2021 hit the ground running as the Domestic Abuse Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Lords on the 5th of January. This was a date we’d been waiting for at SEA, as we’d worked hard to garner support from Members of the Lords for an amendment to see post-separation abuse recognised in the Bill to offer protection to those victim-survivors of economic abuse who are #StillNotSafe through extending the coercive and controlling behaviour offence.
We were thrilled to see such wide support for the purpose of the amendment. This was raised by Conservative Peers Baroness Bertin, Baroness Sanderson, Baroness Finn and Viscount Goschen, as well as Labour Peers Baroness Lister, Baroness Crawley, Baroness Andrews and Lord Hunt. It was also raised by Liberal Democrat Peer Baroness Burt and crossbenchers Baroness Haymen and Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford.
The Peers spoke powerfully and persuasively for the need for the amendment:
Baroness Lister: “The failure to reform existing legislation on coercive control means that Domestic Abuse Bill does nothing to address post-separation abuse which all too often means economic abuse continues and even escalates”.
Baroness Sanderson: “We now know coercive control often continues, or even begins post-separation, particularly in relation to economic abuse, which is one of the ground-breaking elements of this Bill. It seems contradictory, on the one hand, to be at the forefront of recognising economic abuse as a serious problem and, on the other, failing to address it by refusing to make the necessary change in law to include post-separation abuse”.
Baroness Andrews: “This is not speculation. It is based on sound research by leading university experts who have demonstrated that coercive control actually increases after the end of the relationship and takes different forms, particularly economic and financial abuse. The existing laws on stalking and harassment do not cover the situation, and neither does the definition of economic abuse, which is simply too narrow… One case study from the charity, Surviving Economic Abuse, illustrates this. Leslie was with her abusive partner for over 10 years and was the main earner. She put up with physical and economic abuse, and after she left the abuser, he transferred all their money, refused to pay bills, and took out loans. The result was homelessness and destitution. It is a person but not a unique story. Those problems have been identified; they are clear, they are practical and they can be solved.”
After over seven hours, with wide, cross party support on improving a number of aspects of the Bill, many suggested that the Second Reading marked a turning point, as it demonstrated such commitment to improving the lives of, and government responses to, victim-survivors of all forms of domestic abuse.
What happens next?
An amendment on post-separation abuse has now been tabled by Labour Peer Baroness Lister. Now the SEA team is now preparing its briefing to build support for the amendment ahead of the Bill’s Committee Stage where the amendments will be debated and discussed line by line.
We are also waiting for the outcome of a government review into the controlling and coercive offence and whether it is fit for purpose. As it stands, the government has suggested that the current stalking and harassment laws provide recourse for post-separation abuse victims but we do not believe this is the case.
Here at SEA we’re extremely grateful to everyone who supported our calls for the amendment and put post-separation abuse, a cruel and devastating form of abuse, on the agenda. It is high time. A special thanks goes to our Expert By Experiences members. Without their courage and commitment to sharing their experiences, we couldn’t do this work. As 2021 looks to be another challenging year for victims of abuse, their work is more valuable than ever.
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