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Last week the Guardian reported that non-fatal strangulation is to carry a five year prison sentence as an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill. This is one of a series of changes made by the government in response to the first stage of debate on the Bill in the Lords, a number of which Jenny and Natalie worked on. More than half the victims of recurrent domestic abuse experience strangulation, usually a terrifying means of exercising control rather than attempted murder. Currently if it is prosecuted it is usually under the charge of "common assault", but even that may be difficult to prove, as there may be few or no injuries visible. This specific crime has been created to help the police to protect an estimated 20,000 people, mostly women, per year – or 55 women every day. 
Natalie wrote for Green World: I know there’ll be some people who misunderstand what the Green Party is all about, who’ll be wondering why I and Jenny should spend significant time and effort on the Domestic Abuse Bill. Those would be the people who fail to understand that the Green Party represents a complete political philosophy, a different philosophy to others in the House, not being ‘just about environment’. Feminism is built into Green political philosophy, we developed in parallel, as two of the new political movements from the 1960s. Listening to women and other marginalised groups  - and acknowledging that there are still far too many institutional barriers that mean they are not heard - is at the heart of Green philosophy.

Jenny wrote for Left Foot Forward: There are lots of positives about the Domestic Abuse Bill but the one that shines out to me is the sheer range of amendments (over 190) and the huge backlog of issues impacting primarily on women, that many of these seek to address. While it’s clear that domestic abuse impacts on everyone and men can also be on the receiving end, amendments to make misogyny a hate crime, or the creation of a specific crime of non-lethal strangulation, are attempts to deal with long standing problems that women have suffered. These are friendly changes, by which the Lords is trying to make good legislation even better.  The sheer scale of domestic abuse is staggering. One estimate is that 2.4m adults aged 16-74 years will have experienced domestic abuse in the last year, yet it rarely features in public debates about the ‘latest crimewave’.


March 8th 1pm Jenny will be taking part in this Women ChangeMakers event hosted by Andrea Carey Fuller: Women Campaigning on Air Pollution with Rosamund Addo-Kissi-Debrah (Co-founder of the Ella Roberta Foundation), Dr Maria Neira (W.H.O Director of Environment, Climate Change and Heath) and clean air advocate Penny Hosie

March 11th 7pm Natalie will be speaking at this event  hosted by Young Green Womxn: Fifty Years of Being a Feminist in a Neoliberal, Patriarchal World: Where Do We Go From Here?

Natalie and Jenny at Glastonbury Festival June 2015  

The Domestic Abuse BIll

This is an important and ground-breaking this Bill, it is taking us on to new ground and covering issues and areas around criminal and abusive activities that may be partially covered in other Acts, but not with the same strength and width. 

Parental Alienation
The first big debate at Committee Stage in the House of Lords was on an issue over which there is considerable disagreement: a call to incorporate acknowledgement of ‘parental alienation’ into the Bill. There is a concern that the concept of ‘parental alienation’ had been overdeveloped and this view is reflected in a range of journals, from the Family Court Review, to Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, to the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse. Natalie spoke against the inclusion of ‘parental alienation’ in the Bill.

Misogyny and sexism are deeply embedded in our society, we have enshrined our condemnation of racism and homophobia in law, but we are not treating sexism as the same kind of priority and it is time that we did. Speaking to an amendment she co-signed on misogyny as a hate crime, Jenny said: According to statistics, 90% of British women experienced street harassment before the age of 17. Street harassment is being shouted at. We are not talking about wolf-whistling; we are talking about men shouting at women, making them embarrassed and perhaps making them feel less free to walk down a street. Eighty-five per cent of women aged 17 to 24 have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances. Only 11 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales have made misogyny a hate crime (or trialled it or are actively considering implementing it). Nottinghamshire Police have been trailblazers on this and have seen a 25% increase in the reporting of misogynistic crime and a very high level of satisfaction among the people  - mainly women - who have reported those crimes, because finally they have been taken seriously.

Police training
Domestic abuse training for the police is part of what will help them to take misogynistic crime seriously. Jenny said: When I was on the Metropolitan Police Authority, I saw the mis-match between how the police dealt with murder and with domestic abuse. The former was a priority, while the later was often dismissed as a  ‘domestic’. There was a gulf between the two sets of crime, but the truth is that some years a fifth of murders are ‘domestics’. Murder and severe assaults often come at the end of a history of domestic abuse. While the headlines might be grabbed by street crime, or drive by shootings, 15% of violent crimes are regularly going on behind closed doors. The point myself and others made to the police is that if you deal with “minor domestics” properly, then the level of more severe crimes will drop. It is an opportunity for the police to really change things for the better. I am told that 24 out of 43 police authorities have adopted a system of training on domestic abuse. Training means more officers will understand when abuse is happening and is especially important because not all crimes result in physical injury

Protecting victims in civil proceedings
This is another area of the bill in which the government has given way and introduced changes very similar to those Natalie was arguing for. Natalie explains why she attached her name to some amendments on this issue when she saw that no other Lords had done so: It was because of my experiences as a young journalist many years ago in Australia, when I covered mostly criminal courts. Sitting in many courtrooms over the years as a journalist, looking at the witnesses, you think about what the experience of being a witness is like. I saw the sometimes harrowing ordeals that people had to go through. We are talking about people who are victims of domestic abuse and have suffered all the personal damage that entails.

If we think about the actual experience of a witness who suffered that kind of assault and is then expected to stand in a courtroom and look in the eye the person responsible for that assault, and who is expected to look strong, stand tall and not seem what anyone might determine as shifty or uncertain, we can imagine the pressure that puts on such a witness. This is an issue of compassion - of protecting people and ensuring that we are not making victims of domestic abuse suffer again. It is also an issue of justice because if they are to be able to clearly set out the case - to explain the circumstances and to bear witness - they need to be in conditions that reasonably allow them to do that. To set a higher bar for civil proceedings than for family proceedings simply does not make sense, there are many cases in which civil proceedings will be intimately entangled with family issues and issues of domestic circumstances. Full information about what witnesses may have been subjected to may not be available and full reporting may not have happened, so it may not be open to a judge to be in the right place to rule on this. There should be an automatic protection available to witnesses who need it.

National Green Women at Autumn Conference 2015

Intrusion into survivors’ lives has to stop; they are revictimised and exploited by this publicity. Other survivors see this and it makes them less likely to report crimes that have been committed against them. It forces people to maintain secrecy for fear of becoming the latest victim of a media circus. The courts are not currently set up to help survivors avoid this media chaos. There is scope for a survivor to seek a reporting restriction, but this is limited to situations where the restriction would help improve the quality of evidence or the level of co-operation given by a witness in preparing the case. This is not necessarily a survivor-focused approach; it is actually focused on helping the court to have the best available evidence, rather than the rights and protections of survivors. There must be some way to find agreement on the need to protect survivors, while allowing them to tell their story and obtain justice.

Jenny tabled an amendment to grant anonymity to domestic abuse survivors in criminal proceedings. She explained: I am trying to address the woeful under-prosecution of domestic abuse and domestic violence in our courts. I do not think that the courts are quite set up to secure justice for survivors. Part of the problem is the intrusive nature of court into the survivors’ lives. The nature of domestic abuse means that deep and intimate details of a survivor’s life and their abuse can be exposed to the public eye. These intimate details can be exploited by the tabloid press or be the subject of trolling on social media. The higher the profile of the abuser or survivor or the more extreme the abuse, the more likely they are to face that media circus.

Double standards
Natalie said: The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill allows blanket legal protections for undercover police and informants. The forthcoming overseas operations Bill creates similar new protections against prosecution for military personnel acting overseas. The Government have fought intensely for these protections against prosecution for the police and the military; they have fought against many attempts to reduce or check these protections. Having granted such broad protections to the police and military, even in cases of fundamental wrongdoing - why should the Government refuse what are comparatively far more limited legal defences for survivors of domestic abuse.

Jenny withdrew her amendment on anonymity saying: I realise this is a tricky subject to legislate on, but I think there is a problem and we need to fix it in some way. I heard the Minister say that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. In that case, I would like him to go to the High Court and see what is happening in the spy cops inquiry, where Judge Mitting is giving anonymity to many police officers who have committed crimes.

Economic Abuse
This legislation also creates a  statutory definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive or controlling, as well as economic abuse. An amendment signed by Jenny would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the Child Maintenance Service to tackle the problem of abusers continuing economic abuse by withholding or reducing child maintenance payments. Jenny was in the chamber to support this amendment and said:  It is important that the child maintenance system is not misused as a tool of abuse. Domestic abusers must not be allowed to continue their domestic abuse by withholding or reducing their financial support for children. This amendment, like so many of those tabled to this Bill, is a reminder of how multifaceted domestic abuse is, and how abusers will exploit any opportunity they possibly can. 

Problem Drug Use
Jenny spoke in support of amendments that aim to minimise the harms caused by problem drug use. The Green Party recognises that in the majority of cases the limited use of drugs for recreational purposes is not harmful and has the potential to enhance human relationships and human creativity. So we focus on minimising not only drug abuse but the social ills that lead to it - we take a health-focused approach to it. But harmful drug use, which is often alcohol abuse, can be both a cause and effect of domestic abuse. These amendments focused on both abusers and survivors in order to address the issues in a holistic and comprehensive way. Most harmful drug use is underpinned by poverty, isolation, mental illness, physical illness and psychological trauma, but then the harmful drug use can cause a vicious cycle. 

It is however, inappropriate to put any sort of coercive requirement on people to attend drug, alcohol and mental health programmes and Jenny spoke against an amendment in favour of this. She said: These are things that people should enter into willingly; it would be dangerous to start imposing criminal penalties on people for not taking them up. Although drugs and mental health can be causative factors in domestic abuse, it is better to place the restrictions on the abusive behaviours themselves rather than to try to force people to obtain help. This is especially true as the success of these programmes can be quite variable. Merely attending a programme is not a magic cure for addictions or mental illness; it is much better to focus on outcomes and effects rather than simply forcing someone to follow a set process. This is not to say that these programmes should not be well supported and strongly encouraged - they absolutely should - but criminalising addiction and mental illness is a dangerous and, I think, unhappy policy to pursue.

Refuge provision
Natalie said: From the early 1970s onwards refuges were places where we saw the growth and coalescence of a movement. They continue to be a centre for advocacy and campaigning support for the essential services that domestic abuse victims need. If we lose those specialist services, we also lose a lot of that advocacy and campaigning, as well as a depth of knowledge. The simple provision of accommodation will not meet the needs of victims of domestic abuse, we must stress the importance of specialist support..

Competitive tendering for these services has often been toxic. The Government should consider moving away from the idea of regular competition as an appropriate way of seeing that these services are funded. We should move closer towards a system of having a good, ideally local, service that meets the needs of a community, with an appropriate check to see that that continues. The assumption should be that that funding continues, rather than seeing the huge waste of resources that are put in again and again into bidding to keep contracts. The risk is that you can lose a local service completely, if it loses just one round of contract bidding. The Green Party very much believes in localism and decisions made locally, and referred upwards only when absolutely necessary.

But we also need a foundation of rights and standards, which is appropriately provided at the national level. Those standards and that statutory provision is not enough; we now that, increasingly, local government is left with barely enough funds to meet its statutory requirements, let alone to provide the extra services and needs that each local community has. It is crucial that we also focus on ensuring that local communities and local government have the funding that they need to meet these statutory requirements - and not just that but to meet the extra, individual local community needs that each local government area has, to ensure that that we truly deliver what the local community asks for.

The right of victims to stay home rather than resort to refuges
Jenny said: It is important that we see refuges as part of an ecosystem of services available for survivors. I have visited refuges; they do their best and, obviously, they are safe and protected. At the same time, however, it is much better for survivors to stay in their own homes if they want to. The perpetrators - the abusers - ought to be the people who get ostracised from their communities and thrown out of the family house. 

Immigration Status
There were a number of amendments supported by Jenny and Natalie relating to immigration status. Immigration status is a complex area and we know from the tragedy of Windrush that even citizenship is not always an adequate protection from detention and deportation. Natalie said: The Government have stated a commitment to protecting victims of domestic abuse and ensuring that the law does not act as a facilitator of abuse. If ensuring that domestic abuse victims have a route to safety and perpetrators are brought to justice is the highest government priority, they need to ensure that not just those who might be subjected to immigration control but those who might fear being subjected to it, whether rightly or not, are not prevented from accessing the protections. It is not just those who might face immigration controls who need the reassurance of these amendments, but those who fear becoming entangled in the horrors of the Home Office’s hostile environment as a result of reporting abuse or seeking help. They might have no real reason to fear that, but history will tell them that there is cause for concern. We need not only to protect them and make sure they are safe but to ensure, by stating it loudly and clearly in the Bill, that reporting abuse and seeking safety and justice will not entangle them in that hostile environment. This needs to be set out in government publicity so that there is a clear understanding across the community.

Domestic servitude
On this issue Natalie said: Amendment 9 on domestic servitude made me think of a visit I made many years ago to Migrant Rights’ Network, where, sadly, I met an early victim of the hostile environment - someone clearly in need of asylum but who had been denied it and found themselves living in a household situation that they regarded as a family, domestic situation but was clearly effectively an abusive employment situation. It is really important that we make sure the Bill covers those kinds of situations, because the line between domestic and employment is not always as clear-cut as one might expect. It is really important that this Domestic Abuse Bill is as comprehensive as possible. It is important that that protection is extended to as many people as possible. Structures of households are many and varied. We need to make sure they are covered as best we can.

Universal Credit
Natalie and Jenny supported a linked series of amendments aiming to address the disastrous impact of universal credit on victims: one argued that advance payments during the five-week wait for UC payments should be a grant, not a loan, for victims of domestic abuse; another called for the benefit cap not be applied to victims of domestic abuse, at least temporarily; a further amendment called for a report on the impact of UC being paid as a single household payment, rather than to individuals.  

As Natalie wrote for Left Foot Forward: speaker after speaker said that Universal Credit’s (UC) arrangements facilitate domestic abuse but the arguments against the current structure of UC apply not just to victims of domestic abuse but to all recipients of the payments. When it comes to single payments to a household, any kind of power imbalance - it does not need to go to the lengths of domestic abuse - means that there is unequal access to household resources.

A report from the Women’s Budget Group says that to be financially autonomous, you need independence (an independent income, a sense of ownership and not having to ask for money). You need privacy (being able to make your financial decisions without surveillance or oversight) and you need agency ( access to the money). Ensuring financial autonomy for all is one reason for a universal basic income – a payment to every member of our society, without conditions. It would give people agency and control over their lives: the basic security, a right to the necessities of life. Universal Credit is damaging to the dignity, the life, the security, of all of its recipients, everyone needs the security of a universal basic income.

A Domestic Abuse Commissioner
The legislation itself establishes in law the Office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner and places a duty on local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and safe accommodation. Giving the survivors of abuse priority for accommodation provides a safety net for the estimated 2.4m adults aged 16-74 years who experienced domestic abuse in the last year. The range of amendments in the Lords shows how this area of law has been neglected by many agencies, including the police.

Green Women Dinner at the House of Lords February 2018
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House of Lords Green Group · House of Lords · London, Greater London SW1A 0PW · United Kingdom

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