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Examination of Witnesses

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:24 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Eleanor Briggs:

We really welcome that. We were really pleased to see the Joint Committee recommendation. The Children Act is a fantastic piece of legislation. We are excited its 30th anniversary is coming up next month. It is a great piece of legislation because it has adapted and changed as things have moved forward. As part of that, in 2002, the definition of harm was changed to include impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. That was added in relation to domestic abuse, so that recognition was there. We support the Joint Committee’s recommendation for it to be absolutely clear that coercive control is included. Our research with Stirling University, that I referred to, showed that the local authorities we spoke to felt that social workers still did not recognise coercive control and how dangerous it can be. Research shows that children really do suffer when coercive control is going on in the house. It is also very high risk. There is a high chance of very serious violence related to coercive control, so we support that widening.

We would also like to see the definition change slightly so that it talks about children seeing or hearing—experiencing—the domestic abuse that goes on. This point was powerfully made when we went to see one of our services. We did not prompt them or say anything when we did our initial research, but one of the service managers said: “Children don’t witness domestic abuse, they experience it.” She was absolutely passionate about that. They are not sitting there as some kind of secondary part of it; they absolutely are experiencing that. The Bill provides an opportunity to get that into the Children’s Act and to link it to the definition in the Bill. I am not concerned about it limiting, because from my understanding it was introduced in 2002 to be around getting domestic abuse in there. To get that right and to make sure it is up to date with the Domestic Abuse Bill, now feels like a real opportunity.