Police and crime commissioner David Keane has welcomed new laws to protect victims of domestic violence, but has urged the government to go further to support victims.
New amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill will be presented to Parliament this week and includes the introduction of a new offence of non-fatal strangulation to legislation, the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to be extended to include abuse where perpetrators and victims no longer live together, and the ‘revenge porn’ offence widened to cover threats to share intimate images.
The Commissioner said the amendments will go some way in protecting victims of domestic abuse, but called on the government to keep providing extra funding for support services after seeing for himself the impact the pandemic is having on the demand for support provision.
It comes after figures released by charity My CWA (Cheshire Without Abuse), which is commissioned by David to provide domestic abuse support, revealed the number of victims it is supporting in Cheshire – which includes both adults and children – doubled from 200 pre-Covid to 400 last month (February).
Around 40 per cent of cases were also deemed high risk, meaning there is serious risk of harm or death. In the last quarter alone, the charity has seen two suicides and 13 attempts on life.
David said: “While these amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill are a big step in the right direction in supporting victims and ensuring perpetrators face justice, there is no time for complacency on this issue and the government must continue to act.
“This is a national crisis that is on the rise and I know firsthand from the work I am doing in our communities just how stretched support services for domestic abuse are as a result of the pandemic.
“The government must keep the funding streams for support services flowing, otherwise we face more families being pulled apart and more lives being lost.
“Domestic abuse has been one of the big tragedies to come out of this pandemic.
“Irrespective of gender, age, sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic, domestic abuse does not discriminate and can affect absolutely anyone in our communities. At a time when we are being told to stay at home, it is heartbreaking to know that there are many out there who would rather be anywhere else but home.
“The good news is that there is support out there – and I will continue to do all I can to make sure victims of domestic abuse get the support they need.”
Tackling domestic abuse is one of the Commissioner’s main priorities. In April last year, David and Cheshire Police chief constable Darren Martland launched a campaign to encourage those suffering from domestic abuse to seek support during the Coronavirus crisis.
This was following a rise in cases as a result of victims being trapped in their homes with their abusers in the first national lockdown.
Then in November, David secured Home Office funding for a scheme which works to try and change the behaviour of perpetrators to reduce further incidents of abuse.
He is also working with support services, like My CWA, to apply for further government funding to address the increased demands as a result of Covid-19.
The new proposals to the Domestic Abuse Bill include making non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison, following concerns that perpetrators were avoiding punishment as the practice can often leave no visible injury.
Legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour (CCB) has also been strengthened so that abusers and victims are no longer required to live together.
‘Revenge porn’ laws have also been extended, with those who threaten to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress now facing up to two years imprisonment.
A decision on the amendments is expected in the spring.
Depending on where they live, anyone who needs help or advice can contact their local domestic abuse support service on the relevant details below:
Cheshire East Domestic Abuse Hub – 0300 123 5101
Cheshire West and Chester: 0300 123 7047, option 2
Halton Domestic Abuse Forum: 0300 111 1247
Warrington Refuge – 01925 243359
They can also call Cheshire Police on 101 or the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. In an emergency, where there is a threat to life or a crime is taking place, call 999.
There’s also advice and support available online at Open the Door.