New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower 6:15 pm, 6th July 2020

It is not particularly a pleasure to follow Philip Davies, who talks about the alienation of fathers and grandparents when the family court has given and continues to give parental rights to men who have perpetrated violent crimes against their children. I find it absolutely disgusting.

The ongoing covid pandemic has shone a light on the paucity of services available to victims of domestic violence. Since 2010, funding for services has been decimated, as has been shown time and again, with mainly women and children finding themselves homeless and unsupported after falling victim to domestic abuse. That is why the Bill is welcome, even though it has been a long time coming. The Bill, at its heart, must be about providing services to people who have become victims of abuse by their partner, regardless of their gender. We know that it is mainly women who suffer from domestic abuse, be it physical violence, threatening behaviour or coercive control. The consequence of that could be an unwanted pregnancy.

Throughout lockdown, access to telemedicine has meant that illegal and highly unsafe abortion has almost completely disappeared across Great Britain. That is why I fully support new clause 28, tabled by my hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, which would ensure that women in abusive relationships can access care in a way that would not put them in danger. Abortion is essential healthcare, and many women in abusive relationships would seek to end a pregnancy without their partner’s knowledge. The current law puts those women in danger. That situation cannot continue. I welcome that the Minister mentioned a public consultation. The new clause would not change the underlying law on abortion. It would not change the time limit or the many healthcare laws and regulations that govern abortion. It would simply enable the most vulnerable women to access the care they need without the threat of prosecution.

Prosecutions must be brought where a defence of rough sex is invoked. There can never be consent where someone dies—never. I commend the work of my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman on this matter. Protection for women killed by men who claim that consent was granted is surely one of the most basic rights. We should pass into law measures that make it clear that that will not be tolerated. Speaking out on one’s experience of domestic violence is a very brave thing to do. A fear of reprisal stops many from speaking out. That is why I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield, who found it too difficult to come to the Chamber to speak this evening.

Many of the measures in the Bill are welcome, but there is such a hill to climb. We need to keep on protecting victims and their children. That is not just victims of domestic abuse. We must ensure that we provide a safe and fair family court system and that our justice system protects those who have been subjected to sexual assault. The overhaul of the family court for domestic abuse victims will transform so many lives, many of whom I have represented. I welcome the Government’s commitment to amending the Bill so that victims of domestic abuse will be automatically eligible for special measures in the family court.

I have been dealing with a young woman who was groomed and raped at age 15 by a man many years her senior. Her case was not taken seriously, and even though the perpetrator admitted what he had done in a police interview, it was not taken any further. Now, a few years on, this man has been sentenced to prison and is on the sex offenders’ register, but my constituent has suffered the most appalling neglect and lack of support in bringing the case, so much so that she feels worse for doing it. No victim of any crime should ever be made to feel such regret. This is not an isolated incident; we have all dealt with cases where women have not been believed and where children have been endangered. Without proper funding, services cannot be provided to people who need them. Without funding, people fall through the cracks, and for far too long too many have fallen through these cracks and been let down. We cannot let that continue. I think we all, on both sides of the House, agree on that.