The importance of Domestic Violence reform

The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently working its way through the House of Lords, having had its Second Reading. Keen to know what’s going on, I had a read of Tuesday’s Hansard when the Bill was on day two of the Committee Stage. The comments had me in tears and are a stark reminder as to why this Bill is so incredibly important – especially when Lockdown is increasing rates of domestic abuse, substance abuse, and violent crimes against women exponentially. Here are just a few examples…

Baroness Sanderson of Welton:

We know from the ONS that, on average, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. We know from the UK’s femicide census that the number of women killed each year has gone largely unchanged in a decade. While the femicide census covers all women killed by men, its analysis of the data from 2009 to 2018 reveals disturbing trends relevant to this debate. In 62% of cases, the woman was killed at the hands of a current or ex-partner. In 43% of those cases, the victim had separated or taken steps to separate from the perpetrator. In 89% of those cases, the woman was killed within one year of that separation or attempted separation.

We also know that, for all those women who died over those 10 years, the most common method of killing —47%—was a sharp instrument; followed by strangulation, 27%; then by a blunt instrument, 16%; and then by the use of hitting, kicking or stamping, 15%. I say this, not to be gratuitous, but to show that there are patterns we could learn from. Given that the numbers have not changed in a decade, this suggests that the system is not working.”

Baroness Crawley

The ONS estimates that 1.6 million women aged between 16 and 74 experienced domestic abuse in 2019—that was before Covid and before lockdowns.

Baroness Boycott 

The link between alcohol and domestic abuse is well known, and yet, strangely, it is often not at the forefront of the debate. Some 55% of domestic abuse cases involve alcohol or some kind of substance, and women who drink themselves are 15 times more likely to be abused than women who do not.

Baroness Burt of Solihull 

Some research findings have already been quoted. The most striking that I came across was on substance abuse: abused women are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol and nine times more likely to abuse drugs. This is one way, but hardly a good one, to alleviate the stress and the pain. Research suggests that women experiencing domestic abuse are more likely to experience mental health problems; women with mental health problems are also more likely to experience domestic abuse. It makes total sense, when you think about it.

It is a vicious circle: domestic abuse leads to mental ill-health, which is often used to abuse the victim further. For example, it can be a tool of coercive control—threatening to “tell social services” and telling the children that “Mummy can’t look after you”. When a victim discloses to a public authority, the abuser may say, “You can’t believe her—she’s mad”. On mental health repercussions, domestic abuse is associated with depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse in the general population. Of course, this all has a profound effect on the children.

The Children’s Commissioner estimates that over 500,000 children are living in households infected with substance abuse and domestic abuse. Children experiencing mental health issues as a result of domestic abuse have strong links with poorer educational outcomes and a high level of mental ill-health. Sadly, that is only to be expected.”

Baroness Stroud 

“A Crying Shame, published by the Children’s Commissioner in 2018, highlighted 50,000 children aged nought to five, including 8,300 babies under one, living in households where the destructive impact of domestic abuse, alcohol or drug dependency and severe mental ill-health were all present. A further 160,000 children aged nought to five, including 25,000 babies under one, were living in a household where two of the three factors were present. The Bill represents a huge opportunity to deliver a step change in our response to domestic abuse and, therefore, can only benefit from the inclusion of the provision of mental health and substance abuse support.”