Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Amnesty International UK (DAB03)

Submission to the  Domestic Abuse Bill Committee

Amnesty International UK is a national section of a global movement of over three million supporters, members and activists. We represent more than 600,000 members, supporters, activists, and active groups across the United Kingdom. Collectively, our vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments. Our mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of these rights. We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion.

Summary of recommendations:

· Amend the statutory definition to recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse, following the model provided by the Istanbul Convention – which acknowledges that domestic abuse is a form of Violence Against Women and Girls and that women and gender equality should be given particular consideration, but that men can be victims too.

· Amend the Bill to ensure migrant survivors are able to access protection equally and without discrimination.


Introduction:

1. Amnesty International UK (AIUK) welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee. By this submission, AIUK seeks to raise our concerns regarding the Domestic Abuse Bill (the Bill), focussing in particular on compliance with human rights standards, the importance of a gendered definition and the critical need to amend the Bill to ensure it provides equal protection for migrant women. On the latter, AIUK is working with a number of partner organisations under the banner of the Step-Up Migrant Women Coalition and has contributed to a joint submission which includes a number of clear recommendations. This AIUK submission, therefore, merely references the need to amend the Bill to provide protection for migrant women and directs Committee members to our joint submission for further detail.

The statutory definition of domestic abuse

2. AIUK strongly recommends amending the proposed statutory definition to recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse, following the model provided by the Istanbul Convention.

3. Domestic abuse is experienced by women and men differently. This is not only about the disproportionate number of victims being women and perpetrators being men. It is also about the difference between male violence against women and female violence against men, namely the amount, severity and impact [1] . Furthermore, women experience domestic abuse as part of a broader spectrum of violence against women and girls (VAWG) - both CEDAW [2] and the Istanbul Convention [3] recognise this explicitly – which is both a cause and consequence of wider gender inequality, underpinned by power imbalances between women and men.

4. A gendered definition is essential in ensuring that all survivors, including men and boys, are able to access services that adequately meet their needs and reflect the nature of abuse they have experienced. For women this means accessing specialist services that are constructed on an understanding of structural gender inequality and that have women’s empowerment and self-determination at their core.

5. The Istanbul Convention (IC) could not be clearer that domestic abuse is a form of VAWG. It also explicitly recognises that men can be victims as well and encourages states to apply its provisions to all victims, while paying "particular attention to women" (both because women experience domestic abuse disproportionately and because, as a form of VAWG, "equality between women and men is a key element in [its] prevention").

6. Given the internationally recognised "gold standard" [4] IC, which the government intends to ratify on the basis of this very Bill, provides such a clear model for a gendered definition – acknowledging domestic abuse is a form of VAWG and that women and gender equality should be given particular consideration, but that men can be victims too – the government’s current definition is not only disappointing, but perplexing, and completely counter to international human rights standards; and indeed its existing obligations under CEDAW.

7. It is also worth highlighting that the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill were specific and robust in recommending "it is crucial that the gendered context of domestic abuse is recognised on the face of the Bill" and that "A gendered definition of abuse does not exclude men. In recommending a gendered definition of domestic abuse we want to embed a nuanced approach to the most effective response to domestic abuse for all individuals who suffer such violence, and to ensure that public authorities understand the root causes of this complex crime" [5] .

8. It is incredibly disappointing and somewhat mystifying then, that the Government in its response to the Joint Committee’s report states both that it recognises "that domestic abuse is a gendered crime, which disproportionally affects women" but nevertheless that it maintains a belief "that it is critical that the statutory definition is gender-neutral so that all types of abuse are identified and that no victim is inadvertently excluded from support or protection" [6] .

9. As the Joint Committee point out, the Government’s position points to (at best) a fundamental misunderstanding of what a gendered definition would mean in practice i.e. that it would in no way exclude men. In fact, a gendered definition would ensure recognition of the specific ways in which men experience domestic abuse and how that differs from women’s experiences (just as it also would vice versa).

10. The advantages of adopting a gendered approach would be:

i. The Bill follows best practice according to international standards the UK is signatory to (CEDAW and IC);

ii. Guidelines, programmes, funding and commissioning reflect the nature and reality of domestic abuse experienced by victims and recognises its root causes;

iii. The response to domestic abuse supports and strengthens other policies to achieve gender equality.

11. On the other hand, using a gender-neutral approach presents risks:

i. Laws can be abused by perpetrators: for example, in some countries, women survivors of violence themselves have been prosecuted for the inability to protect their children from violence;

ii. Commissioning and service provision does not reflect genuine need and specialist services – recognised as essential in the IC – are further undermined;

iii. There is a failure to transform power relations and stereotypes towards substantive equality for women. In fact, often gender-neutral approaches reinforce the idea of family stability rather than responding to the needs of survivors of VAWG [7] .

12. In 2015 the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women noted and criticised a shift towards gender neutral approaches during her visit to the UK, recognising that gender neutral approaches disregard ‘the need for special measures that acknowledge difference and recognize that women are disproportionately impacted by violence, inequality and discrimination’ [8] .

13. CEDAW compels states to use all possible measures to achieve equal rights for women and recognizes that states have responsibility to eradicate these power imbalances through public policy and legislation (CEDAW art 5.a) and achieve de facto equality for women. International instruments acknowledge that such process can require differential treatment, both on a temporary basis to accelerate the process of equality (e.g. adopting quotas for parliamentary positions) and permanently (e.g. protection of maternity in the workplace). This differential treatment is not discriminatory, rather is necessary to ensure equal rights and substantive equality for all. 

The need for protections for migrant survivors

14. Migrant women currently find it virtually impossible to access protection from domestic abuse when they experience it. AIUK recommends that the Bill is amended to include:

a. a principle of non-discrimination that mirrors the language of Article 4(3) of the Istanbul Convention;

b. a provision to establish safe reporting pathways to ensure all survivors can safely report abuse to police and other services without fear of immigration enforcement;

c. extension of eligibility for the Domestic Violence (DV) Rule and Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC), so every migrant survivor can access routes to regularise/confirm their immigration status and can secure public funds (which must be provided for at least six months) which are essential for accessing refuge services, safety and support; linked to this, reinstating appeal rights to the Tribunal for DV Rule applications;

d. a provision to address the crisis in funding for refuges and domestic abuse services, particularly specialist services run ‘by and for’ Black, ‘minority ethnic’ (BME) and migrant women, to comply with the government’s human rights obligations.

15. For a full explanation of the above recommendations please see the Joint Submission to the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee on the need for protections of migrant survivors, from the Step Up Migrant Women Coalition.

October 2019


[1] Women experience higher rates of repeated violence and are much more likely to be seriously hurt (Walby & Towers, 2017; Walby & Allen, 2004) or killed than male victims of domestic abuse (ONS, 2017). Further to that, women are more likely to experience higher levels of fear and are more likely to be subjected to coercive and controlling behaviours (Dobash & Dobash, 2004; Hester, 2013; Myhill, 2015; Myhill,

[2] Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women

[3] Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

[4] http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/3/the-istanbul-convention-strengthening-the-response-to-ending-violence-against-women

[5] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201719/jtselect/jtddab/2075/2075.pdf

[6] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/817556/CCS0619467038-001_Domestic_Abuse_Bill_Print_WEb_Accessible.pdf

[7] For more information on model legislation on domestic violence see UN Women Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2012/12/handbook-for-legislation-on-violence-against-women and Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/commission/thematic52/53-add2.htm

[8] Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, on her mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (31 March–15 April 2014) https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/SR/A.HRC.29.27.Add.2.pdf

 

Prepared 29th October 2019