Refuge responds to the first reading of Victims and Prisoners Bill
Commenting on the Victims and Prisoners Bill as it receives its first reading in Parliament, Refuge CEO Ruth Davison said:
“It is disappointing that the government has failed to take on board Refuge’s and the Justice Committee’s recommendations to strengthen the Bill so that it makes a real difference for survivors of violence against women and girls. This is a missed opportunity and one which will do little to convince survivors that the government is prioritising their needs or recognising the seriousness of crimes committed against them.
In order to make any real difference to survivors, the Bill must be radically changed and strengthened. Only then can it hope to begin to create the much-needed change for survivors of domestic abuse and VAWG (violence against women and girls) related crimes and ensure services supporting survivors are adequately resourced to provide the life saving and life changing support needed.
The Victims and Prisoners Bill is a hugely important and overdue legislative opportunity to improve survivors’ access to specialist community-based services, so it is discouraging to see that no additional funding has been announced today for these vital services.
Community-based services are a lifeline for survivors, enabling them to access services in the way that best reflects their needs. Lack of funding for these crucial services has led to the current gaps in their provision and a post-code lottery of patchy provision of services throughout the country. It is only with an appropriate and sustainable funding package that these important services can provide the valuable support all survivors need and deserve.
Refuge recommends that the statutory duty on Police and Crime Commissioners, health and local authorities in England to work together when commissioning support services for survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse is strengthened to require relevant authorities to commission specialist domestic abuse community-based services at a level that meets local need. This must be backed by adequate, sustainable funding of £238 million per year to ensure truly holistic wraparound care is provided by specialist organisations.
At Refuge we hear time again how the criminal justice system fails women and their children, and how they are not made aware of the support systems available to them. It is positive that this Bill will finally enshrine the overarching principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation and place a duty on criminal justice bodies to promote awareness of the Code but far too often we hear that police officers, judges and court staff lack knowledge around the dynamics of domestic abuse and VAWG. This Bill needs to include a statutory duty for all police and criminal justice practitioners to undertake mandatory, trauma-informed training so that they are equipped to support survivors.
We know women face many barriers when reporting the abuse they have experienced and one of the issues we hear often is how migrant women with insecure immigration status feel unable to seek justice, due to fear of information sharing between immigration enforcement and the police. Alongside the rest of the VAWG sector, Refuge calls for the introduction of a complete firewall between the police and immigration enforcement for migrant survivors so that they can report the crimes committed against them with confidence. Insecure immigration status should never be a barrier to accessing support.
This Bill will do little to improve outcomes for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse unless it supports ALL survivors including migrant survivors and ensures the vital community-based services survivors depend on are properly resourced. The failure to strengthen this Bill will mean that, yet again, it is women and girls who are failed. This is not in line with the governments rhetoric that addressing domestic abuse and violence against women and girls is a priority”.