcement stops migrants from reporting to the police and others out of fear that they will be treated as an offender themselves, i.e. facing potential criminalisation, detention and even deportation. These Conservative policies trap migrants in abuse, with abusers able to threaten their victims to stay silent as a result.

A firewall between all public services and the Home Office so that all can report abuse and access justice and safety is imperative. Instead, under the Tories, perpetrators can evade justice by weaponising immigration status in order to silence, abuse and control.

Recovery is an essential part of justice. Therefore a whole-system approach must go beyond criminalising specific offences.

Although refuges, community-based services, and specialist support on a broad range of needs – including safety planning, legal remedies, housing, health and wellbeing, and social security – are absolutely critical for survivors, they are chronically underfunded. Staff shortages, short-term contracts and uncertainty over future funding are creating further instability.

We know that the funding of services can be the difference between life and death, hope and despair, imprisonment and empowerment. Yet shamefully there is no new money on the table to plug the gaps in the bare minimum support needed – including the long-needed investment in specialist services for disabled, LGBTQ+ and Black and Asian survivors.

It is no secret that Conservative austerity traps people in abusive relationships. The cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on domestic abuse survivors. So much so, many are being forced to stay with perpetrators because they can’t afford to leave.

As a result of the hostile environment, migrant survivors are also turned away from statutory and voluntary services when they seek help. Urgent changes to housing, health, and the social security system – including scrapping the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) rule – are needed urgently.

In his Austerity Statement the Chancellor demonstrated a callous disregard to human suffering and the fact that austerity has already taken its toll across institutions, sectors, and lives. Everyone deserves to live free from violence and abuse.

The Conservatives could choose to properly reform the criminal justice system, fund specialist domestic abuse services and ensure social security is there for people when needed. Yet not only are they are failing to make meaningful change, their obsessions with attacking migrant rights and austerity cuts are putting survivors at risk. The Victims and Prisoners Bill is an opportunity to change that.

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