Amendment 162

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:30 pm on 8th February 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Primarolo Baroness Primarolo Labour 11:30 pm, 8th February 2021

My Lords, I will speak only briefly on Amendment 162. I too thank those organisations that have provided a briefing for this debate, particularly Refuge, which has been excellent throughout. Like other noble Lords, I commend its report, The Naked Threat.

At the beginning of the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, eloquently outlined why we need to act now. It is impossible to imagine the horror that someone might feel when their phone pings with a message from their ex-partner with photos attached, perhaps ones that they did not even know had been taken, and a threatening message saying, “How bad would it be if these were sent to your work colleagues?” By threatening to share the photographs, your ex-partner is escalating a campaign of intimidation and coercive control to make you do what they want. You can try to deal with it, but he is going to continue with those threats. He had been volatile and controlling, which is why you left him, and now he is trying to get you to go back to him or he wants to prove that he can still control you.

Over time, those threats become darker and more unsettling. You become anxious, you feel unsafe, you are not sure whether he is coming to your home or your work, following you or contacting your friends. He is now frightening you and threatening your physical well-being. Finally, you go to the police, but they decline to help on the basis that he has not done anything wrong and has not committed an offence, so there is nothing they can do. You feel deeply depressed, isolated and fearful. You stay away from friends and virtually go into hiding, not knowing where to turn for help.

As noble Lords have said, young women are disproportionately affected by these threats. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has compellingly set out the statistics. This issue is only going to grow, so any form of protection now needs to be brought in rapidly. The data is clear and illustrates why it is vital that an amendment is made to this Bill. No doubt, as other noble Lords have said, the Minister will cite the Law Commission review. However, as we know, those reviews can take years to come to a conclusion, as well as the Government deciding which recommendations they will accept. The Government then need to find parliamentary time. In replying to the debate, the Minister really does have to answer the question put by other noble Lords: if we are to wait for the outcome of the review and the Government’s decision on which recommendations they will apply, how long will that take? How long are the Government asking the survivors of this abuse to wait?

The Law Commission review covers a vast area of policy. Amendment 162 is not about pre-empting the full review. The changes it would make are small, straightforward amendments to an existing law that would not have a broader impact on the legal landscape. There really is nothing to stop the Government making this small change now, given that we have appropriate legislation before us.

This debate has clearly demonstrated that the threat to share intimate images is widespread. It is linked to domestic abuse and is having a devastating impact on the survivors of abuse. It is an issue that is going to increase and will continue to put power in the hands of the perpetrator, leaving survivors traumatised and isolated, perhaps forced to change their lives and move away from their homes, simply because the Government refuse to make this small change to the law. I hope that, in replying to the debate, the Minister will explain clearly, if the Government are unable to accept the amendment, how they propose to protect the survivors of this abuse.