Sandra* was strangled by her partner on six occasions over two years. Despite having proof – admissions by text and photographs of marks round her neck – he was never charged with any offence.
The system let her down at every stage: the police, the prosecutor and the Victim’s Right of Review scheme all failed her.
Sandra did manage to escape to a refuge but her attacker got off scot-free.
In large part Sandra was failed because at the heart of it, the law does not reflect the seriousness of strangulation.
Non-fatal strangulation often leads to murder. Strangulation and asphyxiation are the second most common method of killing in female homicides, after stabbing. Twenty-nine per cent of women killed by men were strangled in 2018.
And there is no specific offence and so the police usually treat it as a ‘common assault’, a very minor offence that must be prosecuted within a six-month deadline. It is time to treat it far more seriously to reflect the severity of this particularly terrifying form of domestic abuse.
Right now, we have the opportunity to change this. I want to see a new offence of non-fatal strangulation enshrined in the Domestic Abuse Bill which goes back to the House of Lords on Tuesday (January 5th).
Sadly, this is not a niche issue that affects a small number of victims and survivors. Non-fatal strangulation is frequently used as a tool to exert power and control, and to instil fear, which is why we need a separate offence that reflects the severity of this form of abuse.
We know that 50-68% of victims of recurrent domestic abuse experience strangulation. According to the charity Safelives, over 20,000 victims whose cases were discussed at multi-agency meetings were subjected to strangulation.
This is one of a number of amendments that I am supporting.
It is fantastic to see this Bill going through Parliament. It has been a long time in the making and provides a rare opportunity to tackle all aspects of domestic abuse and has so many important elements to it that will change the lives of many victims and their families.
For example, a clause that identifies that children themselves are victims of domestic abuse and an end to the defence of ‘rough sex’ when a woman is murdered by her partner and claims in court the act was done as part of consensual so-called rough sex.
For the first time, the Bill creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes all types of abuse – physical violence but also abuse that is emotional, coercive or controlling and economic which is a great step forward.
I call on the Government to make the changes needed to make this new law truly transformative for all victims and survivors.
But it needs to go much further to meet the Government’s own ambition to create landmark legislation. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how prevalent domestic abuse is and highlighted how terrifying it is to live with an abuser.
The amendments, which are supported by large parts of the women’s sector, would help make the Bill far more robust so that the needs of victims and survivors are properly met.
It is vital that the Bill ensure that all victims and survivors are supported and protected, regardless of their immigration status. At the moment, the Bill provides no such protection for migrants with no recourse to public funds, who are excluded despite being some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
I would also like to see post-separation abuse included which would help bring perpetrators, who continue to abuse survivors long after separation, to justice and help to remove a barrier for survivors trying to rebuild their lives.
There should also be a statutory defence for survivors who offend due to abuse and paid statutory leave should be provided for domestic abuse victims.
My role as Domestic Abuse Commissioner is also created in the Bill and it gives me the statutory powers which will allow me to play a key role in holding local and national Government to account in order to improve the response to domestic abuse and shine a light on both good and poor practice and policy. I plan on doing everything I can within my power to do just that, and to raise up the voices of victims and survivors nationally so they are finally heard.
One of the key things that I will be doing is to map services so we can end the ‘postcode lottery’ faced by victims and survivors who want to access support. All victims across England and Wales equally deserve access to the services that they need to keep them safe, and to bring perpetrators to justice.
Now is the time for us all to work together to end domestic abuse so that women like Sandra are protected and their perpetrators are properly punished for the pain and suffering they cause.
The Domestic Abuse Bill gives us this opportunity and I call on the Government to make the changes needed to make this new law truly transformative for all victims and survivors.
I would urge you to write to your MP to call for the amendments to be included in the Bill.
Finally, to any readers who may be experiencing domestic abuse, please do know that you are not alone. Help and support is available by calling 999 in an emergency or the National Domestic Abuse Helpline in England on 0808 2000 247 and in Wales Live Fear Free on 0808 80 10 800.
- names have been changed.