By Nadeem Badshah
NEW laws to tackle domestic violence do not go far enough to help victims who are children and migrant women, campaigners have cautioned.
They welcomed the domestic abuse bill in addressing tech abuse – where perpetrators use fitness trackers and “smart” home devices attached to heating, lights and video doorbells to spy on, stalk and control current and former partners.
However, activists have raised concerns about BAME communities, as people with an “insecure” immigration status often do not seek help from police for fear of being reported to the Home Office.
And some suspected victims from countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are barred from refuges as they seek to escape their abusers because they do not have access to public funds.
Dr Ravi K Thiara, an associate professor at the University of Warwick, told Eastern Eye: “Since technology is changing how abuse is being perpetrated, it is positive that the bill encompasses this form of abuse.
“But, while recognising the varied forms of abuse within domestic abuse, the bill falls short in recognising the multiple forms of violence and abuse that women and girls are subjected to.
“It also doesn’t treat every victim of abuse equally, so migrant women with an insecure immigration status are left unprotected, [something] which clearly needs to be addressed.”
She added: “Under austerity, women’s support services have suffered from closures and insecurity, with specialist services for black and minority women being decimated.
“An assurance is needed that legislative measures will be accompanied by a financial commitment to sustaining and strengthening life-saving services for those subjected to violence and abuse.”
Dr Thiara was part of new research on sexual violence and minority women, the first national study of its kind. The findings, Reclaiming Voice: Minoritised Women and Sexual Violence, published this month, found that BAME women could suffer overlapping forms of violence and abuse, including rape in marriage, child sex abuse, sexual exploitation and trafficking which they endure for up to 15 years before seeking help.
Researchers also said the women were often “silenced” by family and community members when they tried to speak out.
The domestic abuse bill was unveiled in the Commons for its first reading earlier this month.
The government has also started a review into what support could be provided to migrant victims of domestic abuse.
Mandy Sanghera, one of the founders of the government’s Forced Marriage Unit, praised the new laws, but also urged better support for children.
She told Eastern Eye: “The domestic abuse bill is a monumental step to empower victims and survivors, provide protection and bring perpetrators to justice
“Many women have stayed in abusive relationships for far too long because of fear and shame. We need the community to not ignore abuse.
“From giving courts greater powers through new prevention orders to barring abusers from cross-examining their victims in family courts, we are giving victims power back. We are delivering a justice system more resilient than ever to tackle domestic abuse.
“[But] I still feel there isn’t enough awareness of the impact of abuse on children, especially in the Asian community, as women are still fighting for equality within the home.”
One in six refuges has closed since 2010, with council spending cut from £31.2 million in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017. A recent report by the Action for Children charity found that many specialist BAME support services have suffered severe budget cuts, with young people and families with English as a second language and specific cultural needs “often not provided with the right support”.
Action for Children estimates tens of thousands of young people have been at risk of domestic abuse since the general election.
The charity’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain, said it was vital the bill recognised a child as an “innocent victim and not just a witness”.
Meanwhile, survivors of sexual violence and abuse would be given a legal right to specialist support under a new bill tabled by the Liberal Democrats.
Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson said: “Support services for victims of sexual and domestic abuse should be a right, not a privilege. It’s unbelievable that survivors face shamefully long waiting lists.”
She added the bill she presented to parliament would “ensure proper face-toface specialist support for victims of sexual or domestic abuse”.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The [domestic abuse] bill has been designed to be futureproof from any new ways perpetrators try to control their victims.”