Methods of economic control, such as restricting a partner’s access to bank accounts or employment, will be recognized as a form of domestic abuse in England and Wales, according to a draft bill released by the British government on Monday.
The bill will also prevent abusers from cross-examining their victims in court, introduce new protection orders and establish a national domestic abuse commissioner, and it may force offenders to take mandatory lie-detector tests on release from prison.
Campaigners and charities have welcomed aspects of the bill but some question its effectiveness in the face of funding cuts to refuges and other services.
The long-awaited draft legislation, first promised by Prime Minister Theresa May in February 2017, sets out a statutory government definition of domestic abuse for the first time, which includes “controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse” and economic abuse. It will now be brought before Parliament for debate.
Defined in the bill as “behaviors that control a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources,” economic abuse can involve an abuser taking control of their victim’s money, food, transportation or housing – such as not allowing use of a car or deliberately damaging their credit ratings.
Sian Hawkins, head of campaigns and public affairs at the charity Women’s Aid, told CNN: “We know that economic abuse has not been very widely understood or treated as seriously, so it’s really important that this new legal definition recognizes economic abuse as a key part of domestic abuse.
“It makes victims incredibly financially dependent on the perpetrators, and makes it difficult for them to leave an abusive relationship.”
Investment and implementation
Hawkins told CNN that services for domestic abuse survivors are “facing a huge funding crisis,” with 21,084 victims of abuse turned away from refuges in England between 2017 and 2018. “This bill is going to drive up demand, and we need to see that our services can absorb that demand,” she said.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of domestic abuse charity Refuge, told CNN, “The new bill could improve the government’s response to domestic abuse, but much will depend on implementation.”
“We need to challenge the root causes of domestic abuse, and ensure sustainable funding to provide services,” she said. “We need to prevent the problem through education, training, and awareness, protect women through rigorous law enforcement, and provide an infrastructure of services for women so they can escape.”
“That all has to be underpinned by investment.”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott of the opposition Labour Party tweeted, “Ministers must go further and ensure there is long term funding available for abuse survivors.”
Two million adults experience abuse every year
According to the Office for National Statistics, 2 million adults in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the year ended March 2018, of whom 1.3 million were women. In the same year, the police recorded 599,549 abuse-related crimes.
Between April 2014 and March 2017, 293 women were killed in “domestic homicides”; 239 of these women were killed either by their partner or ex-partner, all but one of whom were male.