In light of the new government strategy on tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG), this article will explore what the Domestic Abuse Bill will include alongside the strategies being developed to tackle VAWG. 

Over the last decade, we have seen new legislation on Gender-Based Violence which has created specific offences for stalking, forced marriage, failure to protect from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and revenge pornography. The Home Office have also introduced FGM Protection Orders and an FGM mandatory reporting duty, as well as rolling out Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS).  

Covid-19 and Domestic Abuse  

Despite the positive progress over the past decade, we have seen concerning increases in VAWG during the pandemic.​ Statistics have shown a 10% increase in domestic abuse in the 12 months leading up to December 2020 [1].  

Responding to this rise in domestic abuse cases the Home Secretary launched a new public awareness-raising campaign. The #YouAreNotAlone campaign aimed to highlight that support services were still available. Members of the public were encouraged to show their solidarity and support for those who may be suffering, either by sharing #YouAreNotAlone campaign content or a photo of a heart on their palm. Alongside this, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline number was publicised. 

Additionally, in January 2021, the government launched the Ask for ANI (Action Needed Immediately) codeword scheme across UK pharmacies [2]. This enables victims of domestic abuse to discreetly signal that they need help. The Home Office has issued training resources for pharmacies to share with staff to ensure they are prepared to respond [3].

This scheme is similar to the Ask for Angela initiative that was rolled out in pubs and other venues in 2016. Ask for Angela helps people who feel unsafe get help from the bar staff. Posters explaining the scheme are displayed in toilets. National Pub Watch UK have printed out pdf’s of the poster and training resources for staff [4]. 

Ask for Angela poster. Natioinalpubwatch.org.uk. 2016. National Pubwatch supports Ask for Angela campaign 

The Next Steps in Tackling VAWG 

The Government are hoping to publish the next Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy in Spring 2021, the strategy will focus on crimes such as rape and sexual violence, as well as new and emerging crimes and the online challenge.  ​ 

These crimes include violence against women seeking asylum, who have been largely absent from previous government strategies for VAWG. However, it is these women who are more likely to have experienced gender-based violence because of their experience of persecution and conflict [5]. 

Equally, we are seeing that gender-based violence is increasing online too [6]. The World Wide Web Foundation reported that 52% of young women and girls said they’d experienced online abuse, ‘including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private images without consent. 87% said they think the problem is getting worse’ [6]. 

While setting out to refresh the tackling VAWG strategy, government ministers recognised the need to tackle domestic abuse further. Domestic abuse is uniquely harmful in that it is both high volume and high harm. Therefore, the decision was made to publish a dedicated strategy to specifically focus on this form of VAWG. The Domestic Abuse Strategy​ will be published in Summer 2021.  

To inform both of the new strategies, the Home Office launched their first-ever call for evidence. The call for evidence consisted of 4 components: 

  1. Open Public survey. The survey,​ run by IPSOS MORI, received over 15,000 responses. While the survey was answered by a good mix of age groups, there were less than 10% male or black minority ethnic individuals. 
  2. Victims and survivors survey. The Home Office worked with voluntary and community sector organisations to distribute the survey to service users. They were successful in receiving over 450 responses. 
  3. Written submissions. Over 400 people shared their experiences of the scope, scale and prevalence of the different types of VAWG. In particular, participants gave their views on prevention activity, support for survivors and victims, response to perpetrators, and the whole system approach.  
  4. Focus groups​. 16 focus groups were held with attendees from multiple agencies. This included academics, specialists from the voluntary and community sector, police and criminal justice partners, as well as victims and survivors. The groups aimed to explore in more depth the different crime types within VAWG. There were also focus groups held on broader structural issues. 

Recognising the murder of Sarah Everard, and the consequent sharing of experiences across social media, the call for evidence was reopened from 12 March to 26 March. 

Overall, the Call for Evidence received over 19,000 responses. It is expected that the findings will support the four broad pillars that the VAWG and domestic abuse strategies will focus on. The two strategies will be closely linked, centring on prevention, pursuing perpetrators, and supporting victims and survivors. Furthermore, there will also be an emphasis on improving the infrastructure through a whole system approach. This involves a shift in preventative strategy. 

Birmingham city council have a three-layer model to provide a whole system approach [7]. The initial stage is changing attitudes, this means working with children from a young age to raise their awareness and educate them about equality and respect. It also includes increasing public awareness of domestic abuse so individuals can recognise the signs and get help.  

The second stage is early identification and early help. Ensuring that all agencies are trained to spot the early signs, understanding domestic abuse as a relationship of coercion and control. 

Finally, the model focuses on safety and support. This includes agreeing on a common tool across all agencies for assessing risk and threats from domestic abuse. Furthermore, it requires all agencies to recognise that people cannot be kept safe without holistically addressing all of their needs. 

While the Home Office recognises the disproportionate nature of violence against women and girls, these strategies are also gender-inclusive. The Male Victims’ Position Statement will be refreshed as part of the new VAWG and DA strategies. It will explore the challenges male victims face. The statement will outline additional commitments to help victims and survivors come forward. 

Domestic Abuse Bill 

This legislation aims to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, reassuring victims that the state will do everything it can, both to support them and their children and to pursue the abuser. The new Domestic Abuse and Protection Order seeks to pull in orders from across the justice system and put them under 1 accessible bill. This will include: 

  • guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, also known as ‘Clare’s law’, which gives any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them 
  • a statutory definition of domestic abuse. This definition will be much wider than the current non-statutory definition, recognising that domestic abuse is not just physical violence but can include emotional and economic abuse 
  •  a statutory presumption that victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts. This could include the use of protective screens in court or the ability to give evidence via video links to support vulnerable courts users 
  • making it easier for victims who may prefer not to report abuse to avoid being cross-examined in person, by widening the list of evidence to prove abuse has occurred to include things such as a letter from a doctor or an employer 
  • clarifying the use of ‘barring orders’ in the family courts to prevent abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court – which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse 
  • a new offence of non-fatal strangulation to be introduced as part of ground-breaking legislation 
  • controlling or coercive behaviour offence extended to include abuse where perpetrators and victims no longer live together 
  • ‘Revenge porn’ offence widened to cover threats to share intimate images [8] 

Additionally, The Home Office has distributed £500k to fund research into domestic abuse perpetrators. They stated: ‘The aim of the fund is to develop our understanding of domestic abuse perpetrators and to strengthen the evidence base for what works in addressing their behaviour’ [8]. 

Following the public reaction to Sarah Everard’s death, there will be huge anticipation for the new VAWG strategy. It is clear that there is a need for systematic change and there are questions surrounding whether this is possible without wider societal changes to gender equality.  

Sources:

[1] Safelives.org.uk. 2020. SafeLives’ Marac data – Key findings [Accessed 16/04/21] 

[2] gov.uk. 20221. Pharmacies launch codeword scheme to offer ‘lifeline’ to domestic abuse victims [Accessed 16/04/21] 

[3] gov.uk.2020. Ask for ANI and Safe Spaces schemes: training toolkit [Accessed 16/04/21] 

[4] Natioinalpubwatch.org.uk. 2016. National Pubwatch supports Ask for Angela campaign  [Accessed 16/04/21] 

[5] Refugeecouncil.org.uk. 2021. The Government’s new strategy on violence against women and girls can no longer ignore women in the asylum system [Accessed 16/04/21] 

[6] webfoundation.org. 2020. There’s a pandemic of online violence against women and girls. [Accessed 16/04/21] 

[7] Birmingham City Council. 2018. Domestic Abuse Prevention Strategy 2018-2023. 

[8] gov.uk. 2021. New laws to protect victims added to Domestic Abuse Bill [Accessed 16/04/21] 

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Following the murder of Sarah Everard tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) is at the forefront of the agenda. This article explores what the Domestic Abuse Bill will include alongside the strategies being developed to tackle VAWG.

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