Over 2 million people endure domestic abuse in the UK each year (1.3m women, 695,000 men). Costing the UK £66bn each year, the private ‘behind closed doors’ nature of domestic abuse means that such numbers are merely a reflection of the vast scale of the problem.
Efforts to address the reality faced by survivors has led to the development of the Domestic Abuse (DA) Bill 2019. Alarmingly, the draft Bill offers very little safety and support for migrant survivors.
The Bill introduces a wide range of measures:
- A prevention of the cross-examination of victims by perpetrators – this is arguably the most pivotal point of the DA Bill – this abhorrent practice has been viewed as ‘another form of abuse’ by government minister Victoria Atkins MP.
- The introduction of the first ever statutory definition of DA to include economic abuse and coercive control;
- The establishment of a DA commissioner to drive the response to DA;
- New police powers including police DA protection notices and orders - this provides authorities with the power to impose a wider range of restrictions on offenders – e.g. by enabling limitations on their movements and communications;
- A new crisis support system for those with no recourse to public funds.
- Offenses for breach of orders ranging from 2 months to 5 years, the bill puts the victims’ wishes at the centre and recognises the reality of potentially criminalising a family member;
- The DA Bill sheds further light onto what’s known as 'Clare’s Law' – A scheme in which partners can request information as to a partner’s history of violence from the police.
- The government is also rolling out 120 additional commitments, including non-legislative measures that will provide up to £8m of support to children affected by domestic abuse as well as further funding to assist disabled, elderly, LGBT and male victims.
The DA Bill fails to acknowledge the obstacles faced by migrant victims of abuse. The realities faced by migrant victims mean they’re likely to have a lack of confidence in their English-speaking ability.
They may have very few close family members and friends in the country (if any). Furthermore, they are likely to feel culturally and socially isolated. Olivia Bridge, political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, has highlighted how a combination of these factors along with a diminished understanding of UK law all ‘work as a vehicle to push migrant victims into total silence’.
Many migrant women in abusive relationships are further trapped by their immigration status. They are unable to trust that the law will prioritise them and their safety over their status. To be just, the Bill must ensure that all women can access support.
The measures introduced by the Bill do not address the hostile policies created by successive immigration bills. Perpetrators often exploit their partners’ insecure immigration status as an additional method of control. The current environment enables the abuser to have power over their victim.
Andrea Simon, public affairs manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition argues this shames us a society – when we clearly put immigration enforcement ‘over women’s and children’s lives’. Instead of ensuring migrant women can access vital support services such as refuges, she notes, the government suggests some victims of domestic abuse ‘may be best served by returning to their country of origin and, where it is available, to the support of their family and friends’.
Amnesty International quotes ‘Isabela’, a survivor of domestic abuse, whose case shows how lack of protections for migrant women left her in a desperate situation.
‘I was convinced by my British ex-husband that I had a spousal visa, but he had refused to apply for one as soon as I arrived to the UK. I continued to undergo domestic violence from my then husband who threatened me repeatedly with deportation. He and his mother hid my passport away from me and he told me I would never be believed and that he would take our children away from me. I was refused support from the police and was made homeless and destitute. I was also told I had no custody over my child because I was undocumented.’
The law should really strive to help those which are vulnerable in our society. Alarmingly, it is clear that this is exactly where the DA Bill fails the most.
Julia Babiarz is a law student at the University of Manchester and a junior legal engineer