06:32, March 03 139 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-03 06:32:04
Domestic abuse bill fails to protect children and migrant women – charities

Children and migrant women are being overlooked by new laws designed to protect victims and punish perpetrators of domestic violence, charities have warned.

The long-awaited domestic abuse bill will be introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday for its first reading; it was delayed by Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament and hold an election last year.

Further to the legislation, the government has started a review into what support can be provided to migrant victims of domestic abuse.

The legislation has been broadly welcomed by women’s rights campaigners and domestic abuse charities.

However, some groups are concerned the laws do not go far enough to help children as well as migrant or black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women.

The Step Up Migrant Women coalition, comprising more than 40 BAME specialist frontline services and migrant and human rights organisations, welcomed the bill but warned that it risked leaving behind migrant and BAME women who have experienced abuse.

They said women with insecure immigration status are often blocked from seeking help from the police for fear of being reported to the Home Office and detained, deported or made destitute. Migrant women, they added, are predominately barred from refuges and denied a safe place to sleep because they cannot access public funds.

Gisela Valle, director at Latin American Women’s Rights Service, said: “By neglecting to address the barriers experienced by migrant victims, the bill falls short of realising the government’s stated goals of protecting victims and tackling crime. All victims, regardless of their immigration status, must be able to report to the police safely and without fear, otherwise they cannot be protected, and their abusers will not be held accountable.

“We are disappointed that migrant survivors are once again overlooked in this bill in spite of the recommendations made last year by the parliamentary joint committee on the draft domestic abuse bill to establish a firewall to separate reporting of a crime and access to support from immigration control.

Marchu Girma, deputy director of Women for Refugee Women, said: “Women with insecure immigration status are more vulnerable to abuse and yet they are unable to report violence and seek justice without fear because there is currently no separation of immigration enforcement from police response to victims of crime.

“Many of the women we work with at Women for Refugee Women are afraid of reporting abuse because this can result in being detained or deported. This domestic abuse bill should ensure all women, including migrant women, are able to report safely and protected when they report abuse and not penalised because of their immigration status.”

The government described the latest bill as the “most comprehensive package ever to tackle this horrendous crime”, saying the “enhanced” proposals will go even further to support and protect victims and punish perpetrators and had been widely supported by charities, MPs and law enforcement.

Action for Children estimates tens of thousands of children have been at risk of domestic abuse since the general election. The charity’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain, said it was “vital” the bill recognised a child as an “innocent victim and not just a witness”.

Emily Hilton, senior policy officer at the NSPCC, said the government was missing a “landmark opportunity” to make a difference, adding: “It is extremely disappointing that the bill in its current form fails to protect children from the devastating impact of living with domestic abuse, leaving thousands at continued risk because the help they deserve is not in place.”

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