Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Rape Crisis England & Wales (DAB05)

House of Commons Public Bill Committee:

Written evidence in consideration of the Domestic Abuse Bill

1. Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCEW) is the national body for 41 accredited Rape Crisis Centres who provide specialist support and advocacy services for victims and survivors of all forms of sexual violence and abuse. RCEW supports the specialist work and sustainability of its members and raises awareness and understanding of sexual violence and sexual abuse in all its forms.

2. Rape Crisis member Centres have passed the RCEW National Service Standards and have therefore been accredited by RCEW. Centres undergo a rigorous independent accreditation process to ensure the highest quality of service provision. The Rape Crisis National Service Standards are acknowledged by the Care Quality Commission as successfully aligned with their Key Lines of Enquiry for Healthcare and Social Care Services. This process takes place every three years and membership of RCEW is dependent on meeting the National Sexual Violence and Abuse Service Standards.

3. This evidence refers to "specialist rape and sexual violence services". A specialist service is one whose primary organisational purpose is to address, prevent and tackle sexual violence and support survivors as the primary purpose of the service.

4. RCEW welcome the opportunity presented by the Domestic Abuse Bill (the Bill) to ensure better support and protection for survivors of domestic abuse in England and Wales. However, RCEW consider that to be the transformative legislation the Government intends, the marginalisation of sexual violence within the Bill needs to be addressed.

5. The Bill is by definition focused on victims and survivors that are experiencing domestic abuse, of which sexual violence may be a part. RCEW recognise that in most domestic abuse cases, the victim/survivor will very likely be experiencing sexual violence within that context. Indeed, consent to sexual relations in relationships where there is violence, coercion, and control is arguably non-existent, and we therefore welcome the crucial inclusion of sexual violence as part of the domestic abuse definition.

6. Additionally, we are encouraged by the references in the Bill to Relationships Education, and the importance of teaching children and young people about consent, sexual harassment, and helping young people in recognising domestic abuse and different forms of sexual violence.

7. RCEW maintain that the disproportionate impact of sexual/domestic abuse on women and girls must be clearly recognised on the face of the Bill (and not merely in relation to guidance, as proposed in s.79 (3)).

8. The protections in the Bill must be extended to survivors with insecure immigration status, who face specific barriers in accessing specialist sexual violence support. This is required under the Istanbul Convention which the Government has repeatedly committed to ratifying.

9. Survivors of rape or attempted rape within domestic settings must be offered improved access to justice and experience in the court system.  Specifically, the presumption of eligibility for special measures for victims of domestic/sexual abuse should be extended to the family courts and the civil courts. The automatic prohibition of cross-examination in person, of a victim by an alleged perpetrator must be extended to all cases where domestic/sexual abuse is alleged in family and civil courts.

10. Given the prevalence of sexual violence within domestic abuse, it is disappointing that the Bill specifically cites sexual violence with brevity, and the Bill fails to recognise the significant specialist support needed for this particular type of gender-based violence. The dearth of references to sexual violence in the Bill and the subsuming of it under domestic abuse, leads to a conflation of these forms of violence. In the last two questionnaires on sexual violence as a form of domestic abuse, Rape Crisis Centres reported that approximately 20-30% of services users make up this client group.

11. Although domestic abuse and sexual violence are linked as forms of gender-based violence, they are distinct, with survivors requiring different specialist service provision to deal with the particularities of the violence they have been subjected to, and its impact. Domestic abuse and sexual violence organisations have historically worked very well in partnership with a mutual respect for each other’s highly specialised and very distinct work, meeting the many different and varied needs of survivors. The se partnerships work successfully because of longstanding respect and recognition that both sexual violence and domestic abuse services are separate and special .

12. The Bill and the roll of Commissioner outlined in the Bill does not refer to the long-term sustainability of sexual violence service provision, but focuses solely on the needs of domestic abuse organisations. Although domestic abuse services are still underfunded, the commissioning of domestic abuse services far exceeds the funding of specialist sexual violence services. One example is in the 2015 spending review, where domestic abuse services received £40 million – there has been no comparable spending on sexual violence services.

13. Rape Crisis Centres experience significant difficulties in accessing domestic abuse devolved funds from government to Local Authorities . L ocal Authoritie s and PCCs often do not understand that sexual violence occurs within a domestic abuse relationship, and therefore do not understand the need for specialist sexual violence services for survivors of sexual violence in a domestic abuse setting. Guidance within the Bill needs to robustly and explicitly outline this requirement, so that sexual violence services do not remain under resourced , and so survivors can access the specific support they require, in order to cope and recover.

14. The only rin g-fenced statutory contribution towards funding for Rape Crisis Centres is through the Ministry of Justice Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Fund which although was increased by 10%, does not begin to meet the increase in demand on services. The large increases of survivors coming forward is indicative of a cultural shift in survivors reporting sexual violence, yet there has been no resourcing to reflect this increase of demand. Commissioning in general for specialist Sexual Violence services has been problematic and fragmented; this results in Rape Crisis Centres not being able to guarantee long-term contracts to workers because of short-termism from commissioners and funding bodies. In turn, this affects waiting lists and the ability of survivors to access in a timely manner the specialis t support they need and deserve, without dedicated funding victims/survivors of sexual violence in a domestic abuse setting will have to wait up to a year in some cases for counselling.

15. With consideration to the above, the Bill in its current form indicates a continuation of sexual violence being marginalised in the larger VAWG agenda, despite acknowledging sexual violence as an integral aspect of domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner must ensure the inclusion of sexual violence specialist service provision within a domestic abuse framework, by recommending ring-fenced funding for specialist sexual violence counselling for domestic abuse survivors.

16. Commissioners often demonstrate preference towards funding the work of Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs), who support survivors through the criminal justice system. However, the success of Rape Crisis ISVAs in sustaining survivors’ engagement in the criminal justice system is often because the survivor is receiving emotional and trauma-informed therapeutic support. This ‘wrap-around’ or joined-up working supports survivors most effectively as it is bespoke, meeting the unique needs of the individual survivor.

17. RCEW continues to urge that the government to establish a sustainable funding model that can meet the ever-increasing demands that Rape Crisis Centres face. Central government must adequately fund specialist sexual violence services for individuals who have experienced rape within a domestic abuse framework and there should be a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to this effect.

18. As expressed in early submissions and consultations around the Bill, RCEW had requested that the Bill be a "Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Bill", as we are concerned that with the conflation of domestic abuse and sexual violence, survivors of all forms of sexual violence, will be forgotten.

May 2020


Prepared 11th June 2020