Baroness Newlove has called for victims of domestic abuse to be protected after splitting from their partner. This includes protection from financial and economic abuse, which can leave victims penniless and with substantial debts after separating from a spouse or ex-partner who owes money to third parties.
One in five women in the UK report having experienced economic abuse from a current or former partner. This form of abuse is designed to reinforce or create economic dependency and/or instability, limiting a victim’s choices and their ability to access safety. Economic abuse as a term does not only recognise that money and finances can be controlled by an abuser (known as ‘financial abuse’), but that other economic resources can be controlled, including food, clothing, transportation and housing. Given that it does not require physical proximity, economic abuse can start, continue, and even escalate after separation.
What is domestic abuse?
The current definition of domestic abuse includes not only economic abuse, but also emotional abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, as well as physical abuse. 95% of domestic abuse victims experience economic abuse. 75% report experiencing it after leaving the perpetrator. 60% of domestic abuse survivors are in debt as a result of economic abuse. Economic barriers to leaving can lead victims to stay with an abusive partner for longer than they otherwise would have, leading them to experience more harm as a consequence.
When will the Domestic Abuse Bill come into force?
It is anticipated that the Domestic Abuse Bill will come into force in April 2021. Amongst other very important changes, it will provide a legal definition of Domestic abuse, which will promote awareness and the importance of recognising signs of abuse, so victims can have the confidence to come forward and receive support. However Baroness Newlove has stated that the Bill must be tweaked to safeguard victims who experience financial abuse after separation. She states, "it is human lives we are playing with here. Post-separation abuse needs to be in the Bill - they are putting women in debt". Baroness Newlove is calling out the government on this new legislation explaining that “we can’t say it’s all-singing, dancing domestic abuse legislation if we are still fighting at the highest level”.
The charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) are also battling for an amendment to the Bill. SEA is proposing an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill to include post-separation abuse in the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. While the legislation on stalking and harassment covers some aspects of post-separation abuse, it does not cover the full range of abuse that can continue after a victim has left a perpetrator. This can create a significant barrier for victims seeking to rebuild their lives.
Has the pandemic caused a rise in domestic abuse?
Research shows, that the pandemic has aggravated what was already an extremely alarming situation, as the number of women killed by a current or former partner each week has risen from two to three, and thirty men are killed per year as a result of abuse.
The role of community services
As well as a call to enhance the focus of the Bill on post-separation abuse, there is also drive to put more emphasis on community-based services within the legislation. The community services currently available to victims include phone hotlines, temporary shelters and help finding housing. The charity SafeLives estimates nearly 70% of victim/survivors seek help through community-based services, rather than those based on accommodation. The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 would place a duty on local authorities to support victims in safe accommodation, and while this is welcome, members of the House of Lords are urging for community-based services to be included in the new Bill on top of this. As it stands the Bill includes a statutory duty to support victims only if they are in refuges or supported accommodation. Baroness Newlove explained that community services need to be at the heart of the Bill, stating “the community services is a big win-win – if you do not have that in there, there will be more murders”.
On average there will have been 35 assaults before a victim calls the police. Baroness Newlove said “there needs to be greater investment than the £7m budgeted for bringing offenders to book". She continues stating, "we have 50,000 perpetrators but the money only deals with 2,000. No wonder we have a criminal justice system that is falling and collapsing".
If you require further information and advice concerning domestic abuse or post-separation abuse, please contact Molly Barker, or another member of our Family Team at Birketts, who will be able to assist.”
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at March 2021.