Domestic abuse is often a hidden but common occurrence to victims of all gender, age, and ethnicity. Unfortunately, it can have devastating effects, impacting, and traumatising victims for lengthy periods.
With around 1 in 5 people (18%), not reporting their abuse to the police, accurate statistics of domestic abuse in the UK are unknown. However, the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that from March 2019 to March 2020, there were 2.3 million people between the ages of 16 to 74 who were victims of domestic abuse.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected that the levels of domestic abuse have significantly increased, with charities reporting an increase in the need for their services.
The government have listened to the pleas for further support and protection for victims by introducing a new bill, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the aim of which is to clarify what domestic abuse is, who it applies to, how domestic abuse victims and their children will be protected going forward and guidance for third parties.
What is the new statutory definition of domestic abuse?
The new statutory definition created by the government emphasises that physical violence is not the only form of domestic abuse. This means that abusive behaviour is now defined by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as the following:
“Behaviour of a person (“A”) towards another person (“B”) is “domestic abuse” if—
- A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and
- The behaviour is abusive
Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following—
- physical or sexual abuse;
- violent or threatening behaviour;
- controlling or coercive behaviour;
- economic abuse;
- psychological, emotional or other abuse;
It does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.
“Economic abuse” means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on B’s ability to—
- acquire, use, or maintain money or other property, or
- obtain goods or services”
Two people are ‘personally connected’ to one another if any of the following applies:
- they are, or have been, married to each other;
- they are, or have been, civil partners of each other;
- they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);
- they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);
- they are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship with each other;
- they each have, or there has been a time when they each have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child;
- they are relatives.”
“A person has a parental relationship in relation to a child if—
- The person is a parent of the child, or
- The person has parental responsibility for the child.”
What does the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 aim to do?
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has been introduced for the further support and protection of victims but also to raise awareness of domestic abuse. Some additional aims are as follows:
- By creating a statutory definition of domestic abuse, it provides everyone with the same understanding of what it is and when someone is a victim
- The DAPOs and DAPNs injunctions aim to protect victims immediately and longer term
- In criminal justice proceedings, the act supports victims by providing video evidence and screens to ensure victims are not traumatised further or cross examined
- Creating a duty for local authorities to provide victims and their children with accommodation support
The GOV.UK website can provide more information about the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
How will DAPOs and DAPNs protect domestic abuse victims?
The new act also introduces two protective measures for victims, Domestic Abuse Protective Notices (DAPNs) and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs).
Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DAPNs)
DAPNs allow the police to immediately provide protection for victims following an incident where the police believe that domestic abuse applies. A DAPN will notify the abuser that they may not contact the victim or come within a specified distance of any premises they live at. The notice may also stop the abuser from evicting or excluding the victim from the premises, stop the abuser from entering the premises and require them to leave the premises.
Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs)
A DAPOs provides flexible and long-term protection for victims of domestic abuse. It means that the courts can prevent the abuser from doing certain things in relation to the victim, such as going to their home or place of work. They might have to attend programmes or assessments.
Should the abuser breach the DAPO, they can be charged with a criminal offence, potentially resulting in up to a five year prison sentence.
If the victim, police or other third parties specified in the legislation want to apply to court for protection, DAPOs will allow them to do this. The court is also able to make a DAPO during legal proceedings.
What amendments are being made to protect domestic abuse victims?
The new law allows amendments that make the following matters a criminal offence:
- Non-fatal strangulation
- Post-separation abuse
- Revenge porn – Extended to include threats
- Rough sex defence – A person may not consent to the infliction of serious harm and they are unable to consent to their own death
What are the key criticisms with the Domestic Abuse Act 2021?
Despite the government’s approach, there are still certain factors that have not been made part of the new law despite being proposed, causing some criticism against the act.
Lack of protection for migrant women – the proposed amendment was to allow migrant women access to public funds for domestic abuse survivors with migrant statuses. This amendment was rejected.
Stalker/Perpetrator Register – The amendment proposal for a register that would log stalkers/perpetrators and make them subject to supervision and monitoring was rejected