Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:05 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford 6:05 pm, 2nd October 2019

It has been a true honour to listen to this historic debate. It is a landmark Bill and this needs to be a watershed moment, not only in how we protect victims of domestic abuse, but in how we stop that abuse happening in the first place.

I would like to put on the record my deep respect for my right hon. Friend Mrs May, who never forgot the importance of this work, despite the many other responsibilities she had as our Prime Minister. I also thank the Minister and my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, whom I enjoy working with on the Select Committee, and I particularly thank Rosie Duffield for letting us into her heart today.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a barrister who spent decades specialising in family law cases and who shared with me many examples. We spoke about some of the specifics of the Bill—the importance of a legal definition, the practical support—but what he said was most important was the overall message it would send: that domestic abuse is simply not acceptable, that society stands behind the victim, and that we will not tolerate giving a hiding place to perpetrators.

As a constituency MP over the past couple of years, I have often had victims of domestic abuse come to speak to me because they do not know where else to turn. They are fearful of their abusers and that if they speak out the system will be loaded against them. Those who are brave enough to call for help are fearful during the investigation and in the court process, especially if they have to give evidence in front of their abuser, because they have heard that witnesses can sometimes be intimidated. That fear leads them to suffer for years in silence. It is the fact that the Bill takes action to address these issues that has been welcomed by so many organisations that support victims up and down the country. I would especially like to put on the record my thanks to Safer Places in Essex.

Many Members have called for action in specific areas, and I would like to mention three. First, I have had cases of parents or siblings who suspect that their son or daughter, or brother or sister, is the victim of violence—they have seen the evidence with their own eyes—but who do not know where to go for advice, and if they report the situation, they find themselves powerless to protect their loved one. Can we look again at these cases of family members who want to help?

Recently, I had a case of a couple where the victim was renting a shared private property with her abuser. Both tenants needed to give permission to cancel the tenancy, so one tenant could not get out of the property without the other’s approval, meaning they were trapped in their home. Can we look at the tenancy law in these cases?

Finally, we have seen time and again how online abuse tips over into real-world violence. I recently met representatives of the Revenge Porn Helpline. They are helping thousands of people, and nearly all of the cases involve women. They explained to me how threats of revenge porn trap the victim of violence in the abusive relationship. They shared their concerns that, as the internet moves into deepfake videos, it will be possible to superimpose someone’s face on to another person’s actions, send the video over the internet and use it as a threat to hold that person in an abusive relationship.

The digital world is evolving at an exponential rate. Time and again we explain to people that we are working on online harms in order to keep people safe, but the work in that space has to accelerate.