Long-awaited domestic violence bill offers hope to victims

The lockdown has increased violence against women.(Photo: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images).
The lockdown has increased violence against women.(Photo: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images).


By Aneeta Prem
founder of domestic abuse charity Freedom

LAST week, under the long-awaited domestic violence bill, it was proposed that domestic violence offenders in England and Wales would face compulsory lie-detector tests when released from prison.

There could also be a ban on perpetrators crossexamining their victims during family court proceedings and a legal duty on councils to find safe accommodation for domestic abuse victims and their children. The proposed new law would also stipulate that controlling a victim’s finances could count as abuse.

If the bill is deemed to be successful after a three-year pilot, the scheme will be rolled out nationwide.

I am hopeful that this overdue bill will make a difference to help support both women and men. Throughout my many years of experience with victims of abuse, however, I sadly speak to many women who do not report the trauma they have faced.

One of the women I spoke to, Yasmin*, spent years with her abuser and his family. She initially met her husband after her family started to put pressure on her not to go to university and get married instead. When she agreed, she started to get introduced to potential life partners.

After a couple of introductions, Yasmin agreed to marry and then there was little time to think about anything else, with fittings and decisions about colour schemes and food tastings. Within five months of the initial introductions, Yasmin and her new husband were married.

At first, Yasmin was happy, then she moved in with her in-laws and things started to unravel. Their honeymoon was postponed after her husband’s grandmother fell ill. Five years on, there had still been no honeymoon. Yasmin was living in a large suburban house with his parents, his grandmother and three brothers. It was a big house and after the initial excitement of living there, she found herself in a very controlling, oppressive environment.

Not being allowed to go out to work, Yasmin had no money of her own. Her husband worked away all week and she had to rely on her in-laws for money. She was not allowed to leave the house to go shopping. She had to even request for sanitary products and would be questioned each month and rationed use of them.

Yasmin’s husband refused to help her and contributed to the abuse by taking her phone from her. She complained to her own parents, but they said she was ungrateful. Three years into the marriage, Yasmin fell pregnant. However, she wasn’t allowed to book an appointment or speak to the doctors on her own. Every part of her life and health was monitored and controlled.

Yasmin’s husband never hit her, so she didn’t think there was anything wrong with the situation – to her, it was normal family life. She told me that lots of women aren’t allowed to have their own money. Her husband’s family was well respected, and she felt that she should be grateful for being married within such a highly regarded family. But when his brother got married, Yasmin’s new sisterin-law suggested she reach out for help as she was being abused.

Many believe that those who suffer domestic abuse can simply leave. They say there are refuges available, that there are a variety of protection orders from non-molestation and harassment orders. The truth is it takes a long time for many victims to build up the courage and report the abuse.

Eventually, Yasmin left. She said it was the “best yet saddest thing (she) has had to do” but she did not want her daughter to think what she was going through was normal.

I almost need to shout it out to victims of domestic abuse – just because someone doesn’t batter you does not mean it’s not abuse. Sadly, Yasmin’s story is a very tragic but familiar tale of financial abuse as well as a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control.

The new bill will help some, but we know many women and men will find it almost impossible to leave; and when children witness abuse, it can stay with them in the long-term.

I welcome that perpetrators will not be able to cross-examine victims in family court. It has helped having this in place in criminal courts for a number of years as victims give the best evidence without fear of being cross-examined by perpetrators. The introduction of lie detectors tests is a controversial step, an aspect which I will be watching with interest.

My message to any victims of abuse would be, please don’t suffer in silence. Life is precious, and everyone deserves to be happy and not live in fear. *Name has been changed to protect identity. See www.freedomcharity.org.uk for more.