New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 7:45 pm, 6th July 2020

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Also on the list is the Serious Crime Act 2015, which created the offence of coercive control. In 2017, the Conservative Government doubled the maximum sentence for stalking and a couple of years later passed the Stalking Protection Act 2019, creating stalking protection orders. That leads us to today and the Bill, which I dearly hope we will see become law shortly. That is an impressive history from Conservative Governments, taking strong, decisive and meaningful action to protect those who are unable to protect themselves and giving a voice to the most vulnerable. It is also important to note the notable gap in such laws between 1997 and 2010.

I was honoured to sit on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, my first as a Member of Parliament. It is important to say that on Second Reading and in Committee I highlighted the need to amend the definition of domestic abuse to include children within households where such abuse is present, and to recognise children of the victims of abuse, not just as witnesses. It is estimated that up to 30% of children live in a household where abuse is taking place. Until now, children were seen as the hidden victims of domestic abuse who were never directly affected, but we know that that is not true. Every day, children’s services teams up and down the country, and children’s charities such as Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society, see the devastating effects that witnessing such abuse can have on a child’s development, educational attainment and long-term mental health. I saw this myself as children’s services lead at Westminster.

Home is meant to be our place of safety where we are loved and cherished the most, but for some children home becomes a torture chamber. They wake up every morning not knowing whether a tiny mistake will lead to violence and the type of abuse that most of us could never imagine. My campaign to seek this amendment to the definition was sparked not only by my experience in children’s services but by hearing the experience of a constituent of mine who has become a friend: the broadcaster Charlie Webster. Charlie has told me her story of growing up in a home where domestic abuse at the hands of her stepfather had a devastating effect on her, her mum and her brothers. Charlie is a survivor and now a strong campaigner for better understanding of the effects that witnessing domestic abuse can have on a child, and I thank her for helping me to understand why the definition had to be amended.

I therefore wholeheartedly support and welcome Government new clause 15, on recognising children as victims of abuse within their households. I am pleased that, for the purpose of this new clause, a child is recognised as someone under 18. It will therefore include teenagers and young adults who, although perhaps more developed than their young peers, are still forming an understanding of the world around them. It is important to me to highlight the need to amend the definition to include children. I lobbied Ministers to accept the need for the amendment, and I am delighted that they listened. In fact, the Government have listened throughout this process.

In closing, I would like to pay tribute to the Ministers who have led on this legislation: the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Alex Chalk. As a new MP, I have been in awe of their attention to detail and their willingness to listen to those on both sides of the House, to victims and to organisations working with domestic abuse. I also pay tribute to the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor for their work on this. The amendments that have been accepted are testament to the Government’s ambition for this legislation to make a long-lasting and fundamental difference, and I commend this vital and groundbreaking Domestic Abuse Bill to the House.