New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 7:15 pm, 6th July 2020

I warmly welcome the Bill and the amendments to it that have been tabled. It has been urgently needed for a great many years, but perhaps never more so than now. I add my thanks to Ms Harman and Mark Garnier for all they have done on the campaign against the “rough sex” defence, and associate myself in particular with amendment 35 on misogyny as a hate crime, which was tabled by Stella Creasy and spoken to very ably by Christine Jardine.

Like many others, I urge the Government to look again at the issue of migrant women and the issue of “no recourse to public funds”. I do not think that, so far, the Government have really recognised what is at stake. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper, suggested, simply taking away the existing law would be a positive way to deal with the crisis right now.

I wish to speak in particular to a survivor’s right to press anonymity, in respect of which there is an omission in the Bill. That gap in the legislation risks undermining many of the provisions designed to increase reporting and access to justice. Currently, the law allows the media to identify domestic abuse survivors when they appear in court. For survivors, the majority of whom are women, that means accepting yet another level of fear and risk. It potentially means that a perpetrator can more easily find them. It means that every aspect of their past behaviour is potentially subjected to unaccountable scrutiny and judgment. Without press anonymity, domestic abuse survivors face the risk of being abused all over again.

My new clause 19 has been developed with RISE, which is one of the leading service providers and advocates for women in my constituency, and it is based on RISE’s wealth of experience of what prevents women from reporting domestic abuse and what keeps them as safe as possible once it does happen. The new clause seeks to ensure that survivors of domestic abuse receive the same guarantee of press anonymity that has been in place for survivors of sexual assault for almost 30 years via the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. In essence, it would prevent identifiable details from being published by the media, online, in print or on social media, and require any content that breaches anonymity to be deleted. The right to anonymity would come into force as soon as domestic abuse is reported to the police and last for a survivor’s lifetime. The new clause would also create a new offence whereby a publisher could be fined for anonymity breaches. That penalty, and the level of fine, is consistent with the 1992 Act and the rights of survivors of sexual assault.

There are many reasons why a failure to guarantee anonymity for survivors weakens the objectives of the Bill. First, domestic abuse victims and survivors are more likely to be killed within the first year of their leaving an abusive partner—a timeframe that frequently coincides with their cases coming to court. Naming survivors in the media puts their wellbeing and safety at further risk, putting them and their children under unimaginable strain and anxiety during what is already an extremely difficult process.

Secondly, the fear of being identified by friends, family members, work colleagues and employers after being named in the press actively discourages survivors from reporting domestic abuse. As one told RISE:

“"None of my family knew, neither did my employer…I felt sad, ashamed, embarrassed and violated.”

It must be a survivor’s choice as to who they tell about an abusive relationship, and when, not one taken from them by the media. The law as it stands wrests power and control from women in a situation in which a loss of power and control are already factors in their abuse.

Thirdly, cases of domestic abuse can involve sexual abuse, too, and inconsistent survivor-anonymity provisions may lead to a breach of the 1992 Act, perhaps inadvertently. The best way to keep survivors safe is to protect their anonymity, especially as sexual violence may not always be disclosed in domestic abuse reports.

The view expressed by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, in Committee was that the anonymity provisions are

“an exceptional interference with open justice.”––[Official Report, Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee, 16 June 2020;
c. 325.]

With respect, I think he is wrong. Of course, there is always a balance to be struck, but there are precedents not only in the 1992 Act but in the Serious Crime Act 2015 in respect of female genital mutilation and in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as well.

Under my new clauses, survivors could still be named in court and journalists could still report on other aspects of the case; they simply would not be able to publish identifiable details, such as photographs or the survivor’s, name, address or workplace. It is not about restricting free speech; it is about keeping survivors safe and alive. There is no justice unless that is one of the Bill’s primary objectives. I urge the Government please to consider my new clause again. It would bring this Bill in line with the 1992 Act and make it better and more consistent.