New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 5:30 pm, 6th July 2020

I welcome the opportunity to speak once more on the Domestic Abuse Bill—I have done so several times now. It is an honour to follow my right hon. Friend Theresa May, who has given so much passion and commitment to this incredibly serious issue, and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper, who has demonstrated ably that it is possible to work on a cross-party basis, even convincing me to add my name to some of her amendments. She makes a good case about the importance of identifying and registering serial perpetrators of domestic abuse, so that victims can be forewarned of what they are potentially getting themselves into.

I am conscious that many Members wish to speak, but I am also conscious that we are missing Rosie Duffield, who has spoken so passionately in this House. I hope that, this afternoon, all of us can be a voice for her. My hon. Friend the Minister has worked incredibly hard on this Bill, and during its passage she has still made time to listen to many Back-Bench Members who have wanted to raise their concerns. I appreciate that she has brought forward a series of amendments on Report which demonstrate that she has been listening, and in those areas where she has not been able to bring forward amendments and new clauses, she has still shown commitment. I use as an example the conversations I have had with her about the fact that domestic abuse should be recorded whatever the age of the victim. She has undertaken to continue to work with the Office for National Statistics. We know that, tragically, abuse can occur at any age—just being a pensioner does not make someone immune or exempt. It is crucial that we have the statistics and that she continues that work so that we can understand the full scale of the problem.

I am relieved to see the inclusion of new clauses that give greater protection to children who witness abuse and the commitment on housing victims of abuse. Finally, after an incredible pincer movement by Harriet Harman and my hon. Friend Mark Garnier, we have new clause 20, which will bring to an end the so-called rough sex defence. That new clause and much of the other work that has gone on shows that this place is better when we can put aside the adversarial nature of the House and ensure that we find cross-party solutions. However, inevitably, I will turn to some of the areas on which we have failed to find cross-party solutions and consensus.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of my new clause 34, which seeks to make it an offence to threaten to disclose private photographs. We all know from the debates that we have had and the representations that we have received that abuse occurs in many forms. It can be financial. It can be the withdrawal of a passport. It can involve mental control and coercive control. It is already an offence to share private intimate images or films. My new clause seeks to make it a specific offence to threaten to do so, because that is part of the mental control that abusers use over their victims. It need not necessarily be an actual act but can be the threat of an act.

Today Refuge launched its new campaign, The Naked Threat, which highlights the alarming figure of one in seven young women having been on the receiving end of threats to share intimate or sexual images. As 72% of those threats came from a current or former partner, that clearly puts this into the category of domestic abuse. Although I accept that that may not be for this Bill, I want to assure the Minister that I will return to it in future. Today I can be a voice for Natasha, who described the repeated threats, over years, of intimate images being shared, destroying her reputation, as being like having a bucket of ice-cold water thrown over her. She was gripped by the terror of feeling exposed and ashamed.

I turn to an issue on which I seek specific reassurance from the Minister—new clause 28, which I am sure will be debated at length today. I have a great deal of respect for Dame Diana Johnson, but my view is that this Bill is simply not the right place for that debate. It would permit different treatment for women who were victims of abuse from that of other women. It would potentially require clinicians, over a telephone consultation, to determine whether a patient was a victim of abuse, possibly opening up those clinicians to subsequent legal challenge. I do believe that we must return to this issue in this House—we must have a thorough and full debate on abortion rights—but today is not the time to do so.