Tackling domestic abuse at home and away

“The Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 is an important step forward; implementing the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women would be too.” Caitlin Collins, Dawn Furness and Julia Lagoutte detail the progress of the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament.

Caitlin Collins, Dawn Furness and Julia Lagoutte

Domestic abuse is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service as 'any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members.'   

With domestic abuse having spiked during the pandemic and the third lockdown now underway, the issue is more pertinent than ever.  Government statistics indicate that two-thirds of the victims are women: 

‘In the year ending March 2019, an estimated 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year (1.6 million women and 786,000 men).' 

These statistics, referring to England and Wales, come from a Government Policy Paper fact sheet about the Domestic Abuse Bill that has passed the House of Commons and is currently under consideration in the House of Lords.

The Bill aims to raise awareness and understanding about the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families, and to ensure that victims can come forward and report their experiences with the confidence that the state will support them and their children and will pursue the abuser.

“Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime perpetrated on victims and their families by those who should love and care for them. This landmark Bill will help transform the response to domestic abuse, helping to prevent offending, protect victims and ensure they have the support they need,” said Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for Safeguarding.

As it stands, the Bill is promising – but there is room for improvement. Campaigners have been pressing for the inclusion of non-fatal strangulation as an offence under the Bill. Campaigns like We Can’t Consent to This have highlighted that the ‘rough sex’ defence, increasingly used by men who have killed women, is often a travesty of justice causing even greater hurt to families and indignity to the victim. An amendment has been tabled to the bill and looks likely to pass. 

Migrant and BAME groups such as the coalition Step Up Migrant Women (SUMW) have warned that the Bill would leave thousands of women blocked from seeking help for fear of facing detention and deportation. The Government has not yet responded to recommendations to ensure that migrant women would have access to assistance regardless of their immigration status. 

“The draft Domestic Abuse Bill falls short on the requirements of the Istanbul Convention which requires the protection of all women survivors of violence regardless of immigration status,” said Chiara Capraro, Amnesty International UK’s Women Rights Programme Manager. 

“The Government must listen to migrant survivors if it is serious about leaving no woman behind.”

While we have moved on from the days when men owned the women they married, with the right to insist on sex as part of the marriage contract (marital rape has been recognised as a crime in the UK since 1992), figures released by the Office of National Statistics in 2019 show that women are clearly the majority of victims in domestic violence. For example, for the year ending March 2016 to the year ending March 2018, 74 per cent of victims of domestic homicide were female. This contrasts with non-domestic homicides where 87 per cent of victims were male. 

The overwhelming majority of female domestic homicide victims are killed by men; of the 270 female victims of domestic homicide for the year ending March 2016 to the year ending March 2018, the suspect was male in 260 cases. 43 male victims were killed by a partner or ex-partner in the same time period.

Putting UK statistics of domestic abuse into a global context, there are 117 million missing women in the world today, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2012. This startling figure refers to the girls who have never been born simply because people prefer sons; female foetuses are aborted.  

While China is the major contributor to growing sex imbalances at birth, there are more than two dozen countries where sex ratios are unnaturally skewed toward males. China’s one-child policy, which began in the 1970s and only ended in 2015, exacerbated the problem. Some social scientists believe the sex imbalance could weaken the traditional Chinese patriarchal family structure and improve women’s status; conversely, women’s advancement could be damaged if their roles as wives and mothers become more essential. 

What can Greens do?

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations and ratified by 189 states.

A motion has been proposed for the upcoming Green Party Spring Conference to implement CEDAW into UK law. The UK signed the United Nations' CEDAW treaty in 1981 and ratified it in 1986, but successive governments have so far failed to bring it into UK law. These failings have led to women and girls being denied their rightful protections as set out under the Convention.  

The Green Party's promotion of the need to legally implement CEDAW would send a clear message about our commitment to supporting women's rights and protecting women and girls with regard to domestic abuse and other issues.  

Our highlighting it would also help raise national awareness of CEDAW. The Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 is an important step forward; implementing CEDAW would be another positive step.