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Home should be a place of love and safety but for many people in this country this is sadly not the case. 

Their partner tries to control their lives in a number of ways, ranging from physical and sexual violence to mental and emotional torment, with often devastating consequences. The impact on children living in an abusive household can be life-changing too, and its effects can be felt outside in wider society. 

The necessity of lockdown to tackle coronavirus has helped raise awareness of domestic abuse and the fear in which victims live. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline, online services and other specialist helplines have seen marked increases in calls. Working with domestic abuse and victims’ organisations, the Government has taken rapid action.

Additional support has been provided including: £2.6million to national helplines to ensure that they have the capacity to respond to this increased demand as well as funding more than 100 domestic abuse charities to provide over 1,500 more safe bed spaces for victims during the pandemic and to support local community-based services. 

The national campaign #youarenotalone has been launched to spread the message that victims are not alone and to help them seek support.

We have also pressed on with our work to pass the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill. The voice of survivors is at the heart of this piece of work. It will improve our support for victims and transform the way we tackle the perpetrators of domestic abuse.

The introduction of the first ever all-purpose statutory definition of domestic abuse is vital for ensuring that everyone, from local authorities, the judiciary and health service, to the public, have a proper understanding of the many forms it takes. It is not restricted to physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive or controlling, sexual and economic abuse.

Domestic abuse can be a single incident or a pattern of behaviour over a long period of time, even decades. A survivor told me that the mental and emotional abuse she suffered over the years was worse than having a hot iron smashed onto her face. Others have described being banned from accessing food cupboards, having their mobile phone confiscated to prevent them calling for help, and having their car keys hidden so that they could not get to work on time, thus risking their employment.

Some of these actions may be part of a journey that includes violence, yet other perpetrators may never commit an act of physical violence yet control victims through fear. 

We are therefore strengthening the powers of the police and courts by introducing Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DAPN) and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPO) to stop perpetrators and the cycle of abuse. They will provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident and provide flexible, longer-term protection for victims.

Our aim is always that the victim and children stay in their home; if anyone has to leave, it should be the abuser. We recognise, however, that this is not always possible and in cases when a victim and their children must flee, there must be a safe place to go.

We will place a statutory duty on tier one local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children within refuges and other safe accommodation. This ground-breaking measure will ensure life-saving services are available to help survivors and their children rebuild their lives, safe from the danger of abuse.

The Bill will also ensure that victims get ‘priority need’ status to access local housing services more easily once they leave refuge. 

Before I was elected to the House of Commons, I worked as a barrister in the criminal courts. I saw, first-hand, cases of domestic abuse fail because the perpetrator intimidated the victim before the case came to court. It was clear that the approach to how these cases are handled needed to be transformed and I have drawn on this experience whilst working on this Bill.

We will help victims in the criminal courts give their best evidence by making it an automatic option to give evidence via a video link, behind screens and through other measures. In the family courts, many victims describe how perpetrators use the  court process to find new ways to abuse them. We will stop abusers being able to cross-examine their victims if they choose to represent themselves so that they cannot  continue to torment victims. 

We recognise, however, that legislation alone cannot make the changes needed, which is why a wider package of non-legislative measures sits alongside the Bill and includes a review into support for victims within the workplace, training for frontline workers and funding to improve support and recognition of male, LGBT, BAME, disabled and elderly victims.

Ending this abhorrent crime is vital. We will be unyielding in our aim to ensure that everybody understands that domestic abuse is everyone’s business. If you are suffering please know that you are not alone, and we will support you.

Victoria Atkins MP is the Minister for Safeguarding at the Home Office. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Family friendly?. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: UK Parliament]