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Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls

Volume 728: debated on Monday 20 February 2023

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) are despicable crimes that must be tackled with a whole-of-society approach. These crimes are deeply harmful, not only because of the devasting impact they can have on victims, survivors, and their loved ones, but because of the harm they inflict on wider society. Domestic abuse alone affects 2.4 million adults every year. One in five cases of murder and manslaughter is domestic abuse-related, and a Home Office funded project found that there were 64 victim suicides following domestic abuse in the year to March 2022, although this is likely to be an underestimate. Families should never have to grieve loved ones who have lost their lives through domestic abuse-related murder, manslaughter and suicide.

This Government have made tackling violence against women and girls a key priority. The 2022 cross-Government tackling domestic abuse plan committed to investing over £230 million over three years. The plan complements the tackling violence against women and girls strategy, published in 2021, which committed to supporting victims and survivors with more than £300 million being invested in that year. The strategy aimed to ensure that women and girls are safe everywhere—at home, online, at work and on the streets. Together these commitments aim to transform the whole of society’s response to these crimes with actions to prevent abuse, support victims and pursue perpetrators, as well as to strengthen systems to respond to violence against women and girls.

But the fact remains that these crimes are still far too prevalent, and we need to go further.

Today, we have announced a package of measures that will bolster the work to hold perpetrators to account and better support victims. It is completely unacceptable that women and girls are still subject to these crimes and I am committed to tackling offenders and providing victims with the support and justice they deserve. I believe this type of crime can be prevented and I am taking action to reduce the terrible harm it causes.

Adding the most dangerous domestic abuse offenders to the violent and sex offender register

I want to ensure we are managing and targeting the most dangerous offenders. This is why we will legislate so those with convictions of controlling or coercive behaviour (CCB) with a sentence of 12 months or more imprisonment or a suspended sentence will be subject to more intensive management by police, probation and prison service through changes to the multi-agency public protection arrangements. This will also place a duty to co-operate on other relevant agencies to ensure the risks associated with that offender are properly targeted and managed. Currently, CCB offenders are managed in this specific way on a discretionary basis. This policy seeks to remove that discretion and make it automatic where the offender meets the sentencing threshold, putting CCB on par with serious physical violence. This is crucial as we know that this is a key risk factor in domestic abuse-related cases of murder and manslaughter. We will seek to legislate for this change at the earliest possible opportunity.

We will also add these offenders to the violent and sex offender register so there is a record of the most dangerous domestic abuse offenders and information about them is appropriately shared. However, we cannot wait for legislation to start recording these dangerous offenders on the violent and sex offender register. We will start work immediately to ensure they are placed on this database so that information about them can be appropriately shared and they don’t fall through the cracks.

Adding violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement

Today, for the first time, violence against women and girls has been elevated to a crime type that policing leaders must treat as a national threat, as part of the revised strategic policing requirement (SPR). Inclusion in this key operational document places VAWG on the same footing as serious organised crime and child sexual abuse and sets my clear expectations of police and crime commissioners and chief constables to focus their resources and capabilities to tackle this issue as one of the utmost national importance. The updated SPR sets clear expectations around the local and regional police capabilities response to tackle VAWG, and how their local force works with others, including collaborating with other agencies. The addition of VAWG as a national threat is recognition of the risk it currently presents to public safety and confidence.

Piloting the expansion of the “Ask for ANI” codeword scheme

In January 2021, the Home Office launched the “Ask for ANI” (Action Needed Immediately) codeword scheme to provide victims of domestic abuse with a simple and discreet way to signal that they need immediate help from the safety of their local pharmacy. The “Ask for ANI” scheme was developed with the help of partners, including the domestic abuse sector, pharmacy associations and the police, and is designed to work alongside and build on the existing work carried out by local areas; it provides an additional tool that can be used to help the most vulnerable victims access emergency support in the community.

Since its launch, the “Ask for ANI” scheme has been a success; over 5,000 UK pharmacies, including both independent pharmacies and chains like Boots and Superdrug, are now enrolled in the scheme. In the tackling domestic abuse plan, we highlighted the importance of making it easier for victims to ask for help. That is why we committed to work with the Department for Work and Pensions to trial, and if successful, consider a national roll-out of the “Ask for ANI” codeword scheme in jobcentres.

Today we have launched the “Ask for ANI” scheme in 18 pilot sites; 14 jobcentres in England, Wales and Scotland and 4 jobs and benefits offices in Northern Ireland. We aim to undertake an independent evaluation to understand the impact of the scheme across the jobcentre network, and if proven to be successful we will consider a national roll-out. We have also launched an online postcode checker where everyone can check their nearest “Ask for ANI” provider, including both participating pharmacies and jobcentres.

Piloting new domestic abuse protection notices and orders

In the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the Government legislated for a new civil domestic abuse protection notice (DAPN) to provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident, and a new civil domestic abuse protection order (DAPO) to provide flexible, longer-term protection for victims. DAPOs will be available in all court jurisdictions, and breach of any requirement will be a criminal offence. The court will be able to impose positive requirements such as attendance on perpetrator behaviour change programmes, alongside electronic monitoring and mandatory notification requirements of changes to the perpetrator’s name and address to the police.

Today, we can announce that the new notices and orders will be piloted from June 2024 for two years in Gwent, Manchester, and three London boroughs, with the Metropolitan Police and the British Transport Police, and other partners. The pilot will be independently evaluated, which will inform whether the notice and orders are rolled out nationally.

Creating a new digital domestic abuse harm risk assessment tool

We will develop a digital tool so that police forces can quickly identify their highest-risk domestic abuse perpetrators and take the appropriate action. This includes domestic abuse perpetrators without a conviction, which is crucial as in the year ending March 2022 there were 910,980 domestic abuse-related crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales, compared with just 40,647 convictions. We will appoint the tool’s developer this spring and identify police forces to trial and pilot it next year.

In the meantime, we are clear that we expect police forces to be proactively identifying and managing the most dangerous perpetrators in their area.

Domestic violence disclosure scheme

Today, we have published updated guidance for the domestic violence disclosure scheme, also known as “Clare’s Law”, ahead of next month’s commencement of section 77 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which places the guidance into statute.

Putting the guidance on a statutory footing will mean the police can apply the scheme consistently across the country. The domestic violence disclosure scheme allows the police to disclose information about an individual’s previous violent or abusive offending in order to protect a victim or potential victim. Under the new guidance, the police will be required to disclose information on perpetrators quicker. Police will have 28 days to disclose the information, down from the current guidelines of 35. This will mean victims and potential victims should have the information that could be critical to their safety faster.

Funding interventions for domestic abuse perpetrators

We continue to invest heavily in funding interventions for perpetrators of domestic abuse. We are clear that the onus must be taken off victims and placed on the abusers to change their behaviour. The Home Office has committed up to £36 million over two years to fund more domestic abuse perpetrator interventions. The funding will be for police and crime commissioners to work with partners to deliver interventions tailored to the needs in their local areas, and the next iteration of funding will commence in April 2023.

This is in addition to the £40.9 million of funding we have given to local areas since 2020 for perpetrator interventions and the £2.36 million invested in research into improving our understanding of perpetrators so we can better prevent harm and understand “what works”. This will bring the total funding committed to tackling domestic abuse perpetrators to over £79 million since 2020.

Funding support services for victims

We must first and foremost seek to prevent domestic abuse from happening. But when it does occur, we need to do everything in our power to support victims and survivors. This is why the Home Office has allocated up to £8.4 million over two years for victims’ services. This is targeted to fund between 17 and 33 projects or programmes, which will mobilise on 1 April 2023. This will fund specialist organisations, many of which work within the communities they serve and are a vital component in providing the trauma-informed, tailored support the tackling violence against women and girls strategy committed to. Funding will also allow organisations to develop the “whole-system” capability of providing support to victims of sexual violence and the employers’ response to victims of domestic abuse. This is part of the wider Government commitment in the tackling domestic abuse plan to invest £140 million to support victims.

Together, these measures will help us to build a society that has zero tolerance to violence against women and girls and lets us take the necessary steps to protect the safety and freedom of women and girls across the country.