Response to the Justice Committee Report on the draft Victims Bill
Responding to the Justice Committee Report – Pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Victims Bill, Refuge CEO Ruth Davison said:
“The Victims Bill is hugely important and is an overdue legislative opportunity to improve survivors’ experience of the criminal justice system and their access to specialist community-based services. At Refuge we know only too well how often the criminal justice system fails the women and their children that we support, and it is disappointing that the Bill in its current form does not go far enough to improve outcomes for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. The Committee itself acknowledges that the Bill currently falls short in meeting its ambition to improve victims’ awareness of their rights and their experience of the criminal justice system.
Of primary concern to Refuge is that the Bill does not go far enough to ensure that vital, community-based support services are available to survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. Community-based services are a lifeline for survivors and must be prioritised and properly funded in the Bill. Refuge offers a wide range of these specialist services, and they enable survivors 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 Refuge is calling on the government to tackle this funding gap, which has led to a post-code lottery and 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 survivors need. Refuge urges the government to take on board the committee’s recommendation to provide the funding required to meet demand for these services, estimated by Women’s Aid Federation England to be £228 million per year.
Survivors currently face huge barriers reporting the crimes committed against them to the police and Refuge recommends that the Victims Bill introduces a statutory duty for all police and criminal justice practitioners to undertake mandatory, trauma-informed training. Migrant women face increased barriers when reporting to police and Refuge strongly welcomes the Justice Committee’s calls for an introduction of a complete firewall between the police and Immigration Enforcement for migrant survivors so that their data cannot be shared between the two.
Lastly, Refuge supports the report’s recommendations that the definition of ‘victim’ be expanded to include consistent and specialist references to children acknowledging their specific needs when they are impacted by domestic abuse as victims in their own right, and to include the needs of the families impacted by domestic homicide.
The recommendations outlined in this report are promising, and we urge the government to take on board the committee’s recommendations in their revision of the Bill so that it is as strong as possible in creating the much-needed change for survivors of domestic abuse.”
Refuge supports thousands of women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For support with tech abuse visit refugetechsafety.org.