Your rights and the law
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National Domestic Abuse Helpline:
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The Domestic Abuse Act
The Domestic Abuse Act was signed into law after gaining royal assent on 29 April 2021. For victims of domestic abuse and the many thousands of professionals who work tirelessly to support those most in need, it signifies the most monumental leap forward in decades.
The act gives a legal definition to domestic abuse which is:
“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:
The law included some huge changes, detailed below.
- Non-fatal strangulation
- Support in accommodation
- End of rough sex defence
- Economic abuse
- Coercive control
- Revenge porn
- Changes to court system
For the first time, we now have a legal definition of domestic abuse which recognises children as victims in their own right. This puts children at the heart of society’s thinking about how we should help those affected by domestic abuse.
This change is crucial as children’s perspectives on, or experiences of, domestic abuse have not always been taken into account. This is despite the devastating impact growing up with domestic abuse has on children. They can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, have nightmares, flashbacks and physical pains, and they can also become depressed and battle suicidal tendencies.
The act also places a duty on local authorities in England to provide accommodation based support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.
Non-fatal strangulation is now a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Strangulation typically involves an abuser strangling or intentionally affecting their victim’s breathing in an attempt to control or intimidate them. Perpetrators were avoiding punishment as the practice can often leave no visible injury, making it harder to prosecute under existing offences such as Actual Bodily Harm (ABH).
The act places a duty on local authorities in England to provide accommodation based support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.
The new duty will cover the provision of support to victims and their children residing in some/all of the following (subject to consultation):
- refuge accommodation
- specialist safe accommodation
- dispersed accommodation
- sanctuary schemes
- move-on or second stage accommodation
In addition to the above, homeless victims of domestic abuse will gain automatic ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance.
Using ‘rough sex’ as a defence to excuse crimes of sexual violence will be banned in the UK this year.
The defence, used by lawyers to excuse non-fatal and fatal assaults because the victim has consented to sex, will be outlawed.
The amendment specifies that any behaviour such as injuring, assaulting or killing a partner, cannot be defended on the grounds that the victim consented to it – including if it occurred during a ‘sadomasochistic encounter’.
The Domestic Abuse Act includes economic abuse for the first time.
The act defines economic abuse as any behaviour that has a substantial and adverse effect on an individual’s ability to:
- acquire, use or maintain money or other property (such as a mobile phone or car) or;
- obtain goods or services (such as utilities, like heating, or items such as food and clothing)
This definition means that everyone will have the same understanding of what economic abuse is. It also means that agencies, such as the police, will have to recognise economic abuse and take it seriously.
The act will not make economic abuse a crime in its own right. However, it can be addressed through other offences, such as criminal damage and controlling or coercive behaviour.
The government’s new coercive or controlling behaviour offence will mean victims who experience the type of behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.
The offence will carry a maximum of 5 years imprisonment, a fine or both.
The government will also strengthen legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour, no longer making it a requirement for abusers and victims to live together. The change follows a government review which highlighted that those who leave abusive ex-partners can often be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation.
The so-called ‘revenge porn’ laws – introduced by the government in 2015 – will be widened to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress. More than 900 abusers have been convicted since revenge porn was outlawed but ministers are determined to further protect victims, with those who threaten to share such images facing up to two years behind bars.
The new law forms a ‘statutory presumption’ that victims are eligible for special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts, for example, providing evidence via video link. Additionally, perpetrators are now banned from cross-examining their victims in person in civil and family courts in England and Wales.
The act also prevents traumatising family court proceedings from taking place by clarifying the conditions in which a court can make a barring order under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989. Previously, repeated hearings could be used as a form of harassment and this new clarification will prevent that.
Finally, the act restricts GPs and other medical professionals from charging victims for a letter to support an application for legal aid.
For the first time, there will be a specific strategy developed which focuses on perpetrators.
Polygraph testing is now permitted for use on domestic abuse offenders as condition of their release from custody. Though polygraph testing isn’t 100% accurate, offenders could be subject to regular tests to determine whether they have breached release conditions.
Police have been given new powers to issue Domestic Abuse Protection Notices which require offenders to leave the home for up to 48 hours. Courts are now able to issue Domestic Abuse Protection Orders following an application by the police. These will enforce perpetrators to take positive steps to change their behaviour, e.g. by seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
Clare’s Law encourages anyone with concerns about their current or ex-partner to use their ‘right to ask’ to check whether they have a history of domestic abuse and if their partner or ex-partner poses a risk to them.
Applications can be made by males or females over the age of 16-years-old in both heterosexual or same-sex relationships. If police checks show that the partner or ex-partner has a record of abusive behaviour or there is other information to indicate the applicant may be at risk, a multi-agency decision will be taken on what information should be shared.
Find out more about Clare’s Law on the West Yorkshire Police website, or make an application using the button below.
Sarah’s Law – or the child sex offender disclosure scheme – allows parents, carers and guardians to formally ask the police to tell them if someone has a record for child sexual offences.
If you believe a child is in immediate danger, ring 999 immediately. Alternatively, you can email our Local Police Safeguarding Unit to discuss any concerns or questions you have.
The Home Office developed the scheme in consultation with Sara Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter Sarah was murdered by a convicted paedophile.
Police forces process the application – but disclosure is not guaranteed. The information will only be provided to the person making the enquiry and the person receiving the information must agree to keep it confidential.
You can apply online by completing the Child Sex Offenders Disclosure Scheme application form, or alternatively visit your local station or call 101. A trained member of staff will take your details and register your application under the scheme. Find out more about Sarah’s Law.
Any disclosure will only be made to the parent, guardian or carer best placed to protect the child or children. Any third party making the application would not necessarily receive disclosure if they were not best placed to protect the child or children.
The Victims’ Code focuses on victims’ rights and sets out the minimum standard that organisations must provide to victims of crime.