Letter to Julie Marson MP: Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 - 2020
Dear Ms Marson,
With reference to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 – 2021 currently awaiting the second reading in the House of Lords. Hertford and Stortford Labour Party welcomes changes to the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the Bill and the acknowledgment that children are victims of domestic abuse in their own right, also the inclusion of special measures to protect survivors in family and civil courts, such as screens and waiting rooms, the ban on rough sex defence in murder cases and recognition of economic abuse.
The statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation for all those who need to escape from abuse was extremely welcome and long overdue however it must be backed by sustainable funding, including specialist provision for black and minority ethnic (BAME) and LGBTQI survivors.
We are glad that the government has agreed to review the presumption of parental contact where there has been domestic abuse or where criminal proceedings regarding domestic abuse are ongoing.
Despite these advances we were dismayed to see that MPs voted against the amendments which would have provided much needed support and protection to migrant women. Consequently these women are left with the choice of remaining with their abuser or facing destitution.
Many migrant women originate from cultures where divorce is not acceptable, where women are blamed for a failed relationship and where going back to their country of origin is not an option through the very real risk of harm or death should they do so.
Black and minority ethnic (BAME) women without recourse to public funds suffer from disproportionately high rates of domestic and sexual violence, sexual and economic exploitation, domestic homicide, so called ‘honour’ killings and suicide. Immigration status is weaponised to control or exploit women, perpetrators deliberately misinform women about the process so that they become undocumented, increasing the abusers control. Imkaan (2012) reported that 92% of women with insecure immigration status received threats of deportation from the perpetrator.
There are increasing reports of women seriously harmed and killed whilst impunity for abusers is growing. In this setting migrant women are excluded from protection that should be enshrined in the Bill.
Nikki Norman, Women’s Aid Acting CEO said ‘Migrant women face insurmountable barriers to escaping domestic abuse and are routinely denied their rights to safety and support’.
The government argues that women on spousal visas can apply for public funds via the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) and there is no doubt that the DDVC has been a lifeline for many women. According to Southall Black Sisters fewer than half of migrant victims qualify. Those that do may not be aware of the DDVC, or the Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain route (DVILR). Women who have grown up with patriarchal subservience may not be aware that in the UK the treatment they experience in their relationship constitutes abuse.
Hertford and Stortford CLP supports Southall Black Sisters assertion that the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for victims of modern slavery is an inappropriate system of support for migrant women victims of domestic abuse who have unsettled immigration status and are subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition. Nowhere in the NRM guidance or in the Modern Slavery Act is there any reference to domestic abuse.
Woman that do make the brave step to report abuse require somewhere safe to stay and money for essentials while they seek advice and support and make an application to remain. The first consideration should be women's safety and security, not the stamp on their passport.
We have heard reports of women accommodated by members of the public where no service was able to assist due to their immigration status; women subjected to multiple abuses without recourse to funds or access to help; women sent from one sector to another, all advising that they were unable to assist due to the woman's immigration status.
Abolishing the no recourse to public funds criteria is an amendment that is strongly supported by countless specialist domestic abuse services with decades of experience of working with migrant survivors. Representatives from the police also supported the amendment, one police force reported spending £23,000 providing accommodation for survivors without recourse to public funds who had no other option available to them. By denying women in this situation access to public funds, the government is sending a message to women that there is a two tier system of entitlement to assistance in cases of domestic abuse that excludes migrant women.
The government now aims to run a £1.5 million pilot scheme to determine how migrant women can obtain support. We are concerned that while this pilot takes place women will be trapped in abusive homes, unable to access lifesaving protection, support and funds, fearful that leaving will lead to deportation.
"We are talking about humans, who, when they have been raped, beaten, controlled and abused, before we ask them how we can help, first we ask what stamp is in their passport." Jess Phillips MP
As the Bill is scrutinised by the Lords, Hertford and Stortford Labour Party will continue to lobby to end the structural inequality that excludes survivors without recourse to public funds from accessing support and protection. We shall campaign for delivery of a Bill that is non- discriminatory and protects all victims, including migrant victims of domestic abuse.
We request your confirmation that now and during the progress of the pilot, measures will be implemented to ensure that no migrant woman escaping abuse will be denied access to help and support because of her immigration status and that the government will actively fund and promote information on help and support for survivors of abuse who are subject to immigration controls. I would be grateful for your specific response to the points raised in this letter.
Margaret Williams Womens Officer, Hertford & Stortford Constituency Labour Party.
Elif Toker-Turnalar BAME Officer, Hertford & Stortford Constituency Labour Party.
Councillor Carolyn Redfern, Hertford Sele, Hertford & Stortford Constituency Labour Party
Councillor Mary Brady, Hertford Sele, Hertford & Stortford Constituency Labour Party
Dr Sue Rayner Jacobs
Former Financial Assurance Manager of Rape Support and Modern Slavery, Victims Services, Ministry of Justice and Trustee of Red Kite Rape Support Service