Government must end ‘hostile environment’ for victims of domestic abuse, say campaigners

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Migrant victims of abuse are left out of the forthcoming changes to the domestic violence bill

The government must not leave migrant women unprotected under changes to domestic violence legislation, urge campaigners.

Domestic abuse charities and survivors have welcomed forthcoming changes to the domestic violence bill but said it must go further to protect all women.

The bill, which reaches report stage and third reading in the House of Commons on Monday, has made a number of changes to the existing legal framework. These include recognition that children are victims in the statutory definition of domestic abuse, access to special measures such as separate waiting rooms and screens to domestic abuse victims in courts and a ban on the infamous consent to ‘rough sex’ defence from being use in murder cases.

However, charities expressed disappointment  in the government’s refusal to guarantee equal support and protection for migrant women, who often face ‘insurmountable barriers’ in escaping abusive situations. Only 5.8% of refuge vacancies are available to women with no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status. 

Campaigners say that the bill’s statutory duty to fund accommodation services for survivors is ‘potentially life-saving’, it must be backed by sustainable funding. In addition, they’re calling for national oversight to ensure councils deliver quality and specialist refuges offering support for all.

Shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding Jess Phillips has tabled an amendment to end the no-recourse provision to legal aid for migrant victims.

Nicki Norman, Women’s Aid acting Chief Executive, said that ensuring ‘full and equal protection’ for migrant women is an ‘urgent priority’ for the bill.

She said: “The domestic abuse bill has the potential to deliver real changes and includes welcome measures, including the statutory duty to fund accommodation-based services and a ban on cross-examination in the family courts. 

“However the legislation must go far further to meet survivors’ needs, and must be backed with sustainable funding to secure our national network of refuges for the future.” 

 Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, asked for MPs to reject the continuation of a ‘hostile environment’ for victims of domestic abuse.

She added: “We cannot afford to create a discriminatory system of support based on assumptions about who is ‘deserving’ of protection and who is not. 

“No woman chooses to be abused. They all deserve protection.” 

Sophia Dourou is a freelance journalist

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